Employers from across Africa meet to discuss the continent’s labour market
Employers across Africa met on the 3rd and 4th of March for the Employers Annual Conference, which is one of the biggest and most interactive conferences in Africa. The event, which was held at the Sarova Whitesands Hotel and Spa, Mombasa, Kenya was co-organized by the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE)and Business Africa Employers’ Confederation (BUSINESSAfrica), a body that consolidates over 40 National employer organizations in Africa. The event hosted high profile speakers, amongst them Kenya Cabinet Secretary and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Labour, Hon. Simon Chelugui and Eng. Peter Tum respectively, the AfCFTA Secretary General, H.E. Wamkele Mene, commissioner for Health & Humanitarian Affairs- Africa Union Commission, H.E. Minata Samate, the President of Business Africa, Ms. Saida Neghza and the Secretary General and FKE Executive Director & CEO Ms. Jacqueline Mugo.
The Covid-19 Pandemic has been compared to the Great Depression of the 1930’s, as they both posed alarming labour shifts and economic re-construction of nations. The pandemic is unprecedented and has adversely affected the labour sector. Employers must quickly respond to the labour market challenges if to survive and even leverage on the pandemic. Currently we are in a state of recovery, many new norms have surfaced, from digitization to artificial intelligence to automation, which are changing the way we work and live. The two-day conference comprised panel discussions revolving around the theme, ‘Adapting to the Changing Labour Market’ in which employers, government representatives and trade unions engaged. The discussions covered issues from a local, regional and continental perspective.
“The African population will increase by approximately 900 million people by 2050 and therefore Africa has a challenge of expanding her job market. The Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will change the narrative if fully embraced and implemented by African states. With the implementation of the AfCFTA, Africa will be able to raise thirty million Africans from poverty,” stated H.E Wamkele Mene while addressing delegates at the conference.
Whilst acknowledging it will not be an easy journey to have 54 countries reach a consensus on the implementation of the AfCFTA he noted the success of AfCFTA is strongly dependent on the private sector. He urged African states to work on adjustment and removal of tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade to facilitate and boost intra-Africa trade. By the year 2035 all countries that will have ratified the AfCFTA should trade at zero duty in 97% of the value chains, which he expressed is very ambitious but doable!
He called upon employers to take full advantage of the agreement as it offers opportunities to scale and expand new markets.
“Migration has shaped the history of the African continent. Despite that the discourse on migration is often concentrated on the irregular migration from Africa to other part of the world, data has shown that over 80% of migration is intra-African. By 2020 Africa hosted 27 million international migrants. Most of Africa’s migrants are youth between the ages of 15-35 migrating within the continent and its regions. “H.E. Minata Samate.
Government representatives pointed out there’s need to break borders and allow people and goods to move freely across Africa through an African passport. This will open intra-Africa trade as well as free migration of labour and will translate to knowledge exchange amongst various industries while also leading to the rise of job opportunities. Through a ripple effect, we will see an increase in youth employment, our economies developing and a decrease in poverty. There is also a call to African governments to invest in research and development to propel innovations that are necessary and sufficient to guarantee successful market access. Through expansion of ICT and digital industrialization hubs set ups, we will see progress in the modern-day realities. “The Labour market is dynamic, we ought to change how we look at it, this way we will be able to tap into opportunities that have not been seen yet,” said Hon. Simon Chelugui.
“Our strength as a employers and entrepreneurs lie in our togetherness,” stated National President of FKE, Dr. Habil Olaka. Employer representatives agreed on the need to build stronger working partnerships towards achievement of the labour market challenges – in health, welfare, digitalization, skilling, reskilling and upskilling. Market liberalization can go a long way in aiding the stabilization of economies rather than implementation of policies that are always pro-consumer protection. However, for this to be achieved, the markets must be well governed. Seeing that the informal sector makes up the largest percentage of employers and job providers in Africa, they were not left behind in these conversations. Their voice needs to be recognized in discussions on issues that will grow their enterprises and enable them to supply beyond borders and this ought to be coupled with affordable credit and financing for quality innovations, sustainability and expansion of the industry. African employers and informal enterprises were challenged to consider benchmarking with the best practices in the world such as ‘Zero defect in India for informal industries’, Togo on Export Development Strategy and Ivory Coast (AfCFTA Committee) for guided entry into AfCFTA. Employers urged the government to be at the table during discussions on labour migration rather than the government negotiating alone and expecting the private sector to implement.
Ms. Saida Neghza recognized the contribution of women in the economy and emphasized how great of an asset women are. The inclusivity of women, youth and people with disability is not to be put on the periphery during discussions. Employers were urged to consider generating policies that support women to reach their full potential in leadership. The Executive Director, FKE, mentioned that one of the greatest milestones that has seen the empowering of women in leadership is the Female Future Leadership program.
“The ascendance of women to greater positions should not just be about filling the gender gap but it ought to be based on merit, that way we will actually be walking the talk on gender equality.” Ms. Jacqueline Mugo.
“Agility is the ability to adapt and respond to change, agile organizations view change as an opportunity, not a threat."
One of the issues that clearly came out and was echoed through out the conference, is the issue of adapting to a fast-changing world especially with digitization. One can view these changes as new opportunities to bring out freshness in the labour market, instead of viewing them as problems. The two-day conference ended on a high note with a set of resolutions adapted and a call to Governments, Employer Business Member Organisations, Trade Unions and Regional Economic Communities embrace social dialogue as a way of resolving emerging issues.