Regional Integration, Decent Work, and Labour and Social Policies in West and Southern Africa
The West and Southern areas of Africa (W&SA) are confronted with enormous challenges to maintain peace and stability, to organise good governance, and to fight against contagious diseases. Reduction of poverty is the prevalent over-all socio-economic strategic goal since most countries of the area are least developed countries (LDC). At the heart of the strategy are the search for economic prosperity and competitiveness, employment creation, and decent labour conditions. The claims for jobs of a rapidly growing young population are evident everywhere. In order to answer these claims and reach the broader social objectives, national stakeholders and the international community are increasingly looking at the regional level and at regional integration for answers. This report is about these answers and specifically about the interaction between regional integration processes and employment, labour market and social policies in the West and Southern regions of Africa. Together, employment and labour market policies represent the search for decent work, which includes job creation and respect of the basic labour standards and measures of social protection. What can regionalism contribute to that purpose? In these parts of Africa, the modern sector including oil drilling and mining is often an enclave linked to the international economy and isolated from the rest of the economy which is largely informal and subsistence orientated. Poor people have low incomes and low levels of consumption, depend for their livelihoods on subsistence agriculture, the informal sector, or humanitarian aid. Women have no or unequal access to labour markets, children are obliged to perform hard jobs. At the same time, the incidence of ‘working poverty’ is high. This means that the level of poor jobs, underemployment and vulnerability on the labour market is very high. Given the low skills levels and productivity of the labour force, the issue of poverty requires measures aimed at improving poor people’s human capital. Reducing poverty requires the creation of ‘decent jobs’ by improving labour productivity, rising wages and more decent working conditions. Children must be in schools, chances for women on the job markets must be created, the right to be organised as a labour force and get decent pay for all workers must be realised. In order to find out how the regional organisations can contribute to these objectives, this report reviews trends and effects of regional integration and open trade regimes on socio-economic variables and examines policy responses to such effects. The recommendations of the report of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization are taken into account in the preparation of this report. Section one discusses concepts. First, what is regional integration, what are the stages and diverse modalities and the effects of regional integration? Then access to the world economy, the impact of WTO (World Trade Organisation), reciprocal and non reciprocal market access arrangements are discussed. Labour market, social protection and broader social policy issues are summarised, before tackling the question of how regional integration and labour markets are interconnected. An attempt is made to describe the implications of these interactions in the context of economic development and regional collaboration. Methods for studying the relationship between trade and labour issues are presented. Section two moves to W&SA and starts with a review of the socio-economic challenges and poverty situation. Then the current policy framework governing regional groups in S&WA including the institutional arrangements in place are discussed. The role of the African Union (AU) and the New Economic Policy for Africa (NEPAD) are highlighted as well as the Economic Partnerships being negotiated with the European Union. Section three describes how the agenda has been set by various actors for policy discussion and decision concerning the social dimension and decent work at the regional level in Africa. The roles of the ILO, AU, UNDESA, UNESCO and other actors are highlighted. The debate between stakeholders in SADC is discussed. Section four reviews the evidence from existing studies about the impact of regional integration and inter-regional negotiations on labour markets and social policy issues in the W&SA regions. It also describes the methodological basis of these types of studies with a view to making specific proposals for capacity building and training. Section five presents a set of observations based on the report and on the findings of the field missions to Africa about the effectiveness of current processes of regional integration and how labour and social policies are handled by regional integration bodies in W&SA. Issues of complexity and capacity are discussed. Section six addresses the issue of reinforcing existing institutional capacity of regional stakeholders and proposes how this might be done through specific training targeted at all social partners at the regional level in W&SA. Such training should address the appropriate methodologies to assess the labour and social impact of regional integration and inter-regional trade; the skills to design and propose appropriate social policies - at the national and regional levels - to accompany regional integration and trade liberalization policies; and skills to negotiate regional and interregional trade agreements that ensure employment and decent work for all.