International Labour Organisation functioning and activities

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Employment and Labour

01 November 2010
Chairperson: Ms L Yengeni (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Director of the Pretoria office of the International Labour Organisation(ILO) briefed the Committee on the aims and objectives of the ILO and the programmes it offered. He noted that the ILO was a tripartite organisation of the United Nations (UN), consisting of business, labour and government. The ILO policed internationally recognised workers’ rights in countries that were not compliant with good labour practices, and also played a developmental role. It had core conventions, all of which had been ratified by South Africa, which formed the basis of the labour law in South Africa. South Africa had signed a Decent Work Country Programme in September 2010, which set out how it would proceed in promoting and creating decent work, using the four priority themes of employment creation, governance and strengthening labour inspection, attending to HIV-AIDS, and ensuring social protection. The Pretoria office would assist the 15 countries linked to it to create their own Decent Work programmes. Within the New Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC), which was unique in the world for having four partners since civil society was also represented, there was a steering committee to manage the Decent Work programme. As well as this programme, the ILO was currently also concerned with issues around labour brokers, and had researched and produced a convention on employment services and world best practice. The ILO was operating an Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) to the value of US$10 million, operating in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo, and KwaZulu Natal, and this would be expanded to the other provinces. The ILO was also helping the train Labour Inspectors and assisting the Department of Labour to redesign its Labour Inspection Unit. It ran a Gender Equality Project, and had a programme on social entrepreneurship, targeting unemployed youth. It worked with various ministries. South Africa had ratified 23 conventions, or which 20 were in force, including the eight core UN conventions, and it was looking to ratify more. The ILO had acted as project manager in a project in which the Flemish government had donated US$1 million, in the Port of Durban, and was working with government and other agencies to promote small business development in Free State, with Euro funding. The ILO recently concluded 2 deals which would benefit South Africa greatly in the near future. Firstly, it played the role of project manager in a Flemish-government funded project to increase the productivity of workers and functions in the Port of Durban, and had also closed a deal with Euro funding to stimulate small business development in Free State. The ILO noted that employers should be attempting to prevent retrenchments, and could be a catalyst to more creative thinking about saving jobs. High unemployment rates were not sustainable.

Members asked which key factors in the South African economy prevented the country from creating more jobs. Members also asked whether there were any models of best practice from other countries that South Africa could apply to job creation. Members enquired whether the ILO was working with other international organisations, whether the programmes of the ILO were designed to reach the rural poor, and how unemployed people in urban and rural areas could approach the ILO to be part of its programmes.

Meeting report

Mr Vic van Vuuren, Director: The Country Office, International Labour Organisation(ILO), noted that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) was important to South Africa. It was the only tripartite organisation in the United Nations (UN),  because it consisted of business, labour and government.

The ILO firstly had the role of policing internationally-recognised workers’ rights in countries where these were not being complied with, and in this regard he mentioned that during the apartheid years, the ILO had focussed on South Africa, because of its repressive labour and other laws, and much research was done under its auspices on how to bring about democracy. Jay Naidoo and Halton Cheadle sat on many committees and attended many meetings in pursuing that agenda.

Mr van Vuuren said he had just returned from Swaziland, where there were challenges in the areas of freedom of association and in collective bargaining for workers. Trade unions were restricted in their activities. Because there were no political parties to which people could be affiliated, the restriction of trade unions was tantamount to the banning of political groups. The ILO also had concluded many agreements with the Zimbabwean government, which it then subsequently ignored.

Secondly, the ILO played a developmental role. It had an international head office in Geneva, Switzerland, and its African head office was in Addis Ababa, and was headed by Mr Charles Dan from Benin. Mr van Vuuren was based in Pretoria, and linked into the UN country team for South Africa, where he was an agency head. He noted that the ILO had a governing body and held an annual conference each June. In each conference four themes were dealt with. He noted that it had committees dealing with standards, employment, finance and technical co-operation. These committees were populated by people from the different countries.

The ILO had core conventions (see attached presentation for list), all of which South Africa had ratified, and which formed the basis of the labour law in the country.

