Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Department of Labour hosts SADC Employment and Labour Sector Tripartite Technical Meeting


Department of Labour hosts SADC Employment and Labour Sector Tripartite Technical Meeting

Department of Labour hosts SADC Employment and Labour Sector Tripartite Technical Meeting
Photo credit: MediaClub South Africa

The South African Department of Labour is hosting the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Employment and Labour Sector Tripartite Technical Meeting at the Cape Town International Conference Centre in Cape Town from 26 to 28 February 2018.

The meeting will review the implementation of the decisions taken by the Ministerial and Social Partners in 2017; adopt a declaration affirming their decisions towards effective implementation of the Employment and Labour Sector (ELS) Programme of Action in accordance with the SADC Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) 2015-2020; discuss current labour market developments and adopt a new programme under the next chair.

The meeting, held under the theme “Horizon Decent Work: advancing connectivity, coherence and inclusivity” is aimed at paving the way for the SADC assembly of Ministers of Employment and Labour, and Social Partners which will be hosted by Minister Mildred Oliphant at the same venue from 1 to 2 March 2018.

Expected at the meeting are delegates from Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe as well as representatives from the International Labour Organisation.

Official opening speech by the Deputy Minister of Labour of the Republic of South Africa, Honourable Nkosi Phathekile Holomisa, on the occasion of the Second SADC Joint Tripartite Technical Meeting

Our region faces numerous challenges ranging from crippling poverty and unemployment to desperate young people. All these socio-economic problems result in lack of faith and pessimism on the part of our citizens about their future, and everything that we, as governments and employers, say to them.

The hope for a better future where people can live in peace and raise their children to become better persons is quickly getting eroded, if not eroded already. Sometimes we wait for researchers and other groups to write reports about the situations that our citizens are confronted with before we react.

Nevertheless, I wish to provide two graphical stories involving two fictional characters, taking place in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. This is to illustrate the plight our citizens face so that we are all able to appreciate the depth of the problem. This is also with a hope that all of us in this room can use the next five days in scenic Cape Town to mull over them. And, upon returning to our air-conditioned offices in Dar es Salaam, Lusaka, Victoria Falls, Maputo and Port Louis, we can appreciate why we are discharged with the duties we have.

Imagine a young recently married 33-year old man with two little kids, let us call him Rutendo, leaving his village outside Mutare to search for work in Bulawayo; but suddenly finds himself in the streets, destitute and without a job. His family waits back home – they expect money from him to buy food, clothing and other necessities. But he is unable to provide because jobs are scarce, and those that are available are temporary or pay slave wages.

Rutendo resides in the township of Mbare which is 7 km outside the city, where there is crime and no running water. He occasionally finds himself in fights with gangs who want to rob him. He has been searching for the job for a while without success.

Every day he contemplates going abroad but he cannot leave his family behind. He once worked in neighbouring Mozambique as a bilingual translator since he is fluent in his native Ndau, Shona, English and Portuguese.

After he returned back to his homeland, he started a small business in Sakubva, one of poorer suburbs in Mutare. His business at the “Musika weHuku” (or the chicken market) did not do well and Rutendo trekked to Harare, with a hope that he would either land in London or Gaborone where some of the family members now reside.

The second story concerns a young woman, Philisiwe who is 23 years old. She works 18 hours a day in a shoe factory in Bloemfontein. The company she works for is unregistered and has shoddy working standards. Almost three years ago, Philisiwe had a painful miscarriage, a result of rape by her employer.

The owner prides himself to be the smartest and richest without paying a cent towards the tax office. Indeed he makes more than 17 million dollars a year and drives around in flashy cars. He and his friends regularly drug and physically abuse Philisiwe and fellow employees (mainly from Butha-Buthe, Mafeteng and Leribe areas in Lesotho) by demanding sex in exchange for a few rands.

