12th ILO African Regional Meeting: Address by ILO Director-General Juan Somavia

Statement | Johannesburg | 11 October 2011

His Excellency, Dr. Jacob Zuma, President of the Republic of South Africa,

Honourable Ministers here present,

My dear trade union and employer leaders,

Distinguished invited guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Please accept, President Zuma, my thanks for honouring us with your presence today, as well as my gratitude for your political commitment to the Decent Work Agenda, which constitutes a key component of your strategic vision for South Africa.

Let me express my respect for South Africa.

You brought down apartheid with resounding success and much suffering, as you have personally experienced. You are now showing that it is possible to build a multiracial and multicultural democracy in an increasingly uncertain world.

You are doing so with the natural tensions and conflicts that such a revolutionary endeavour entails.

But South Africans are doing it with such shared national conviction and determination that can only elicit our admiration.

President Zuma, your contribution to this process from your youth to today has been outstanding. Thank you.

Dear Ministers, Dear workers and employers – our tripartite ILO family.

Welcome to our African Regional meeting.

To begin with, I must express my joy that my good friend President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, who addressed the ILO Conference in 2006, has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

She has been an ardent supporter of employment for peace as a cornerstone of the post-conflict recovery efforts, expressed in many ILO projects in Liberia she has spearheaded.

As two African women are awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I see their achievement as an inspiration to all peace loving African women, the cornerstone of African development.

You know I have been a friend of Africa since my youth and all through my international responsibilities.

Dear friends,

Let me tell you that I am glad to join a winning Africa.

You have changed around the energy of this continent.

I think the biggest change you have brought to Africa is the way you look at yourselves.

You have embarked on a path of self-assurance with a deep-seated belief in what you are doing and where you are going.

Your generation is leaving behind “Africa the problem continent” and winning the struggle for freedom, identity and development.

It is no accident that my report to your Conference is called “Empowering Africa’s Peoples with Decent Work”.

One of the greatest sources of empowerment is creative, dynamic, people-centred tripartism

the rich social dialogue only social partners can construct;

the sense that above individual interests there is a collective national interest.

As ILO constituents, you have in your hands the power to empower,

the capacity to bring convergence, agreements, consensus-building to your nation, your sub-region, your continent -

and from there be an example to a world deeply divided and profoundly insecure.

And more recently Africa has proven its economic resilience. In the last decade many African countries experienced a growth revival, some with exceptionally high growth rates. The continent has weathered the global economic and financial crisis better than others.

For many observers Africa is turning the corner. Growth is back. Exports are growing. Foreign direct investment is flowing.

However, as the representatives of the real economy here assembled, you also know that below the surface of this growth optimism, the undercurrents are still very strong.

Decent work deficits, strong inequalities, persistent poverty, increasing informality, gender discrimination are some of the major challenges in the daily reality of African people.

Yet in every one of these fields, you also have success stories. But it is difficult every step of the way. It’s like always swimming against the current.

In short, the global growth model developed these last 30 years does not serve well Africa or the world.

It is not efficient in generating sufficient productive, formal, decent jobs, in reducing inequality, in improving working conditions, in sharing benefits.

It wound up producing an unfair, unbalanced and unsustainable globalization as the crisis we are living through demonstrates.

We need a change of course – towards a home-grown employment centered growth paradigm

In Africa and beyond, warning signs are all over the place to the effect that the current model of growth is still not in tandem with the universal aspirations of ordinary people for productive and decent jobs.

Today, you are gathered in Johannesburg because you stand firm to your collective commitments.

I admire you because you have become assertive in your views about what policies Africa needs, about your own home-grown solutions.

In 2004, at the Extraordinary Leaders Summit in Ouagadougou. Africa took the lead in calling for a more balanced growth pattern grounded on Decent Work for All.

Today, 31 Decent Work Country Programmes are operational in Africa. And negotiations are taking place in 22 other countries - including already in South Sudan - to launch or renew such national programmes through your tripartite perseverance and engagement.

From Ouagadougou, Africa also connected with the world in calling for a fairer model of globalization.

Today, we all see that timely actions, as called for by the ILO in its report on the social dimension of globalization, could have protected us from the imbalances of a finance-driven globalization model.

