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ILO: Poor pay among African workers may stoke social unrest

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) warned on Friday in a new report the low pay for most workers in Africa, leading to public dissatisfaction, could soon turn into an across the board political and social unrest.

“Declining workers’ share of national income has affected perceptions of what is fair, particularly given the huge payments some company executives have been getting,” said Patrick Belser, co-author of the ILO Global Wage Report 2012/13.

Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda have recorded relatively modest increases in the share of wage earners while countries like Namibia, Rwanda and South Africa managed to register significant progress in the amount of pay.

In current economic conditions, the ILO encourages countries to adopt a minimum wage policy to reduce working poverty and provide social protection for vulnerable employees, including women, people with disabilities and youth.

The ILO recommends government regulatory agencies set minimum wages for all workers.

“The only sustainable way to raise wages is through economic growth that brings about increases in labour productivity,” ILO said. In Africa, the share of wage employment has been growing.

“Wages represent the main source of income for Africans to support their families. The level of wages, therefore, has a direct impact on the well-being, education and security of African families and communities,” the ILO said.

In 2010, real average wages increased by nearly 10 per cent in South Africa, where wage growth remained unequally distributed in various sectors, according to government figures.

Despite this progress, wage employment in sub-Saharan Africa remains to hold a relatively small part of the total paid employment jobs.

In 2010/2011, the population of wage earners in Africa stood at 100 million. The proportion of wage earners among women workers also remains lower than men.

Although higher labour productivity resulted in positive wage growth in Africa, the nature of informal economies pose challenges in measuring accurate status of wages.

Botswana, Egypt, Lesotho, Mauritius, South Africa and Uganda were among the few African countries that carry out regular surveys to measure the growth of wages.

In most countries, wage data are best collected through labour force surveys that are implemented at irregular intervals, and are not always comparable across years.

Evidence shows that productivity growth and education for all is critical to improving both the level and the distribution of wages.

South Africa’s introduction of the new minimum wage in 2002 to support the earnings of millions of low-paid workers in a variety of economic sectors, including domestic work, was noted as a positive step.

Over two thirds of the 54 countries in Africa have put in place a minimum wage policy – with wide variation in the level and design of minimum wage across the Continent.

While 70 per cent of African countries implement relatively simple national minimum wages – with a few possible adjustments by region, sector or broad categories of workers – the other 30 per cent implement more complex systems by industry and/or occupations.

The ILO has recently been providing technical assistance at the request of a growing number of governments and social partners around the world to ensure implementation of successful national minimum wage policies.

ILO says it supports efforts made to put in place other practical strategies


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