This gentleman gets away with murder because Philisiwe’s annual wages amount to a mere R8,500 (or a mere 700 United States dollars). She is one amongst many people across the globe that work but live in extreme poverty – the working poor. It is important to note that our Government now introduces a minimum wage of R20 per hour in order to tackle poverty and inequality. The minimum wage will seek to complement other wage-setting mechanisms, especially collective bargaining, in the South African labour market.

Programme Director, plans are afoot to hold a National Dialogue on Informal Economy in Pietermaritzburg next month. Most people take up informal employment to earn income when formal work is unavailable. With the 27 percent unemployment rate in South Africa, it means that there are people in a similar situation as Philisiwe. Although we try to formalise the informal sector, it continues to persist, and is responsible for ‘decent work deficits’ – where there is low income, less job security and no rights. 

In our continent, according to the ILO, 74 percent of women’s non-agricultural employment is informal, compared to 61 percent for men.

Nevertheless, Philisiwe takes whatever pay she is offered in order to assist her unemployed, single mother in rural Eastern Cape to raise her two brothers and one sister. The nature of poverty is that it has a knock-on effect.

Philisiwe’s mother does not work since she suffers from silicosis after many years spent in gold mining town of Carletonville in the west of Johannesburg. This is where she met her boyfriend who died eight years ago from what is believed to be an unknown illness, which was aggravated by lack of requisite health care in the village of Mzuzu in Malawi.

It is said that both Philisiwe’s mother and boyfriend are part of global statistics of people who work or worked under dangerous and harmful conditions to their health. International Labour Organisation (ILO) figures indicate that more than 2.78 million workers die every year because of occupational accidents or work-related diseases – one every 11 seconds. The problems of occupational health and safety affect employees and their families.

The poor girl Philisiwe had to temporarily suspend her dream of becoming a mechanical engineer in order to enable her mother and siblings to survive. Always joyful and optimistic, Philisiwe looks forward to seeing her brothers and sister complete their schooling. Unfortunately, Philisiwe, like all young people, is employed in a job where she not only has lower wages and fewer rights but also less access to social protection.

I am not storyteller nor a bearer of bad news but just an elected public representative. The narration of the stories of Rutendo and Philisiwe is aimed at making this esteemed gathering to appreciate the extent of vulnerability of youth and women as well as the desperate economic conditions in the region. 

In its report titled: Reward Work, Not Wealth released last month, Oxfam is emphatic that as society we need “to end the inequality crisis, we must build an economy for ordinary working people, not the rich and powerful.” This means, we cannot afford to have few extremely wealthy individuals, while the majority of our citizens, particularly women and young people, live in abject poverty.

It is through platforms such as this one, the SADC Regional Engagements where we jointly attempt to create a more equal society by prioritizing ordinary workers and end poverty and inequality.

With poverty threatening livelihoods, it appears that we do not quite fully understand that young people and women constitute majorities in our countries. Women continue to earn significantly lower pay than men. Irrespective of whether women are educated or not, they face way too many barriers that hold them back at work.

In all parts of the world, evidence suggests that women consistently earn less than men and are concentrated in the lowest-paid and least secure forms of work. The story of Philisiwe gave us a glimpse of what women go through at work.

We seem to be running away from the obvious fact that women and youth will take over the workplace of the future in a few years from now.

We also forget that no one will remain forever young. As developed countries struggle with inverted or upside population pyramids, African countries are said to enjoy huge advantages brought about by their younger populations. This may be the case today but since we are not doing as much as we possibly can to educate, train and appropriately skill young men and women in our countries, we are heading for a disaster.

Failure to harness the young population will result in us losing the potential gains from the population dividend, and also lead to weak economic performance and even more social problems.

Our efforts as a region, continent and the world to contribute to the well-being of our citizens, such as the SADC-Decent Work Programme, the SADC Youth Employment Policy Framework, Agenda 2030 of the United Nations and the African Union’s Agenda 2063, would be meaningless if our collective efforts do not contribute to reducing social strife, and increasing quality jobs for our citizens.