The recovery is faltering and a recovery without jobs is not a recovery

Yet the worst does not seem to be over.

The financial crisis that gripped much of the globe three years ago has morphed into a sovereign debt crisis threatening further recession in the developed countries.

Global growth in the second half of 2011 has gone down significantly. In the words of the IMF, “The global economy is in a dangerous new phase. Global activity has weakened and become more uneven, confidence has fallen sharply recently, and downside risks are growing”.

This is a cause for more worry.

The current global economic turmoil looms large. Africa’s main trading partner - the Eurozone - faces a crisis.

And we could slip into another global recession.

If that happens, the pain could last far longer than in the previous global downturn because many public and fiscal instruments used then are no longer available, particularly in the developed world.

Understandably all over the world, we see that anxiety is rising - And political anger with it.

Tunisia, Egypt, Italy, Greece, Spain, Israel, Chile, the United Kingdom, New York… The list of countries and cities continues to expand.

The news everyday shows a global youth and many adults united by the indignation of being unemployed or underemployed, of lacking fundamental access to good education, to real opportunities and looking towards a future without much hope.

They seem to be saying “we are not going to take it anymore”, if “some banks are too big to fail we do not want to be too small to matter.” So, listen to us!

There is too much concentration today on how to give confidence to financial operators and too little on how to retain the trust of citizens.

These are issues the G-20 leaders will have to deal with in their forthcoming meeting in France. Their biggest challenge will be to connect with people’s fears and anxieties in all countries which go much beyond those demonstrations in the streets. Thank you, President Zuma, for your international leadership at the UN, in the BRICS, on South-South cooperation, and for South Africa’s role in the G-20. In this connection, let me also highlight Minister Oliphant’s important role at the recent G20 Labour Ministers’ meeting in Paris.

We need a new era of social justice

The steps needed to avoid the abyss are clear. We need utmost political will and solidarity, an integrated view of macroeconomic, employment and inclusive labour market policies and social responsibility by all parties.

So, let me focus on six key policy challenges:

First, the world and African countries need a more efficient, job-intensive growth pattern.

We cannot measure our success by growth alone. Employment creation must be a recognized target of macro-economic policies, as much as inflation targets and macro-economic balances.

This means formulating, agreeing and implementing policies to promote productive transformation and diversification, focussing on sectoral strategies and industrial and agricultural policy instruments for job-rich growth.

In this connection, agriculture is particularly important. There has been a long history of neglect and therefore stagnation of agriculture in Africa. And yet agriculture provides the main source of employment and income for Africa’s labour force.

The promotion of manufacturing and export diversification are equally important.

Africa is a vast continent, with a population of over 1 billion, and the potential of regional integration to boost jobs and growth is also vast. Only 10 t0 12 per cent of total African trade takes place within the region.

Improving regional infrastructure, facilitating intra-regional trade, improving the enabling environment for all enterprises are essential.

South Africa’s New Growth Path vision is an excellent technical and political approach.

Second, small and medium enterprises can be power drivers of employment creation; they can make the difference. Experience from the crisis has once again put SMEs as an engine of growth, job creation, and sustainable livelihoods.

I would like to encourage Africa and its regional organizations to pursue an ambitious continent-wide initiative to generate jobs through SMEs. This is in line with the ILO-AU-AfDB-ECA employment for youth joint initiative, and connects with youth entrepreneurship, cooperatives and the social economy in general.

This could become a key G-20 objective.

Third, globally we need to promote productive investments in enterprises of the real economy and reduce the preponderance of unproductive financial products.

Developed countries’ debt to GDP ratios have increased substantially, but a single concentration on austerity is not a sustainable policy answer. Socially responsible fiscal consolidation is needed.

A balance needs to be made with policies that create jobs, produces real growth, real demand, keep basic social protection and generate fiscal income that will permit to pay the debt.

Ultimately, we need to put productive investments in job-generating sustainable enterprises of the real economy in the driver’s seat of the global economy and put the financial system at the service of the real economy.

It must concentrate on providing resources needed for innovation, investment, trade and consumption, and not on casino options in short or long selling and obscure financial products.

Fourth, this is not the time to bend back rules, regulations and internationally agreed labour standards.

