Although the SADC economy has registered strong growth in the past, this growth has largely not been matched with increased job opportunities or better employment outcomes. Average unemployment rates for SADC have fluctuated between 10,2% and 11,3% between 2009 and 2020, showing that single digit figures have been elusive for the region as a whole. Youth unemployment is a particular problem in member states given the large youth population.
It is observed that although overall unemployment rates are generally low for some Member States, the majority of jobs are informal, precarious in nature and characterised by high levels of working poverty. This is attributed to slow pace of structural change in most countries, and premature deindustrialisation in other economies, which has limited prospects of higher labour productivity across all sectors, notably in industry where the share of manufacturing is declining.
Data shows that the SADC labour force expanded from around 104 million in 2009 to just over 142 million in 2019, with lower labour force participation rates for women across all member states, confirming that they face significant constraints to participating in the labour market. The lowest rates for both women and men are in Comoros at 38.4% and 51%, respectively, while the highest rates for both women and men are in Madagascar at 85% and 90.2%, respectively. Mozambique has the narrowest gap for labour force participation with 78% and 79.6% for women and men, respectively, in 2018.
To address these gaps, SADC Member States have committed to the strategic objective of achieving increased job creation with decent work opportunities for full and productive employment as highlighted in RISDP (2020-2030). Emphasis is on an employment-centred approach to growth and development, focusing on creation of economic opportunities that the poor can access and that provides a return to their labour sufficient for raising households out of poverty. This approach entails realignment of the macroeconomic and industrialization policy approaches to deliberately maximise employment outcomes in high potential sectors, ensuring that employment targeting is part of measures to stimulate growth and accelerate structural transformation. The strategy in SADC is to revitalise active labour market policies, through enabling fiscal policies that incentivise skills development through apprenticeships as well as public works/public employment programmes, especially those targeting youth.
To achieve the above objectives, the SADC Employment and Labour Sector is implementing the Decent Work Agenda, with the following main key interventions:
- Promoting job creation and access to productive employment opportunities for young people;
- Establishing fair labour standards, with a focus on fundamental principles and rights at work;
- Strengthening social security systems to enable progressive extension of adequate coverage for all workers;
- Enhancing regional and national social dialogue mechanisms involving tripartite cooperation between governments, employers and workers to foster industrial and labour market stability; and
- Enhancing labour migration governance for socioeconomic development
A number of SADC policies and strategies on employment and labour have been developed, and these include the following:
- SADC Charter of Fundamental Social Rights (2003)
- SADC Employment and Labour Policy Framework (2020-2030);
- SADC Decent Work Programme (2020-2025);
- SADC Labour Migration Action Plan (2020-2025);
- SADC Guidelines on Portability of Social Security Benefits (2020)
- SADC Codes on Social Security, HIV and AIDS & Employment, and Child Labour
The implementation structure of the SADC Employment and Labour Sector is based on the principle of tripartism (Governments, Workers and Employers’ representatives) and it includes:
- The Committee of Ministers of Employment and Labour and Social Partners (workers’ and employers’ representatives);
- The Committee of Senior Officials and Social Partners;
- The Joint Tripartite Technical Committee on Employment and Labour;
- Technical Committee on Employment;
- Technical Committee on Labour Protection; and
- The Technical Committee on Labour Migration