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Africa must prioritise Decent Work for its youth

by Tia

African employers and policymakers need to embrace the Decent Work Agenda for Africa to establish equitable and dignified working conditions for all people, turn around the dire youth unemployment situation and grow the regional economy, says the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation (AGOF). 

Nontando Mthethwa, AGOF Head of Public Affairs and Communications, made the remark at GEC+Africa, the regional extension of the Global Entrepreneurship Congress, this week. The conference was a gathering of leaders in entrepreneurship promotion and advocacy from 43 African nations, including business and government leaders, as well as international thought leaders and supporters of the Decent Work movement.

Embracing the Decent Work Agenda

The global Decent Work Agenda is a globally recognised framework that promotes opportunities for people of all genders, ethnicities and geographies to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security, and human dignity. The agenda is structured around the four pillars of employment and enterprise, social protection, rights at work, and social dialogue. 

AGOF advocates for policy changes to bring about the universal adoption of the Decent Work framework, to create more equitable and beneficial economic opportunities for working-age Africans of all backgrounds. 

In its newly released report, titled “Decent Work: Beyond the Mere Definition, Towards Transformation”, AGOF advocates for the redefined concept of Decent Work in Africa, emphasising inclusive employment and improved work quality through safe and fair conditions, within the unique regional context. The report addresses several challenges faced by the informal sector, women, and youth. The Decent Work Framework for Africa sets out six areas of improvement: inclusive opportunities, quality of work and workplaces, social protections, sustainable and responsible entrepreneurship, social dialogue and participation, and skills development and education. 

According to the report, 23.8% of Sub-Saharan youth are unemployed and overall, 72 million youth in African are not in education, training or employment. Of those that are employed, 85% of jobs in Africa are in the unregulated informal sector which offers workers no social protection. In addition, Africa grapples with a serious gender pay gap, with women earning 30-40% less than men.  

“We have a robust framework for Decent Work in Africa, but now we need our employers and policymakers to come on board to turn this valuable framework into lived reality,” said Mthethwa. “The Decent Work Agenda in Africa seeks to establish equitable and dignified working conditions for all, transcending all boundaries to human progress – be it social, economic, political or geographical.”

“The continent grapples with unique socio-economic challenges, which disproportionately affect vulnerable groups such as women and youth. We must address the tensions between necessity-driven and high-growth entrepreneurship, emphasising responsible business practices that balance profitability, social impact, and environmental sustainability.”

AGOF recommends policy changes and potential interventions to promote Decent Work in Africa, by specifically focusing on entrepreneurship to its attainment. These recommendations include endorsing responsible entrepreneurship, ethical conduct, Decent Work conditions, and environmental sustainability.

  • Promote Responsible Entrepreneurship: Advocate for integrating responsible entrepreneurship principles in national business policies and regulations, incentivising businesses to prioritise Decent Work practices, environmental sustainability, and ethical business conduct.
  • Support Innovation and Ethical Business Models: Establish funding programmes to support the development and scaling of innovative and ethical business models that contribute to job creation, social impact, environmental sustainability and community engagement.
  • Promote Social Protection: Support the design and implementation of comprehensive social protection systems that cover workers in the formal and informal sectors, focusing on vulnerable populations such as women, youth, and workers in precarious employment.
  • Enhance Education and Skills Training: Develop scholarship programmes and vocational training initiatives that target underprivileged individuals and marginalised communities, equipping them with relevant skills for Decent Work opportunities and promoting inclusive access to quality education.
  • Promote Gender Equality: Launch initiatives to advance gender equality in the workplace, including funding projects that address gender-based discrimination and inequality, supporting women’s entrepreneurship programmes, and advocating for policies that promote equal opportunities and pay equity.

AGOF is a member of the Allan & Gill Gray Philanthropies (AGGP). Both AGGP and AGOF are highly impactful advocates for youth entrepreneurship and employment. Their vision is an empowered, prosperous, productively engaged African citizenry thriving in ethical societies with dignity and hope.  AGOF identifies candidates it believes possess significant entrepreneurial potential, and provides them with high quality education, entrepreneurship education and training. This is backed by psychosocial support with an accent on personal mastery, so that these individuals are well placed to identify and realise entrepreneurial opportunities.

Mthethwa said entrepreneurship and dignified employment were what the country needed to break the deeply entrenched cycles of inequality and poverty in South Africa, which still had much work to do beyond its 30th anniversary as a democracy in 2024. 

“Democracy by itself is not enough to take us forward as a nation and a continent. We need an empowered, productive, prosperous and engaged African citizenry who can thrive within the safety of an ethical and supportive socio-political frameworks.”

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