The crisis should never be used as a justification to undermine workers’ rights and international labour standards.

Financial norms should constitute a means and social norms should constitute an objective.

In this connection, social dialogue is the 21st Century win-win development scenario - with negotiations from national to shop floor levels leading to mutual agreements on the way forward.

Workers organization, respect for autonomy of collective bargaining, ratification and application of ILO Conventions, with strong labour administration and inspection – are key elements of efficient growth.

Fifth, continued priority should be on policies and programmes to protect the most vulnerable and poorest through social protection floors.

It is needed. And it is doable.

Countries like China or Vietnam, among others, have built their health protection systems from scratch achieving large-scale coverage in a very short period of time.

In Africa, there are notable experiences with implementation of elements of the social protection floor in countries such as Cape Verde, Rwanda and South Africa.

We must build fiscally sustainable social protection floors appropriate to each country, as endorsed by your Yaoundé Tripartite Declaration adopted at the Second African Decent Work Symposium in October 2010 in Cameroon. International cooperation should help least developed countries.

I am pleased to announce that a major report of the Advisory Group, chaired by former President of Chile Michelle Bachelet and convened by the ILO with the collaboration of WHO, and entitled “Social protection floor for a fair and inclusive globalization” will be officially launched worldwide at the United Nations on 27 October this year.

Sixth, promoting decent employment opportunities for the youth should become a global priority. 400 million new jobs are needed in the next decade to keep with population growth.

We know there is a mismatch between skills and education and jobs available. We know you can be educated and jobless. It’s the origin of youth action on the streets.

But above all, full, productive and freely chosen employment for young people cannot be achieved through isolated and fragmented measures. It needs long-term, coherent and concerted action over a wide range of economic and social policies that create enough job opportunities.

National policies and programmes promoting youth employment are most effective if they are integrated into the overall macroeconomic and sectoral policies.

I would like to invite you to take active part on the 101st session of the International Labour Conference next June. As you are already aware, a key item for discussion will be on promoting decent work and employment opportunities for our young people.

We should transform that gathering into a Youth Employment Summit of all actors involved and place the tripartite ILO at the center of successful policies to tackle youth employment .


Dear friends,

Let me finish by recalling something we all know and which I highlighted in this year’s ILC.

It is very clear that the Decent Work Agenda and a working ILO tripartism bring the possibility of better, more inclusive growth, of more peace, more equity and rights, less poverty and more stable development in economies, enterprises, workplaces and, ultimately, in society.

ILO policies contribute to a world with fewer tensions, greater fairness and strengthened security. These are compelling contemporary echoes of the most striking passages of the ILO’s founding constitutional texts.

With our values and policies, we are on the right side of history.

I am proud to be again in the land of Nelson Mandela, a true icon, a son of Africa, a mentor to a gallant array of freedom fighters. And today, as it will be tomorrow, he will always be a guiding light and a personal inspiration in that never ending struggle for social justice – for dignity, for human respect.

A guiding light for all those that in the midst of destitution and persecution will be able to keep their pride and honour and faith intact because he showed the way.

Dear friends,

As you may know, I have decided to advance my departure from the ILO for strong personal family reasons to 30 September next year.

This is not a goodbye moment – but it is my last African Regional meeting. We will continue working together up to our Conference in June next year when I will have the honour to host you.

Let me finish with some personal comments. “I am in Africa – a continent I love and respect.

A region full of women and men who are my friends and colleagues, with whom I have shared ideals and struggles and have seen difficulties and deceptions together.

Sisters and brothers of all ages who are an integral part of my extended international family.

A family which believes that societies can be better, that positive change is possible and that ultimately, values, vision and a certain degree of volunteerism to make things happen can prevail over the moral indifference that pervades so much of our world today.

We know this is not easy to accomplish. We also know that if we do not, we will not be proud of the world we are leaving our children.”

Dear friends,

I did not write these last 4 paragraphs for this address.

I wrote them in April 1999 for my first address as ILO Director-General to the Labour and Social Affairs Commission of the then Organization of African Unity. They stand true then as they do today.

Thank you for your confidence. Thank you for your friendship.

And thank you, President Zuma, for honouring us with your presence.