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Echoes of the102nd International Labour Conference: What lessons for Nigeria?

Not a few Nigerians believe that there is a serious problem of unemployment in the country and that some employers seize this reality to abuse labour laws knowing full well that workers who have no choice actually have no voice.

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Many, especially young graduates, have waited ages after graduation for paid employment that whenever one comes, regardless of the conditions, they prefer to trudge on than raise dust or even quit the job. Relatives and friends will say, just endure it; at least it puts food on the table. If it doesn’t put enough food on the table, they say, ‘well, at least you have somewhere you go to every morning.’

From the 5th to 20th of June, 2013, stakeholders on labour matters across the world, governments, employers and unions (the tripartite) converged on the United Nations Building in Geneva, Switzerland, on the occasion of the 102nd International Labour Conference (ILC) organised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to discuss wide ranging issues in the place of work.

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Issues extensively deliberated upon include decent work, sustainable development, jobs and social protection for growing and ageing populations, and child trafficking as well as forced labour.

World leaders made statements and commitments, unions discussed safety of jobs, with employers also discussing how everyone will realistically benefit from a sustainable workplace that also protects the environment.

In fact, one ILC’s committee declared that there can be “no sustainable development without environmental sustainability and decent work.”  The ILC Committee on Sustainable Development, Decent Work and Green Jobs, made up of 174 delegates from around the world, added that the contribution of the world of work to the greening of the economy is critical – and presents a real opportunity – to realize the ILO’s social goals.

An ILO publication said that for the first time in the organisation’s near century-long history, governments’, workers’ and employers’ delegates have agreed on a strong common vision and key guiding principles to achieve a just transition to a greener economy.

 “The greening of economies presents many opportunities to achieve social objectives: it has the potential to be a new engine of growth, both in advanced and developing economies, and a net generator of decent green jobs that can contribute significantly to poverty eradication and social inclusion,” said the committee after almost two weeks of deliberations during the ILC.

During the adoption of its conclusions by the plenary session of the ILC on Wednesday, 19 June, 2013, ILO Director General Guy Ryder said he was “delighted to see such broad agreement on an issue that is so crucial for the future of the world of work and indeed of our planet. We now need to turn this agreement into concrete actions. That can and must be achieved through social dialogue.”

The ILO said that “the greening of the economy can not only create additional decent jobs across the economy but also upgrade jobs and raise incomes as well, especially in sectors such as agriculture, construction, recycling and tourism,” warning that “there are environmental and employment challenges that the world needs to tackle jointly, not separately.”

Speaking on the need to provide jobs and social protection for ageing populations, the ILC’s Committee on Employment and Social Protection in the New Demographic Context, said, “governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations must take action to ensure decent job opportunities and social protection for growing and ageing populations.”

It pointed out that the fast changing demographics present a huge challenge to labour markets and social security systems worldwide, which must be urgently addressed.

It concluded that, “With the right combination of policies and the commitment and action of relevant stakeholders, demographic transitions not only become manageable and sustainable but can also be turned into opportunities.

The conclusion emphasised the need for a long-term policy vision to address the employment and social protection needs of people of all ages and to promote shared responsibility and solidarity between generations.

It also “underscores the need for a comprehensive, multi-dimensional, integrated and innovative policy mix that recognizes the interdependency between demographic shifts, employment, labour migration, social protection and economic development,” in both developed and developing economies.

 “In Africa, the priority right now is to provide employment for the large youth population, extend social security to the informal sector and encourage formalization of informal work. In Europe, it is about the ageing population and ensuring productive jobs for older workers and sufficient pensions for those who retire,” said James Matiza from Zimbabwe, chair of the committee and government spokesperson.

 “However, Africa and other developing regions need to prepare for the future, as their populations begin to age,” he added.

However, participants were not in doubt on the need to build consensus by the tripartite organs-government, employers and unions-for any goal set to be achieved.

The ILC’s Committee for the Recurrent Discussion on Social Dialogue approved a new framework of action on social dialogue, stressing that “it is at the heart of democracy – and is essential for social and economic development.”

It called on those ILO constituents to strengthen institutions and processes of social dialogue and asked the office to provide support, actively promote social dialogue and enhance policy coherence with other international organizations.

It further reaffirmed the importance of social dialogue in achieving social and economic progress, stressing that it embodies the basic democratic principle that people affected by decisions should have a voice in the decision-making process.

 “Strong labour ministries can work with the social partners to address issues that have important impacts on workers and employers. Social dialogue’s effectiveness and the soundness of industrial relations depend on the capacity of the government to act as policy-maker, administrator and as participant in tripartite discussions.

 “The ILO will help constituents to promote, facilitate and engage in social dialogue and collective bargaining. It will also be more proactive in engaging with international organizations and institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization to promote the Decent Work Agenda and ILO standards and principles,” it said.

Nigeria has been a key participant in ILO activities and has held key positions in committees which made far reaching recommendations on ensuring that jobs are decent and safe. However, a lot need to be done in terms of implementing such recommendations.

Many stakeholders believe that the relevant department in the Ministry of Labour and Productivity is not doing enough in ensuring that workplaces are safe. Stories of factories especially Chinese owned where several workers have died in fire outbreaks are common place. Others include firms whose workers don’t have simple protective gears like helmets, hand gloves and goggles.

Nevertheless, appreciable gains have been made in tackling child trafficking and forced labour and Nigerians believe that only the Federal Government through its policies can create a favourable environment for jobs to grow.

It takes sustained deliberate planning and political will to implement most of the laudable recommendations annually dished out in Geneva, by its tripartite membership. It is hoped that before the next gathering come June next year, the job situation in Nigeria would have improved and more people would have been lifted out of unemployment or underemployment into safe and decent jobs.


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