The Decent Work Agenda in Southern Africa: Evidence and Challenges

by NCUBE, M., 2007
Research Report, Employment Growth & Development Initiative, Human Sciences Research Council

The decent work agenda initiated by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 1999 seeks to promote employment and productive work, workers’ rights, social protection and social dialogue. Ncube examines the experiences of nine southern African countries in terms of the decent work agenda, focusing on employment and productive work. The paper notes a lack of comprehensive and up-to-date labour market information in the region, and makes recommendations on indicators for monitoring progress on the decent work agenda. While some countries (including South Africa) have had limited success around the decent work agenda, for example in minimum wages, public works programmes and social protection, the region suffers from a large deficit of decent work. Although the growth of the informal sector has been significant, many jobs in this sector cannot be classified as ‘decent’. In addition, the quality of jobs has been eroded by an increase in casual and contract labour. Other major problems include deep-rooted unemployment and underemployment (affecting youth and women in particular), declining real wages and high wage disparities. The paper also notes that South African labour market policies need to consider regional socio-economic and political dynamics. Finally, it notes that the decent work agenda is under serious threat from globalisation and the HIV and AIDS pandemic.