Development experts, warning that poly crises are deterring development and have stalled progress on Sustainable Development Goals, are calling for a new social contract that recognizes and protects informal workers in Africa.
As the world draws close to the deadline for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, there are many practical and feasible options for policy makers to push the development agenda in the remaining 7 years. These include having a social contract that includes informal workers in contracts with the state as well as enacting active labour market policies for lower tier, informal self-employed workers that can provide social transfers and other forms of support for them to transition out of dead end jobs.
This was the finding of a new report launched by the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) during a panel discussion Towards peace and decent work in Africa – accelerating progress on the SDGs hosted by UNU-WIDER and the Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa.
The report, Towards peace, decent work, and greater equality, is a culmination of a 5-year research programme on transforming economies, states, and societies. The report noted that peace, greater equality, and decent work can be achieved in our lifetimes and are instrumental to accelerating progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The report found that progress on the SDGs has been stalled following COVID-19 and the crisis it precipitated. Combined with several endemic crises related to violent conflicts, poverty, climate change, and political injustice—and the aftershocks of the Ukraine war which threatens food security worldwide— these crises have reversed development gains on the continent. However, the report found that not all was gloom and doom, noting that Africa had many opportunities for action, which can be a springboard for Southern governments and the international community hoping to recover and accelerate progress towards the SDGs.
“There needs to be greater policy focus on enhancing the livelihoods and working conditions of lower tier self-employed workers such as credit provision for household enterprises and the recognition of the rights of urban informal self-employed workers such as street vendors and waste pickers in city planning processes,” said Kunal Sen, Director at UNU-WIDER, a research and policy think tank which focuses on economic analysis and policy advice with the aim of promoting sustainable and equitable development.
Research has found that women often have the worst paid jobs with the least protections, and they are under-represented in the labour force globally but the situation was worse in global southern countries. Besides, the quality of employment for women was significantly worse than for men, the report found.
“More generous family policies – such as longer maternity leave and promotion of more flexible work arrangements – can support women in particular during life transitions,” the report recommended in policy options.
We need to strengthen the social contract between state and citizens and improve livelihoods between social groups, the issue of social contract has become important in the development agenda, said Mr. Sen, asking “How do we even rebuild a social contract, forget about strengthening it because in many parts of the world we do not even see a functioning social contract?”
Commenting on the need to create decent work, Abebe Shimeles, Director of Research at African Economic Research Consortium said policy makers need to keep job creation as a policy goal. There is a need to reimagine the creation of new jobs in the future through investment in human capital and labour markets.
Mr. Shimeles noted that Africa should focus on creating jobs under difficult conditions as it was important for governments in Africa to look at several reforms including supportive market reforms and tax reforms to ensure economic stability to create jobs.
ECA Chief of Staff, Sweta Saxena, highlighted that Africa is at a development crossroads having been impacted by multiple crises from the COVID 19 pandemic to cost of living and debt crises. The recent bout of conflicts will be affecting both the economic stability and the social fabric of societies. Her research has shown that in Africa, civil wars on average, lead to a permanent loss in output of about 3 percent while changes in government to more dictatorial regimes lead to a loss of output of about 5 percent. With such huge economic losses, she asked, “how could Africa recover from the current crises and manage the four megatrends of demographic transition, urbanization, digitalization and climate change.”
Ms. Saxena highlighted how high population growth in Africa will lead to more than half of its population below the age of 35 by 2050 and by 2050, 6 in 10 people will be living in cities. “All this calls for creation of decent jobs so that we can create a more inclusive Africa,” she said.
She also highlighted that the African continent, though the least contributor to climate change, has been the worst affected – 7 out of 10 of the most vulnerable countries in the world were in Africa. Besides drought related hazards have in the last 50 years, claimed over half a million lives and caused economic losses of more than $70 billion.