ITUC-Africa drums support for Goal 8 during the UNECA Regional SDGs Forum!

17 April 2019 Marrakech, Morroco
Keywords : Reports ATUDN

The Africa’s regional organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa) through the Africa Trade Union Development Network (ATUDN) hosted a side event during the UNECA regional forum on SDGs. Under the theme “The centrality of decent work in achieving the SDGs: it empowers, ensures inclusiveness and fosters equality” the event took place on 17th of April 2019 at the Palmeraie Palace Hotel in the Moroccan city of Marrakech.

The side event attracted a cross-section of participants in the array of government technocrats, policy makers, representatives of development institutions, business leaders, academicians, researchers and representatives from farmer organizations and civil society. Alex Nkosi from ITUC Africa moderated the event while the panel consisted of various experts. Dr. Hod Anyigba, an economist and labour expert from Ghana delivered a keynote speech, Gert Jan Verburg; a Canadian development expert from the Africa Centre for SDGs was a discussant together with Thiam Abdoulaye – a Senegalese disability expert working with the Africa Disability Alliance. Hilma Mote from the ITUC-Africa who also heads the Africa Trade Union Research and Education Institute was also a discussant and drew the main conclusions from the event.

Dr. Hod Anyigba posited that African governments need to look beyond economic growth as measured by the GDP to attain the sustainable development. He narrated that governments find time and resources to compute with scant data, an ‘impoverished economic growth statistic which is supposed to show a true reflection of the standard of living in most African countries. Armed with the growth-led strategy, African governments try as they may, to measure their country’s standard of living and other key socio-economic indicators such as GDP per capita figure, unemployment rate, inflation rate among others”. He warned that economists will have you believe that any change – from a high standard of life, quality of life and well-being for all; to modern agriculture for increased productivity and production – is primarily caused by stunted economic growth.

Alex Nkosi

“And a surge in economic growth is the ultimate solution. To economists, solving the world’s biggest challenges is simple mathematics – all you need is a steep economic growth. Yet, the irony still remains – most advanced economies still have high poverty rates, housing deficits, homelessness and societal inequality. It looks as though societal problems have not been adequately addressed by higher GDP per capita ratios”, mused Dr. Hod.

He went on to explain that there is little empirical evidence to suggest that there is a strong relationship between economic growth and employment. In fact, in the long run, he further explained, there are only mild increases in employment due to technological advancements and low demand for labour intensive jobs. The relationship between economic growth and employment has been a topic of debate for years as the reverse causality is true for these variables. Does economic growth stimulate employment or vice versa? Apart from accruing more disposable income as result of a meaningful and gratifying work, decent work can boost self-esteem and plug in on inequality gaps. It definitely lays the foundation for improved social interaction and self-fulfilment. On the contrary, joblessness or underpaid work affects not just the financial well-being of the individual but also impacts him/her socially and psychologically. GDP per capita, a measure of a country’s gross domestic product by person gives no indication of the distribution of income in the economy. This aggregate average is not representative and does little to capture the real wage differentials of individuals.

Taking on resource efficiency in consumption and production Dr Hod observed that “GDP or GNP figures suggests progress and income made through technical and industrial production but fails to account for the destruction of natural resources such as forests and fossil fuels, water pollution, radiation, air pollution, land pollution, increase in crime, increase in committed suicides, child malnourishment, social injustice to mention but a few. Costs associated with environmental degradation on the contrary is referred to as positive outcomes of economic growth – an increase in GDP or GNP, but these costs rather burdens future generations rather than the intended goal of increasing the national account”.

On his part, Gert Jan Verburg reminded the participants that SDG 8 “recognises the importance of sustained economic growth and high levels of economic productivity for the creation of well-paid quality jobs as well as resource efficiency in consumption and production. It calls for providing opportunities for full employment and decent work for all while eradicating forced labour, human trafficking and child labour, and promoting labour rights and safe and secure working environments”. He added that for a society to attain sustainable economic development and well-being it is important that economic growth generates not just any kind of jobs but ‘decent’ employment. This means that work should deliver fair income, security in the workplace and social protection, and allow flexibility. He concluded by stressing the significance of data in the achievement of decent work and by extension SDGs. He observed that most African governments are struggling with data and that unless they begin to invest in the generation of data, measuring progress might be very difficult thereby making it a challenge to track progress.

When it came to Mr. Thiam Abdoulaye’s turn, he took some time to orient the audience to the key international legal instruments, policies and initiatives of relevance to the rights of people with disabilities while paying a special attention to employment and work. He declared that people with disabilities make up an estimated one billion, or 15 per cent, of the world’s population. “About 80 per cent are of working age. The right of people with disabilities to decent work, however, is frequently denied”. As a solution to these challenges, Mr. Thiam recommended the ILO twin-track approach to disability inclusion. “One track allows for disability-specific programmes or initiatives aimed at overcoming particular disadvantages or barriers, while the other track seeks to ensure the inclusion of disabled persons in mainstream services and activities, such as skills training, employment promotion, social protection schemes and poverty reduction strategies”.

Hilma Mote started her contribution by noting that “in the spirit of leaving no one behind, trade unions have been highly instrumental in shaping the 2030 Agenda, to include priorities such as decent work, fight against inequalities, just transition, trade unions and civil society participation”. She intimated that workers and trade unions represent the voices and interests of hundreds of millions of workers from across the globe, and thus cannot be left behind the two Agendas. “Therefore”, she explained “SDGs 8 is not just a goal, but at the heart of workers and trade union work as contains a set of objectives that trade unions are currently working on at various levels as drivers of economic growth and sustainable development”.
Commenting on emerging challenges in the world of work, she noted that technology is a double edged-sword. “Whilst digitalisation, technological advancements and climate change presents opportunities for new types of jobs, they are also associated with job losses which may never be replaced”. She then hinted that structural economic transformation and resourced based industrialisation is central to the creation of decent jobs and in dealing with the ever increasing informality and precariousness of work.

The jubilant ITUC-Africa delegation after a successful side-event.
In wrapping up the session, the panel put forward the following strategic interventions targeting the rural and informal economies:

i. Governments ought to design and implement pro-decent employment and demand-driven macroeconomic policies and strategies, in line with the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1998), supported by progressive and liveable minimum wage policies.

ii. Governments should speed up the ratification of conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining which must be followed by effective enforcement systems that lead to implementation. An enabling environment underpinned by respect for labour rights and the full recognition of the role of trade unions is required.

iii. Governments must take the necessary steps to speed up the implementation of the ILO Recommendation 204 concerning the transition from the informal to the formal economy. As compared to the current approaches to addressing informal economy which have been antagonistic thus contrasting with the principles of inclusiveness and effective participation of the informal economy players and their associations.

iv. Governments should commit themselves to fully finance the Decent Work Country Programmes (DWCPs) at national. Same applies to sub-regional groupings implementation of their own DCWP. E.g. SADC has its own DWCP.

v. Governments should investments in rural/urban infrastructure vital.

vi. Investments should target key sectors and value chains that have a high potential to create employment opportunities.

vii. Governments should invest in productivity enhancing technologies through investing in upgrading, skills development and institutional capabilities.

viii. Governments should mainstream employment creation in all the macroeconomic with clear employment targets and benchmarks..

…decent work touted as central to achieving the SDGs during a side-event.

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