Labour standards in Africa

The global financial and economic crisis, the events in North Africa and the Middle East and have demonstrated the continuing relevance of international labour standards.

To date, all 53 African member States have ratified the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105), and the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111); 52 have ratified the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98); 51 have ratified the Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100); 50 have ratified the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182); 49 have ratified the Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138); and 48 have ratified the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87).

Concerning the governance Conventions, 42 African countries have ratified the Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No. 81), and eight the Labour Inspection (Agriculture) Convention, 1969 (No. 129); 35 have ratified the Tripartite Consultation (International Labour Standards) Convention, 1976 (No. 144), while 19 have ratified the Employment Policy Convention, 1964 (No. 122).

In addition to the 19 African countries (out of the 53 member States) which have ratified the governance Convention No. 122, 18 have ratified the Employment Service Convention, 1948 (No. 88), nine have ratified the Human Resources Development Convention, 1975 (No. 142), and only three have ratified the Private Employment Services Convention, 1997 (No. 181)

In the areas concerning wages, social security, occupational safety and health, migrant workers, human resource development, maritime, fishing and indigenous peoples, the ratification picture is sparse.

With regard to migration, to date nine of the 53 African member States have ratified the Migration for Employment Convention (Revised), 1949 (No. 97), and only seven have ratified the Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention, 1975 (No. 143).


Experience and lessons learned have confirmed the ongoing challenges facing ILO constituents in addressing discrimination in employment and occupation in Africa and in other regions, such as for example: persistence and long-standing forms of discrimination and the emergence of new forms; the strength of stereotypes; the lack of a common understanding of key concepts; the frequent absence of coherent national equality policies; and the difficulty of measuring discrimination. The global financial and economic crisis has brought with it widening inequality and increased the marginality of vulnerable groups.

The ILO’s response

There is a continued need throughout the African region to strengthen the capacity of labour administration and labour inspection systems to enable them to play their role as key actors in the elaboration and implementation of economic and social policies, including in relation to the informal economy, in line with the governance Conventions Nos 81 and 129, as well as the Labour Administration Convention, 1978 (No. 150).

In many cases, the resources allocated to labour inspection are insufficient to enable inspection functions to be discharged properly, leading to a vicious cycle of neglect of workers’ rights, vulnerability and exploitation which are ultimately costly both in terms of reduced profits to the enterprise and for the economy as a whole.

Improving the occupational safety, health and hygiene conditions for all men and women is a significant part of a strategy to fight against poverty in Africa. The modern systems approach to occupational safety and health (OSH), now systematically promoted by the ILO, emphasizes the need to ensure that attention is given to OSH at the highest national policy levels and that coherent national action is taken in this respect.

National awareness of OSH and the development of a national safety and health culture are critical for supporting enterprise-level efforts to enhance working conditions and apply the central OSH standards.

A related aspect is the ILO Recommendation concerning HIV and AIDS and the World of Work, 2010 (No. 200), the aim of which is to ensure the ILO’s enhanced efforts to achieve social justice and to combat discrimination and stigmatization with regard to HIV and AIDS in all aspects of its work and mandate. HIV and AIDS pandemic continues to be a major development challenge for Africa. The new standard provides new opportunities to strengthen the legal and policy frameworks in the world of work, and by so doing addresses the human rights-related barriers to the HIV and AIDS epidemic.