Beaven Dhliwayo Features Writer
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) last week launched the Future of Work (FoW) Initiative in the capital that looked at the major challenges and opportunities for the future of work, ranging from technology to climate change, from demographic shifts to the need for new skills.
Tertiary students from Zimbabwe, Swaziland, South Africa and Zambia opened dialogue into the FoW, touching on areas such as skills, green economy, gender equality, business models, social dialogue and the informal economy and how they affect future jobs.
With the emergence of new business models such as “platform” companies which completely deny employment responsibilities, along with increasing erosion of workers’ rights to secure jobs with decent pay and conditions, the FoW Initiative represents an important renewal of the social contract with its focus on a floor of rights and protections for all workers.
It also calls for just transition measures to protect and support livelihoods in the transition to a carbon-free economy and in the accelerating digital transformation of work.
The youth dialogue is aimed at opening up avenues for conversations with unions, employers and governments.
It also calls for the multilateral system to have a coherent and human-centred approach, with the ILO at the heart of international trade, finance, economic and environmental policies.
Youths at the event were split into working groups to discuss areas of gender equality, formalisation of jobs, social dialogues, skills, new business models and the green economy.
The initiative is welcome to the country because in order to move forward and create the perspectives for a just and sustainable future, the country needs to invest in people through a human-centred approach.
That means investing in jobs, skills and social protection. It means supporting gender equality.
It also means investing in the institutions of the labour market so that wages are adequate, working hours are limited, and safety and health, as well as fundamental rights at work, are ensured.
Moreover, it means adopting policies that promote an enabling environment for sustainable enterprises, economic growth and decent work for all.
In an interview with The Herald on the sidelines of the youth dialogue, ILO Zimbabwe project manager Alice Vozza said the UN agency wanted to understand the opportunities, challenges and the new trends of development in the world of work in the next 20 to 30 years.
“We are having dialogue with the youths on the FoW where we are giving them the floor so that we understand their aspirations and see how they can find more job opportunities in the future,” she said.
“The world of work faces transformative changes. Several processes and innovations such as digitisation, globalisation, artificial intelligence, but also the need for an ecological transition alter the conditions as well as our understanding of work and employment.
“So, as ILO, through the youth dialogue, we want to have a clear understanding of those drivers of change and see how they will influence the world of work, hence this is our area of research.”
The aspects presented by the FoW dialogue are of importance to the country and the opportunity to participate further should not be taken for granted.
Despite the legal commitment to gender equality at the international, regional and national levels, women and girls in Zimbabwe continue to face a myriad of challenges in the political, social and economic spheres as a consequence of gender inequalities and imbalances.
The Constitution provides a strong legal framework for the promotion and attainment of gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Further, Zimbabwe is a state party to key regional and international human rights instruments.
The country needs to have specific programmes that address key issues such as violence against women, women’s participation in politics and decision-making, and women’s economic empowerment, while at the same time mainstreaming gender in all other priority areas.
A recent study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) shows that Zimbabwe has the second largest informal sector in the world.
The working paper, titled “Shadow Economies Around the World: What Did We Learn Over the Last 20 Years?”, says more than 60 percent of the Zimbabwean economy is informal, second only to Bolivia’s 62,3 percent.
This should be contrasted to the most formal economies, Switzerland and Austria at 7,2 percent and 8,9 percent respectively.
Bringing informal workers and enterprises under the protection of the law would be a major step forward to moving out of informality and towards decent work.
Government should amplify the registration and implement progressive taxation for SMEs, establish codes of conduct for the employment of workers in the informal economy, improve labour inspection and new approaches to formalisation, ensure greater respect for the law, including extending labour protection to unprotected sectors, and establish a national board to set minimum wages for the informal economy similar to the National Wages and Salaries Board, which sets wages for domestic and unclassified workers.
Many of those involved in the informal economy are unorganised and/or poorly represented in social dialogue mechanisms.
Although the recently promulagated Tripartite Negotiating Forum Act is open to the inclusion of other actors as and when necessary, there is still need to ensure all those working in the informal economy have a voice and a place to air their views at all levels of dialogue.
Government has a key role in creating an enabling framework for social dialogue, establishing freedom of association and creating social dialogue platforms at different levels.
With the world facing the transformative economic, social and environmental challenges of Globalisation 4.0, it has never been more important to invest in people.
Valuing human capital not only serves to equip individuals with the knowledge and skills to respond to systemic shifts, it also empowers them to take part in creating a more equal, inclusive and sustainable world.
“Education is and will remain critical for promoting inclusive economic growth and providing a future of opportunity for all,” wrote World Economic Forum president, Borge Brende. “But as the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution create new pressures on labour markets, education reform, lifelong learning and reskilling initiatives will be key to ensuring both that individuals have access to economic opportunity by remaining competitive in the new world of work, and that businesses have access to the talent they need for the jobs of the future.”
On the other hand, companies should change their business models.
The youths are so savvy and companies have to find ways to appeal to them as consumers as well as utilise their knowledge of the internet in ways business owners never had to before.
Companies must adapt to the demands of a generation hungry for greater opportunity, increased collaboration, and a less formal hierarchical business model. This means employee-centric initiatives that will benefit the workforce and the company.
In addition, the country should embrace greening the economy going forward. In the future more business will come out of environmental concerns.
The green economy is defined as an economy that aims at reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities, and that aims for sustainable development without degrading the environment.
It is closely related with ecological economics, but has a more politically applied focus.
The United Nations Environment Programme Report on Green Economy Report argues “that to be green, an economy must not only be efficient, but also fair”.
Fairness implies recognising global and country level equity dimensions, particularly in assuring a just transition to an economy that is low-carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive.
The ILO will compile a report consisting of recommendations emanating from the youth dialogue and will host a Global Youth Employment Forum in Abuja, Nigeria, from August 1-3.
thoughts and views of the youths who participated in Harare will be fed into the conversation that will take place there.