Mr van Vuuren described the current ILO mandates, as encapsulated in the ILO Declarations. The Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work included freedom of association, eliminating all forms of compulsory labour, child labour and discrimination in the workplace. The Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalisation included promoting employment, by creating a sustainable institutional and economic environment, developing and enhancing measures of social protection, promoting social dialogue and tripartism, and respecting, promoting and realising the fundamental principles and rights at work. These mandates were taken to the countries for which he was responsible. He compared what was practised in the country with the ideals upheld by the declarations, and made the appropriate interventions.

In South Africa, Social Protection was a very serious issue. It was one of the key priorities of the decent work country programme. Prior to joining the ILO, Mr van Vuuren worked for Business Unity South Africa, the employer caucus. For the last five years there had been a debate about retirement fund reform and  social protection reform. This debate had also happened at New Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) as well, but National Treasury and Department of Social Development could not agree on the issues, and the process had stalled. Since it had never returned to NEDLAC or this Portfolio Committee, there was no movement on many key issues that could help the people of South Africa.

Mr van Vuuren said that the ILO’s Pretoria office visited countries and formulated a Decent Work Country Programme for them. South Africa’s Decent Work Country Programme was signed on 23 September 2010. This document set out how the country would proceed in promoting and creating decent work. There were four priority themes in the South African Decent Work Programme, being employment creation, good governance and strengthening labour inspection, attending to HIV-AIDS and ensuring social protection.

The Global Jobs Pact had been entered into with Mr Ebrahim Patel, Minister of Economic Development and with the former Minister of Labour, Mr Membathisi Mdladlana, and it looked at job creation.

Mr van Vuuren noted that there was an initiative that had the possibility of creating a huge number of green jobs in the construction sector. There was also another programme to save and create jobs in the textile industry. All stakeholders were consulted and were part of these processes, which had reached the stage where the programmes could be implemented.

The Pretoria office of the ILO covered 15 countries including the Seychelles, Mauritius, Ethiopia, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. There was a Decent Work programme for each country. This office had a staff complement of 80, covering three areas of operations, specialists and technical co-operation.

Mr van Vuuren then turned to the current practicalities, noting that these had been mentioned before, and included the issues around labour brokers. The ILO had researched and had drawn a Convention on employment services, and was advising the Ministry of Labour on the world best practices concerning labour brokers.

Mr van Vuuren believed that the recent Public Service strike in South Africa was a total loss. The ILO was concerned about, and could assist in refining, the definition of essential services.

Mr van Vuuren said that complaints could be raised at the Committee on Freedom of Association. South Africa had had no complaints lodged against it, which was positive. Botswana, Swaziland and Zimbabwe had been listed as the subject of complaints in the recent past.

Mr van Vuuren then described other work with which the ILO was busy. He mentioned again the Decent Work Country Programme for South Africa, signed in September 2010. A NEDLAC steering committee, headed by the social partners, was tasked with managing the implementation of the Decent Work Programme. An Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), to the value of US$10 million, operated in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and KwaZulu Natal, and it would be expanded to the other provinces. This programme created 140 000 work opportunities in Limpopo alone during the last two years. The ILO had been training labour inspectors, as well as helping the Department of Labour to redesign its Labour Inspection Unit. Labour inspectors were not reaching non-compliant companies. He noted that, in South Africa, the current Labour Inspection Unit was failing in the task of identifying and prosecuting the companies who were not compliant with the labour legislation, which meant that there was no incentive for them to comply. It was futile to introduce a Decent Work Programme in South Africa, if it could not policed. The Labour Inspection Unit thus had to be strengthened. He noted that, just as South Africa managed to address non-compliance with the tax legislation, it needed to tackle non-compliance with the labour legislation.

