‘The future of work should prioritise the welfare of people’

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The informal sector is growing fast in Zimbabwe and there is need to chart a way forward on the Future of Work in this sector if Zimbabwe intends to achieve the SDG 8 of promoting decent work by 2030.

“…This work is about human beings who have aspirations for themselves, their families and their communities. Our time for action is now,” said the Mauritanian President.

Ngoni Dapira

WITH a growing informal sector, high unemployment rate and unstable macro-economic environment due to liquidity constraints in the country, Zimbabwe stands to benefit a lot on the initiative by the International Labour Organisation that will try chart a way forward on diverging issues concerning the future of work globally and at country level.

Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden (left) and Her Excellency Ms Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of the Republic of Mauritius. Launch of the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work at the ILO Headquarters – Geneva, Switzerland.

On August 21, the ILO pronounced at its headquarters in Geneva, members of the high-level Global Commission on the Future of Work, which is being co-chaired by two serving heads of state or government, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of Mauritius and Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden.

The global body is expected to address the many critical issues of our time and of the future that are rooted in the world of work. It will tackle the fundamental question of how a rapidly transforming world of work should be organized so that it responds to the values of social justice, especially in Third world countries where there is a growing informal sector.

The ILO Regional office for Africa senior communications officer Guebray Berhane said the Commission comprises of 20 experts from all over the world.

“It was set up under the ILO’s Future of Work Centenary Initiative launched by ILO director-general Guy Ryder in 2013. The experts will produce an independent report that will be submitted to the Centenary Conference of the ILO in 2019,” said Berhane.

During the launch the East African President, Gurib-Fakim said with the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the world of work is changing as never before, driven by unavoidable forces that are impacting manufacturing and trade, global supply chains and the digitalisation of the global economy.

Zimbabwe, which is an ILO member State, is no exception to experience problems in the world of work, with the worst case example experienced in 2015, following a Supreme Court landmark ruling of Zuva Petroleum on 17 July 2017, on job terminations. The Supreme Court ruling opened Pandora’s Box when it allowed companies to terminate employment contracts of employees on three months’ notice without paying retrenchment packages or their allowances and benefits.

The dismissal by notice was opposed to the conventional way of dismissal through disciplinary procedure, resignation, retrenchment and mutual agreement. This opened up floodgates and led to the sacking of thousands of employees countrywide in both the private and public sector. Although Government eventually intervened and amended the law by creating section 18 to align the Act to the Constitution, the damage was already done. Section 18 provided for all the workers fired before the amendment of the law to be given retrenchment packages.

“It is an undeniable fact that many jobs of today will be automated tomorrow, with profound consequences for people, particularly youth who will face shrinking job opportunities. In this context, the future of work initiative is a unique opportunity for us to catalyse a constructive, participatory dialogue and to gather the evidence and harness the global expertise needed to address the emerging trends and shape the transformations occurring in the world of work,” said the Mauritian President.

A development governance expert, Dr Kudzai Chatiza said at country level it is important to holistically and innovatively think about labour market policies and reforms, considering the growing informal sector in Zimbabwe and the volatile macro-economic environment.

He said given the inescapable reality of automation which is fast taking up jobs done by people, as Zimbabwe look to the future there is need to greatly consider the interests of people at the front and centre of the future of work agenda.

“The future of jobs appear to be less formal, rigid, location locked and generally knowledge driven. Essentially what countries like Zimbabwe need from the report would be ideas for facilitating new work cultures and job types, adjusting policies to enable the sustainability of such future of work structures and managing economies in a way that allows robust generation and sustenance of decent jobs. Exploring the future of work and celebrating innovations and the green jobs debate should be the crux of the research, but we should not lose sight of the fundamentals such as the need to have strong formal sectors, a stable macro-economic framework and an effective political governance system,” said Dr Chatiza.

He added that the overall report should balance the global insight and the country level insights, especially for the Third world countries.

Zimbabwe ratified the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. SDG 8 is targeting to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, productive employment and decent work for all by 2030.

