Ramaphosa decries rising inequality and millions of people working in poverty trap

President Cyril Ramaphosa greeting International Labour Organisation director general Guy Ryder while labour minister Mildred Olifant looks on during the launch of the Global Commission on the Future of Work report at Zimbali in Durban on Friday.
President Cyril Ramaphosa greeting International Labour Organisation director general Guy Ryder while labour minister Mildred Olifant looks on during the launch of the Global Commission on the Future of Work report at Zimbali in Durban on Friday.
Image: Thuli Dlamini

President Cyril Ramaphosa has decried rising inequality and the fact that millions of people around the world are working in a poverty trap and in conditions that have little regard for workers' rights.

He was speaking during the launch of the Report of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Global Commission on the Future of Work in Zimbali near Durban on Friday. The launch coincided with the ILO’s 60th anniversary in Africa and 100 years' existence.

The launch was also attended by ILO director general Guy Ryder, Namibian president and chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Dr Haige Geingob and labour ministers from four SADC countries - South Africa, Malawi, Namibia and Zambia - as well as Sierra Leone.

In his keynote address, Ramaphosa said despite advances that had been made to improve workers' conditions, the world still faced a number of challenges which included rising inequality and millions of people working in a poverty trap.

"In many societies, working people still labour in antiquated working conditions that have little regard to their rights, with forced indenture and even forms of servitude and bondage common.

"Elsewhere, rapid technological advancement has had its own consequences for workers and communities, with digitisation and mechanisation of work processes giving rise to increased insecurity and job losses."

Ramaphosa said the impact of globalisation, demographic shifts, trade and other forms of protectionism, and climate change were bound to have consequences for future work processes. He said through the report they were seeking to build a world where work did not result in the commodification of the human being, "but a higher standard of living, protection of rights and the possibility for advancement".

"Our countries were built by the hands of hard-working men and women. Our collective fortunes depend on the creation of a society where every human being is accorded dignity both through, and in, work.

"It is a world where men and women in the workplace are equals before the law and protected from prejudice and injustice. It is a human-centred society anchored in the principles of social justice — the vision of the ILO."

The global commission's report has made 10 recommendations grouped into three pillars: investing in the capabilities of people; investing in the institutions of the world of work; and investing in decent, sustainable work.

Ramaphosa said investing in the capabilities of people meant more than simply investing in human capital but recognising that it was necessary to consider human development more broadly and dealing with factors such as rights, access and opportunities.

"If the people are to benefit from, rather than be constricted by, new technology, they need to reskill and upskill throughout their lives. Gender equality must also be made a reality through taking transformative, measurable steps.

"This includes more gender-balanced measures around child care and family responsibilities, more transparency in pay, including mandatory reporting, eliminating violence and harassment in the workplace and specific measures to ensure equal opportunities, particularly in the technology sector."

Increasing investment in the institution of work should extend to institutions, systems and regulations, said Ramaphosa.

"We propose establishing a universal labour guarantee that would guarantee fundamental workers' rights such as freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining and freedom from forced and child labour. It would include a set of basic working conditions, such as an 'adequate living wage', limits on hours of work, and safety and health at work," he said.

Other proposals included a 'human-in-command' approach to ensure that technology freed workers and improved work rather than reducing their control as well as an international governance system for digital labour platforms to ensure technology worked in the service of decent work.

The last pillar of investment in decent and sustainable work included increasing long-term investment in areas that support transformation, favour human development and protect the planet.

"Targeted private sector and public sector investment, coupled with the right technology, can create millions of new, decent, sustainable jobs in the green economy, the care economy, infrastructure development and rural areas," said Ramaphosa.


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