There were two points of focus in the Gender Equality Project. Firstly, it promoted entrepreneurship amongst women, through a programme entitled “Wedge?”. Secondly, it policed the country’s compliance to the gender equality conventions, through a programme funded by the Norwegian government. ILO also had a programme on social entrepreneurship, targeting unemployed youth. He outlined the success of a project in the Western Cape, run by a woman who was recycling glass and manufacturing glass products for sale locally, which was funded by the Flemish Government. Its most successful activities lay in the EPWP programmes, offering technical and capacity building support towards strengthening labour inspection, a training workshop that was supported by the ILO to strengthen Trade Union Engagement with the National Research Foundation, and a project for the identification and prevention of child labour, especially in agriculture.

ILO worked with the Ministries of Labour, Trade and Industry, Economic Development, Social Development, Public Works, Higher Education and Statistics South Africa.

South Africa had ratified a total of 23 conventions, of which 20 were in force, including the eight core conventions of the ILO. It was looking to ratify more, such as conventions on labour inspections.

National Social Dialogue found full expression in NEDLAC and the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). Both these original South African models had been classified by the ILO as examples of best practice internationally. The NEDLAC model was unique in that it was the only Decent Work Country Programme in the world that was signed by four partners, being Labour, Business, Government and Civil Society. He noted that the key figures in the Labour organisations were the Congress of South African Trade Unions(COSATU), the National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU) and the Federation of Unions in South Africa (FEDUSA). The key figure in business was Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), an organisation that was formed by the merger of the Black Business Council and Business South Africa. Key figures in Civil Society included the Women’s National Coalition, South African National Civics Organisation(SANCO), South African Youth Council, Disabled People South Africa (DPSA), the National Association of Co-operatives of South Africa, and the Financial Sector Coalition.

Mr van Vuuren outlined that the ILO would like to establish itself as a resource to the Portfolio Committee. It was able to assist with research, and could provide international experts in a number of fields. There were 14 researchers in Pretoria. It could also make presentations on projects, could advise the Portfolio Committee on areas that the Committee may feel were not properly addressed and could approach donors to make recommendations on new projects.

He outlined that the ILO recently concluded two deals which would benefit South Africa greatly in the near future. Firstly, it acted as project manager in a project to increase the productivity of workers and functions in the Port of Durban, involving both trade unions and management. US$1million was donated by the Flemish Government for this project. Secondly, it closed a deal in which 6000 Euros (possibly to be increased to 9000 euros) would be spent on a project to stimulate small business development in the Free State. This would commence in January 2011. The ILO would work with government and other agencies that promoted small business development, to create jobs and sustainability.

Mr van Vuuren noted that government had lost a major opportunity to create jobs with the National Lottery. The ILO had run a trial project in Melkbosstrand, where a lottery kiosk was situated in a shopping mall, which had turned a profit of between R3000 and R 5000 per month. He believed that this model would have had the potential to create thousands of jobs in South Africa, but noted that licences for lottery machines were given to major established players. ILO had other job-creation ideas.

Mr van Vuuren was an ex-employer himself, but believed that South African business was not doing enough on business ethics. He noted that in the build up to 2000, companies had to become Y2K compliant and had spent enormous sums of money in doing so. However, they had a different attitude to ensuring that their staff were retained and to avoid retrenchments. ILO could be a catalyst to more creative around saving jobs, and had, in the textile industry, assisted employers by lending money, although the employers had used this to buy machinery, and their new automation hastened the process of job losses. He noted that in South Africa the high unemployment rates were not sustainable. Something drastic must be done in the areas of job retention and job creation, and the ILO could add value and assist ministries and the Portfolio Committee.

Mr I Ollis (DA) asked whether Mr van Vuuren could list a few factors in the South African economy that prevented South Africa from generating large numbers of new jobs.

Mr van Vuuren replied that the youth had to be employed and developed. He cited a project in Botswana, which had a population of just under 2 million people, where 3 000 graduates were taken into a government-funded youth mentorship programme for one year, giving them work experience that enabled 20% of them to gain full time employment. The question now was whether the sponsorships could be continued beyond the first year. He suggested that in South Africa, government should call the captains of industry, together through BUSA or another organisation, and agree that government would fund mentorships and internships for all matriculants who were not going to continue with tertiary education, for between six months and one year. He was confident that all matriculants could be placed in businesses. The Department of Labour had centres in each province where matriculants could register. There were various small businesses that, although willing to mentor students and teach them skills, could not afford to pay them, but with government funding the students would be trained in skills, gain life experiences and have a job for a year. The Chambers of Commerce members had indicated their willingness to take youth in, provided there was a structured programme with financial assistance from the government. If such a programme could run for five years, it would create a totally new entrepreneurship culture, would take the youth off the streets, and would turn the tide on the sense of hopelessness that was taking root amongst the youth.