However, to achieve decent work, Convention 102 of 1952 on Social Security, which addresses the rights of employees to medical care, employment injury benefit, sickness benefit, unemployment benefit, old age benefit, family benefit, maternity benefit, invalidity benefit and survivor benefit, is very important.

According to ILO, 73 percent of the people in the world have no access to social security. Despite being an ILO member State Zimbabwe is one of the countries that has not ratified Convention 102. This explains why social security concerns are nonexistent in the informal sector, where the rights of employees are being grossly abused.

The future for work initiative will be an inclusive and participatory approach in line with the ILO mandate to advance social justice and leaving no one behind. Stakeholders including tripartite constituents, international organizations, research institutions and civil society will be included in the inquisition.

President Gurib-Fakim said at present it was unclear how to best secure a job-led future at the same time creating new jobs and new forms of employment, especially for the young people.

“The applications of artificial intelligence, rising automation, rise of the gig economy and Internet of Things are all leading to transformations of the world of work as we know it today. Our key challenge is to balance these powerful forces based on the principles of balanced development, inclusion and sustainability… Through the work of the Global Commission I hope we can shed light on these issues and help member countries to chart pathways towards a just transition that places people at the front and centre of our global effort,” she said.

She added that creating jobs for youths was one of the most pressing challenges facing many countries. In Zimbabwe youths constitute 70 percent of the population with most struggling to secure jobs after completing college, of which the country produces more than 6000 graduates from various universities and colleges every year, who all expect to get jobs.

There are varying statistics to Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate, depending on the source.  However, on the ground what is undeniable is the continued shrinking of the labour market and collapse of large-scale industry. Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate has been estimated to be as low as 4 percent and as high as 95 percent. In its 2013 election manifesto, the ruling Zanu-PF party claimed unemployment levels stood at 60 percent, whilst the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Japhet Moyo, is on record to say it is between 80 to 90 percent. Government argues that most people are ‘gainfully employed in the informal sector, citing vendors as employees.

An example of automation which is fast taking over jobs that can be done by people. The Minister of Industry and Commerce Dr Mike Bimha (right) being shown the soap production line at Willowton in Mutare early this year.

Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe, the voice of employers, complains that the country’s labour costs are too high which best explains why most local firms  have been resorting to retrenchment for business sustainability and survival, and were quick to act on the July 2015 Supreme Court ruling opportunity to downsize. Apart from wanting to increase the rate of production through automation, most large scale companies have resorted to automation to cut on labour costs.

President Gurib-Fakim however said political will by the political leadership in all countries would be the major hurdle for the future of work initiative.

“ We can accomplish this (the future of work) by “putting people first”, by recognising that labour is more than simply a commodity in the labour market in the spirit of the ILO Constitution, or even just a factor of production. This work is about human beings who have aspirations for themselves, their families and their communities. Our time for action is now,” said the Mauritanian President.

Zimbabwe can also take a leaf from Mauritius. President Gurib-Fakim said they recently introduced the workfare programme for workers who had lost jobs. The programme provides support for job placement, skills training or support for creating a Small and Medium Enterprise, thereby effectively preventing the workers from falling into poverty traps.  To drive its decent work programmes to meet the 2030 SDG Goals, Mauritius is moving towards the introduction of a National Minimum Wage.

Ryder said the future of work initiative would look into three things namely decent jobs for all, the organisation of work and production and the governance of work.

 Decent jobs for all will address the most frequently asked question; Where will the jobs of the future come from, particularly for young people? The organization of work and production will tackle issues of the emerging platform economy, global supply chains and the nature of the enterprises of the future, whilst the governance of work will identify the rules, processes and institutions we will need in the future to make work decent and societies just,” said the ILO director general during the launch.

He added that the 20 experts chosen in the Commission reflect a balance of geographical regions and of different disciplines. There is gender balance, representation of workers and employers in keeping with the tripartite nature of the ILO.  The Commission is expected to produce a report which will be submitted to the ILO Centenary Conference in Geneva in June 2019.

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