Abuja, 16th July 2019. The Commission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has urged renewed commitment to the ideals of social dialogue in order to prevent and resolve conflicts, promote peace and social stability, while stimulating socio-economic development and integration at both national and regional levels.
The Commission’s Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender Dr. Siga Fatima Jagne spoke in this vein at the opening of the 3-Day meeting of the General Assembly of the ECOWAS Tripartite Social Dialogue Forum on the 16th of July 2019 in Abuja, Nigeria. With a population of approximately 391 million and a combined Gross Domestic Product of $676.1 billion of majorly low income countries and per capita figures indicative of generalised poverty level, the Commissioner stressed that majority of the youth in the region do not have stable economic opportunities.
This scenario, she noted is being compounded by the problem of youth unemployment while underemployment is afflicting in the process, over half of the youth labour force in the region, yet a vibrant regional tripartite Social dialogue forum remains a key driver of decent work and employment.
Continuing, the Commissioner who was represented by the Commission’s Director of Social and Humanitarian Affairs Dr. Sintiki Ugbe, disclosed that women are also severely affected by the low employment rate as the gender gap between men and woman in gainful employment continues to widen while workers in the rural areas are less involved in the labour force participation due to poor infrastructure.
Warning that failure to urgently address the key decent work deficits is a threat to the very essence of the region’s existence, Commissioner Jagne Said: “Therefore, we need to move from rhetoric to concrete actions. Not only will such measures contribute to the achievement of the regional integration mandate of ECOWAS, it will also promote achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals”.
Reiterating the seriousness with which social dialogue is held by the ECOWAS Commission, Commissioner Jagne noted that necessitated the continuous collaboration with International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the development of a draft Decent Work Regional Programme (DWRP) spanning 2019-2022 to serve as an impetus to job creation, social security coverage, social dialogue, improve working conditions and promote gender mainstreaming in labour and employment matters for all West Africans. Also addressing the social dialogue general assembly, the Regional Director, Africa of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Mrs Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon maintained that the ILO which established its first office in West Africa in Lagos in 1949, has supported the ECOWAS Commission and its Members States in developing decent work–compliant policy frameworks, institutions and delivery mechanisms, which notably include tripartite social dialogue mechanisms at national and regional level.
She cited key issues which the forum is to be mindful of in engendering sustainable of the region to include the contribution of Africa to the shaping of the global work agenda, the need to invest in the institutions that promote social dialogue, strategic response to the challenges thrown up by the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and also of the need to bring all the different social dialogue conversations together.
While stressing the need to own its initiatives and programmes by ensuring that economic development activities in the region are not entirely funded by extraneous sources, the ILO chieftain however acknowledged and appreciated the funding received from the European Union (EU) and ECOWAS through the project “Support to Free Movement of Persons and Migration in West Africa” which is partly sustaining Social Dialogue Forum’s bureau, General Assembly and Ministerial Meetings.
Earlier, the president of the Social Dialogue Forum, Mr. Mamadou Konate urged participants at the meeting to follow up on the implementation of the recommendations of the Forum. He also called on the ECOWAS ministers of Labour to find solutions to the challenges that will be brought up during the meeting.
The Permanent Secretary of the Nigerian Ministry of Labour and Employment Mr. William Alo stressed the need to pay more attention to the issues raised by social dialogue stakeholders. According to him, social dialogue and collective bargaining are veritable tools in addressing inequality, minimising the incidence of working poor and ensuring fair wage distribution while tackling informality in the ECOWAS region.
The meeting had representatives of the Organization of Trade Unions in West Africa (OTUWA), The Federation of West African Employers’ Organisations, (FOPAO AMONG OTHERS. The regional Ministers of Labour are expected to deliberate on the outcome of the meeting and other relevant issues on the 19th of July 20.