By Sabhat Ayele MCCJ
We don’t need the International Labor Organization (ILO) statistics to get enough awareness about the condition of labour in our Continent. Millions are mistreated, underpaid, exploited right under our nose. And yet the state apparatus seem not to care about the horrific work conditions of millions of citizens. Expatriates and high-income citizens treat workers at their own will. All this mounts to the lack of Social protection to low income citizens from the local government. It is a daily drama to see employees dismissed at random, unpaid for months (even in government offices), forced to work long hours, etc. It is logical to ask: “how can they support their dependents, in such working conditions”? Especially in urban centers where school fees, rent, food supply don’t match with their income?
The harrowing condition of lower class citizens is lack of social and government protection. Any state has the constitutional duty to protect its working class and ensure their equitable retribution. But these aspects are totally absent from many government priorities in Africa. On the contrary, it is high-ranking state officials who perpetuate abuse of the lower class laborers. Sad to say, but even in Church organizations, the working classes don’t seem much better than the rest. It may appear lack of foreign funds but what about the local collections? Do they take into consideration the domestic and low-income workers employed by Church structures?
To make things worse, even the International organizations that are meant to help and create jobs for low-income employees retain most of the donations.
This irresponsible behavior was discussed in many occasions but with little effect. Much of the donations are re-taken for their costly transports, luxurious hotel accommodations and expensive annual leaves. When I was in Lira in 2000 when the LRA insertion intensified, there were more than 50,000 IDPs in the camps. Each family received 5 kilos of maize per week. On the other side, the NGOs who were meant to take care of them were staying in Lira Hotel, one of the most expensive and driving the most expensive cars of latest models. Hence, can we talk of a “Desert of New Ideas” or a “Desert of justice in Africa? As a stand at the moment, it is crystal clear that the black Continent is facing a serious desert of justice. The condition of lower income citizens did not improve for decades.
Unemployment appears to be on a downward trend in the Northern part of Africa, but labour market distress remains pervasive, and those particularly affected are women and youth. Northern Africa still exhibits the highest unemployment rate globally, at 12.1 per cent in the last years. One factor that worsens youth unemployment is when growth remains too low and not sufficiently inclusive to make a significant impact on youth. According to the IOL, Northern Africa as a region has the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, at close to 30 per cent. Apparently the Arab Spring did little to ameliorate the condition of the youth despite high expectations. Another important factor that affects unemployment in the Arab world is caused by: being ‘Not in Education and Employment or Training’ (NEET). Recent data shows that, among those aged 15-29, NEETs account for 32 per cent in Tunisia (reaching some 42 per cent of young women) and 40 per cent in Egypt (64 per cent of young women). The situation for female labour force participation also remains chronic in Northern Africa, where the female rate of 22.5 per cent is considerably lower than males at 73.8 per cent, bringing the average for both sexes to 48 per cent, the lowest of all regions in the world.
Poor job quality remains a pressing issue worldwide, with over 1.5 billion people in vulnerable employment, representing nearly half the global workforce. The situation is particularly endemic in Sub-Saharan Africa where over 70 per cent of workers are in vulnerable employment against the global average of 46.3 per cent. These are workers that have limited access to social protection schemes and are often confronted by low and highly volatile earnings. As stated above, social protection is the most crucial issue. Unless the state engages itself, the low class citizens will continue to be exploited. A large part of vulnerable employment is composed of females classified as contributing family workers.
Further, the informal economy in the region contributes 50-80 per cent of GDP; 60-80 per cent of employment; and 90 per cent of new jobs. What more, 9/10 workers in both rural and urban areas are estimated to hold only informal jobs. This is the highest informal economy worldwide.
However, the share of informality varies across the region: informal employment is lower in southern Africa, where it ranges from 32.7 per cent in South Africa to 43.9 per cent in Namibia. In other sub-Saharan African countries, the percentage exceeds 50 per cent and reaches as high as 76.2 per cent in the United Republic of Tanzania, 89.2 per cent in Madagascar and 93.5 per cent in Uganda. Due to the fruitless working conditions many Ugandans express the desire to run their own business, rather than working for others just to gain next to nothing. After leaving school, a striking majority of young people enter the informal economy, while many migrate, looking for opportunities elsewhere.
In spite of this, working poverty is gradually declining. The share of workers in poverty – i.e. those living on less than US$1.90 per day, PPP – stood at 64 per cent in 2015 and it is expected to decline slightly over the next two years.
There are several steps that one can take to improve the labor conditions in Africa. The working classes need to be sensitized to demand their constitutional rights. They have to be animated to demand from ruling parties for protection in front of exploitation and demand equitable remuneration that reflects their labor fatigue and family conditions. Rights’ consciousness needs to be energized and facilitated to demand for their constitutional rights. Labor Unions need to be instituted from grassroots to defend their rights in front of any exploitation be it government or private business institutions. Church Institutions and Church Leaders can play a leading role when it comes to defense of the powerless and voiceless groups of the society.
Another remedy is to consolidate Education and training for employment for youth and women who normally are undermined in Africa. The youth need to have easy access to education and other institutions that can offer them employment training, be it technical or professional. Otherwise they carry the psychological self-worthlessness due to illiteracy and discrimination.
Discipline of foreign companies is a primordial task of the local government to defend the lower income classes. One often notices that foreign employers have no respect of local population. Unfortunately, many states don’t have agreements to oversee the relationship between foreign companies and their employees. Working contracts need to be sanctioned by the State to protect its citizens from exploitations from foreign companies. This is also true to High-class citizens who mistreat their own nationals when it comes to just wages. Often local governments close an eye to this dramatic exploitation of the lower income class, because they themselves are the perpetuators. There are extremely rich government officials in East Africa while their own compatriots lack means for survival.
Last but not least, equal sharing of natural wealth is another sensitive issue. Minerals and other resources that mother earth offers, belong to the populations and not to government officials. The income generated from natural resources is meant to alleviate the poverty of citizens and not only for self-aggrandizement of top government officials. Mass media in East Africa often present probes about corruption and graft of some high-ranking government officials, but people don’t see the culprits taken to justice.
As the saying goes “Charity starts at home”. Let all responsible Christians and believers of good will; initiate the condition of lower class citizens. It is an evangelical mandate to have Christ-like hearts and consider the situation of those who are unfortunate. As the Book of Deuteronomy encourages us, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open-handed toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land” (Deut. 15:11).
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