It is against this concern that the South African Chairship decided to become innovative and creative in terms of how we report. As you may be aware, in the past weeks leading to this Meeting, the Secretariat sent a Declaration Document to all Member States to prepare for the Meeting of SADC Ministers for Labour and Employment and Social Partners taking place from Thursday 1st to Friday, 2nd May 2018. The Member States and Social Partners were asked to comment and or give inputs. We thank everybody who responded to improve the document.

The Declaration Approach is a departure from the past practices where Member States were required to give updates and report on Protocols, Frameworks and Codes. Documents such as the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan, SADC Decent Work Programme and SADC Charter are mere frameworks that are supposed to guide our work as Member States.

However, there was a serious de-link between frameworks and activities performed by Member States, as individuals and/or as a group, in the sphere of labour market governance. There was no mechanism to ensure that what happens within states and between states (bilaterally and multilaterally) gets reported or captured.

To facilitate accurate reporting, South Africa deliberately avoided the clutter of reporting on frameworks and codes – starting with the formulating of an overarching theme which was supported by a set of priorities to guide delivery during its Chairship. This is in line with broad goals of regional integration through a creation of a conducive and harmonious labour regime in SADC.

The Sector wishes to play an important role in facilitating full employment, fundamental principles and rights at work, social protection, as well as social dialogue in our countries. Thus, the four priorities, including Employment Creation, Youth EmploymentPromotion of Decent Work, and Enterprise Development, were formulated to be in sync with the programmes on Decent Work and Future of Work, as well as international conventions.

Thus far, we hosted up to seven workshops, namely labour inspections, dispute resolution, public employment services, informal economy (Recommendation 204), labour standards, social security and protection, as well as collective bargaining in the public service. In addition, the Ministerial Meeting will take place over two-days because we have arranged a Symposium on Global Value Chains in order to capacitate Ministers on matters pertaining to our sector.

We are proud that this feat will take some doing to emulate. With the workshops and the symposium we have managed to deliver, based on the resolutions of the Ezulwini Meeting of Ministers, particularly the establishment of three forums on labour inspections, dispute resolution and public employment services. All this work is reflected in the Declaration that is due to be adopted by the Ministers at the end of this week.

For the first time, specific activities with regards to the mandate of the SADC Employment and Labour Sector (ELS) have been executed and reported on. This is important for the Sector in that its work will hopefully move from the peripheral position to gain credence like issues of trade and commerce, as well as politics and security. This multilateral work should not be seen in isolation and be treated as a stand-alone, but must enhance and deepen bilateral collaboration between the Member States.

In this regard, I personally urge Member States to undertake bilateral activities as a base for the work of the SADC-ELS. Without active programmes in and amongst countries the Sector will always be treated as a poor cousin of some of the prominent sectors within the SADC Secretariat.

Unfortunately, the Secretariat has also not taken labour and employment issues as part of its core functions. This contributed to the generally low support and leadership during our tenure as Chair. Notwithstanding the fact that the Secretariat has recently appointed a person to handle labour and employment, I have decided to bring this matter to the attention of Ministers. As a result of lack of capacity and support on the side of Gaborone – our Chairship was fraught with challenges, where we had to commit officials from the Department of Labour to perform duties that should otherwise have been provided by the Secretariat.

Mr. Thobile Lamati, the Director General of the Department of Labour, will deliver the outgoing Chairperson’s report to this meeting, as well as to the Ministers, so that we can boast of our achievements and also outline some of the key issues and challenges that frustrate the optimal functioning of the SADC-ELS platform.

At this point I wish to thank fellow troika members, Swaziland and Namibia, without whose support our Chairship would not have been a success. Furthermore, I wish to congratulate the Republic of Namibia on the assumption of the chairmanship role for the SADC-ELS. We will continue to be part of the troika to ensure continuity.

To conclude, I wish you fruitful and progressive discussions and hope that by the time the Ministerial Meeting starts we will be ready to provide good reports. Please enjoy Cape Town!


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