Decent work discussed at the labour law conference

September 17th, 2019
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Senior Programme Officer under the Directorate of Social and Human Development for the Southern African Development Community, Maxwell Parakokwa and International Labour Organisation’s Specialist on Informal Economy, Annamarie Kiaga, were part of the panel that discussed partnering for decent work in the SADC region, at the 32nd Annual Labour Law conference that was held in Johannesburg on 22 August.

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The 32nd Annual Labour Law conference was held in Johannesburg on 22 and 23 August under the theme: ‘Partnering for decent work’. Delegates were presented with a variety of topics dealing with work in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region and considered whether workers have anything to celebrate after 25 years of democracy.

Partnering for decent work

Among speakers present at the annual labour law conference was International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Specialist on Informal Economy, Annamarie Kiaga, who defined ‘decent work’ as work which is –

  • productive;
  • delivers a fair income;
  • gives security in the workplace;
  • social protection for families;
  • growth in personal development;
  • social integration and freedom for employees to express their concern; and
  • to organise and participate in decisions that affect lives and to have equality of treatment for men and women.

Ms Kiaga pointed out that the ILO emphasises the integration of different policies in order to achieve or meet goals that are put together. She said decent work has moved from the ILO’s agenda into a universal goal, meaning there is now more support at a regional and national level for decent work. She added that to achieve decent work, the ILO believes in establishing sustainable decent, development goals. She noted that the primary plan for a decent work agenda has been implemented with a string of integration strategies taking place.

Ms Kiaga said that the ILO recognises that in Africa there are different levels of development and challenges and as a result the ILO has set up programming tools that focus on ‘fragile countries’, which are countries that have been affected by war or drought and other disasters. She added that the ILO also promotes what they refer to as a ‘South – South’ cooperation strategy, which aims to have countries learn from one another’s experiences.

Senior Programme Officer under the Directorate of Social and Human Development at the SADC, Maxwell Parakokwa, added that the SADC has 16 member states who have come together and formed a common agenda. Mr Parakokwa said there are many common goals, but the main goals include reducing poverty and creating employment. He pointed out that the SADC region is growing and it, therefore, means that the labour force is also growing, and the SADC has to look at how they can create a decent work agenda.

Mr Parakokwa said that his organisation uses instruments to create decent work agendas, which include treaties with clauses and protocols, which can help the SADC region have a common agenda. He added that the SADC has an industrial development strategy on how trade and develop economically. He said in this strategy there are sectoral policies in sectors, which include transport, security, energy, employment and labour sectors.

Mr Parakokwa pointed out that his organisation has looked at ways in which it could promote decent work. He said that there was a social dialogue taking place internationally and regionally and robust engagement was needed between government and civil society so that an international labour convention can be domesticated to become a reality in the SADC region. However, Mr Parakokwa pointed out that there are challenges the SADC regions will face along the way, such as getting commitment from other members states. He said they will look into the challenges of promoting decent work as one of the key objectives of the SADC.

Do workers have anything to celebrate 25 years into democracy?

Director of the ILO, Doctor Joni Musabayana, said in the ILO’s view there has been some progress in the 25 years into democracy. He added that the future of work is constantly changing in the labour market and there is a process that is taking place with regard to the future of work. Dr Musabayana said that some African countries are taking part in that process and he noted that the process is inclusive to all African countries. He added that reports have been developed to address the process.

Dr Musabayana said there should be decisive debates and discussions on the future of work between governments and civil societies on which jobs will be created and which jobs will be lost, so that opportunities and challenges could be identified going forward. He added that for the past 100 years, progress has been made with regard to social protection and social security benefits in the labour market. However, he admitted that there are still serious issues such as the gender pay gap and inequalities that are of concern. He said the ILO has suggested implementing a human centred agenda, which will address policies that will manage the realities of the changes that are coming in the labour market, such as people’s capabilities, and transitions from one sector to another.

Dr Musabayana gave an example of South Africa’s (SA’s) energy. He said that 65% of SA’s energy comes from coal, but this will have to change when the country shifts to renewable energy. This means workers who were good workers in coal energy will not necessarily be good workers for the renewable energy industry and work priorities will shift. Dr Musabayana said in March he attended a meeting with ministers of labour in the SADC region and when the ministers were asked what the most pressing issues were in their country with regards to their portfolios, 80% said lifelong learning was the most pressing issue, including up-skilling and re-skilling.

Dr Musabayana said that the quality of education will become crucial and not only at tertiary and high school level, but also at primary level. He pointed out that the issue of up-skilling and re-skilling is key, and that policies and strategies must be looked at, as there will be a need to assist young people to manage transitions in the future of work.

‘There was a time where you finished school and you knew that you were going to get some type of job. But today after graduation, young people are faced with challenges of not finding employment,’ Dr Musabayana said. He added that there will be a need for the labour market to come up with interventions on how they are going to assist young people to enter the labour market.

Director of the International Labour Organisation, Doctor Joni Musabayana and University of the Witwatersrand, Emeritus Professor Edward Webster, spoke at the conference on 23 August.

University of the Witwatersrand, Emeritus Professor Edward Webster, said the simple answer to whether workers have anything to celebrate 25 years into democracy, is the progress that is celebrated by the minority of workers, as the majority have what is called a decent work deficit. He acknowledged that progress is being made, such as the minimum wage, regular wages for workers, as well as social protection and workers who speak in one voice in the form of unions.

However, Prof Webster added that the question asked above, raises another question on what workers want? He said that 46 years ago he conducted a survey among workers and trade unions in Umlazi and Khayelitsha, asking workers why they were joining unions. He pointed out that he was expecting that they would answer for better wages and better working conditions. Prof Webster said the answers he received surprised him as workers told him, they joined unions because they were not being treated like human beings.

Prof Webster said workers were talking about dignity, respect and how they were not being treated as people. He added that even though workers wanted decent wages it was important to them to be treated with dignity and respect. He said the question that should be asked, is whether workers have something to celebrate or not? He pointed out that significant progress has been made. Prof Webster said it could be argued that the work space is no longer segregated. He said there was a time when white workers had separate canteens and toilets from black workers. He noted that in terms of one’s dignity as a person that is fundamental, because racism and sexism humiliated people. He added that progress has been made because workers now have a right to belong to the trade union of their choice and they have a right to strike.

Prof Webster spoke about the gross national product, he said despite the fact that trade unions have grown over the years and new legislation has been implemented, the labour market has not increased its share of the gross national product. He said if one looked at the gross national product, one will find that only a section of workers who have received an increase in wages, particularly in the public sector. He added that the labour market needs to acknowledge that the world of work is changing, and this will require new ways of representing workers in forms of organisations.

Other topics that were discussed at the conference, included, mental illness and depression in the workplace; transformation and duty of care; managing religious diversity in the workplace; case study updates on latest developments in collective labour law and unfair dismissal (individual labour law).

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.