Mr van Vuuren noted that government also needed to conclude a debate on minimum wages with the unions.

Expanded Public Works Programmes went a long way towards creating jobs and were needed in all provinces. In Limpopo there was a programme building roads, doing paving, and producing bricks and cement. This was ideal for both unskilled and semi-skilled workers, and people were being taught project management skills. Many proposals had been put on the table for other similar programmes, but were constantly ignored by government.

He noted that Minister Patel had accepted the proposal of the ILO on Green Jobs in the construction industry. Instead of using automation, the project managers could choose manual labour-intensive processes. There had to be certain guarantees in place. Government’s procurement was an area that needed to be targeted, as government tended to use “business as usual” modes rather than looking critically at its procurement practises to find opportunities to create jobs.

Mr M Nonkonyana (ANC) asked with which other structures, internationally, the ILO collaborated.

Mr van Vuuren replied that the ILO worked in South Africa with COSATU, FEDUSA, NACTU, business and government. It did not work with organisations at the grassroots level, unless this was for a specific project. It also worked with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB), but these institutions were not labour friendly, and some conflicts arose through the ILO’s insistence that Decent Work Agreements should be built into the loans to countries by the World Bank, as also through the inherent clash between some aims and objectives of the ILO, and the desire of the World Bank to maximise profits.

Mr Nonkonyana asked whether the programmes of the ILO were designed also to reach the rural poor.

The Chairperson said that there were many poor and unemployed people in KwaZulu Natal, and in areas of the Western Cape, and questioned how they could reach or approach the ILO.

Mr van Vuuren replied that there were programmes in the rural areas. The programme in Limpopo was funded by the Limpopo Provincial Government, but the ILO provided a project management service and  brought in international experts. This Limpopo project was unique, but ILO wanted the government to roll it out to all nine provinces, and must approach all nine provincial governments. Another example was the pilot project that the ILO did on social employment in KwaZulu Natal and Khayelitsha, which, in principle, aimed to teach people to provide services back to the community. ILO had asked for proposals, refined them and arranged funding for the project. In Khayelitsha, the recycled glass project was manufacturing goods that were supplied to retailers in that area, for sale to the local community.

Mr van Vuuren noted that the ILO would create pilot projects, and, when they proved to be successful, rolled them out to other provinces. However, there were challenges in getting buy-in by local and provincial governments, and because there was a lack of project management skills. The ILO, at its own expense, would bring in project managers to train and then hand over to local project managers. He noted that a recent pattern was emerging whereby countries would provide funding for development projects in Africa, on condition that all products and expertise must come from the funding country, which meant that half the funding returned to that country. ILO had insisted, in the Flemish-funded project in Free State, that local expertise must be used.

He noted that ILO was willing to provide information on a regular basis.

Mr Nonkonyana asked whether there were models from other parts of the world on which South Africa could draw as examples of best practice, to resolve the crisis of unemployment in South Africa.

Mr van Vuuren said that the National Framework Agreement was one of the best models in the world for how a country could stay economically viable during an economic recession, but despite being created some two years ago, very few of its principles had been implemented in South Africa. He noted that tourism was identified as a key industry, particularly in the rural areas, to create new jobs, and this sector must set up its own Decent Work agenda and consider how it would go about creating jobs. He did not think that parties at the macro level in the private sector were serious enough about creating jobs. Unemployment was at a very worrying 27%, and if this did not change, all that had been done right could be undone in a very short time.

Other business
The Chairperson read out a letter of thanks to the outgoing Minister of Labour, and a welcoming letter to the incoming Minister. The Committee confirmed and ratified both.

The meeting was adjourned.


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