Supervisor Elham AbolFateh
Editor in Chief Mohamed Wadie

Advancing Social Justice and Decent Work in Africa: A Blueprint for Change

By ILO Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Africa

Thu 02 May 2024 | 11:47 AM
Fanfan Rwanyindo

Labour Day resonates deeply across Africa. It serves both as a celebration of the historic achievements of our workers and as a potent reminder of the road still ahead.

In many African countries labour unions played crucial roles in anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles, acting as focal points for resistance against oppression and highlighting the enduring fight for economic and social justice.

This Labour Day once again reminds us of how essential it is to work together to overcome the many crises we are facing. As the International Labour Organization ‘s (ILO) Regional Director for Africa I see every day the impact these immense challenges area having on economies, societies and ordinary people. From the continuing fallout from the COVID 19 pandemic, renewed conflicts, rising food and fuel prices, to the growing consequences of climate change, Africa's resilience is being tested as never before.

More than 80 per cent of employment on our continent is informal, leaving people with scant security or stability. Over 1.2 billion Africans are not covered by even a single social protection benefit. Perhaps most starkly - too many of our young people see migration as their only hope; and since half of our population is under the age of 19 there could not be a more visceral reminder of the urgent need for change, and action.

At the ILO we believe that a better future begins with decent work and social justice. In 2019, the ILO's 54 African Member States reached a collective understanding of what needs to be done to achieve this and codified their conclusions by adopting the Abidjan Declaration.

This agreement not only aims to promote decent employment for all - especially our young women and men - it also seeks to leapfrog development hurdles by boosting education and leveraging technology. It also seeks to transform Africa’s important informal and rural economies by integrating them more effectively into the broader economy and providing fair conditions for their workers.

The Declaration also recognizes the importance of businesses, which form the bedrock of healthy economies by providing jobs and supporting community resilience. It advocates for a business-friendly environment to help sustainable enterprises grow, and an inclusive atmosphere where social dialogue between workers, employers and governments is integral to policymaking. It also underscores the importance of expanding social protection and strengthening adherence to international labour standards, so that gender equality, worker safety and other fundamental rights are safeguarded.

The ILO is committed to supporting African governments, workers, and employers to achieve this transformative vision. Together, we are working tirelessly to build an equitable and resilient Africa.

The Global Coalition for Social Justice is an embodiment of this vision. The Coalition - which was only launched this year but has already attracted more than 200 partners, including governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations, international institutions, enterprises, non-governmental organizations and academic institutions - is far more than just a platform for discussion, it is already a dynamic force for change, advocating for social justice to become a cornerstone of policy decisions worldwide.

Extending social justice and decent work across Africa is not just the morally-correct choice, it is the most pragmatic and effective route to long-term prosperity and stability. The crises that have been thrust upon us also offer the opportunity to reshape our continent for the better. The stakes are high, the need is urgent, but, working together, we can meet the challenge.

The ILO will be proud to support our members on this transformative journey. The path we must take is clear, and the time for action is now.

Fanfan Rwanyindo Kayirangwa is Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Africa at the International Labour Organization.