Covid-19 has sped up changes to the world of work, Ramaphosa tells global summit

President Cyril Ramaphosa during a visit to assess Mpumalanga's Covid-19 response.
President Cyril Ramaphosa during a visit to assess Mpumalanga's Covid-19 response.
  • President Cyril Ramaphosa says Covid-19 has accelerated the pace and nature of changes experienced in the working world. 
  • He told the International Labour Organisation during its global summit on the pandemic that while the outbreak has infected fewer people in Africa, its social and economic impact would be severe.
  • Ramaphosa also called on global leaders to protect working people from rising unemployment, and to invest in people's capabilities and skills development, even beyond the pandemic.

President Cyril Ramaphosa says Covid-19 presents an opportunity for the world to deliver greater economic security, equal opportunity and social justice for those who work, those who've lost jobs and those seeking employment opportunities.

Ramaphosa, who is also the African Union chairperson, told the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) Global Summit on Covid-19 and the World of Work on Wednesday that the world was collectively tasked with rebuilding shattered lives and economies.

The ILO is hosting a five-day online gathering of workers, employers and governments to discuss the economic and social impact of the outbreak.

The novel coronavirus, which has infected millions across the globe, has wreaked havoc in economies, forcing many companies to shed jobs.

It's been estimated that South Africa, which has a 30.1% unemployment rate, could lose up to seven million jobs as a result of Covid-19.

READ | SA risks losing 7 million jobs reaching over 50% unemployment, Treasury's grim worst-case scenario

He said it had been just over a year since the adoption of the centenary declaration for the future of work, which served as a roadmap for countries as they explored the challenges and opportunities of the ever-changing world of work.

"It has added impetus to the world's goal of making workplaces more agile, adaptable and agile," said Ramaphosa.

He said the pandemic had accelerated the pace and nature of change to the world of work, which had been centred around technological advances, demographic shifts and environmental change.

He said this would have been slow and gradual without the existence of Covid-19.

Nothing untouched 

"Covid-19 has left no aspect of human existence untouched, from health to security, from social systems to economies and livelihoods," said South Africa's  president.

"Now, as never before, we are being called upon as the international community to hasten our efforts in giving effect to the provisions of the Centenary Declaration," he continued.

He said global leaders had to protect working people from rising unemployment through universal social protection; to invest in people's capabilities; in skills development; a lifelong learning and workplace inclusivity.

Ramaphosa, in speaking on the continent's experiences with Covid-19, said while it had the lowest rates of infection so far, the impact of the pandemic would be severe because of weak health systems, resource constraints and pre-existing economic vulnerabilities.

He told the ILO gathering of the AU's strategy, which included the establishment of a response fund to assist its member states and engaging with international partners and institutions, which could held mobilise substantial stimulus packages to assist battered economies as well as the launch of the Africa medical supplies platform.

The AU chair also said these would allow the continent to invest in job creation initiatives, in workplace skilling and re-skilling and to support entrepreneurship and the development of small businesses.

"As we strive to recover from this pandemic, let us continue to be guided by the spirit of solidarity and ensure that we put people and their welfare at the centre of all our efforts, and most importantly that all our responses to this pandemic leaves no one behind," said Ramaphosa.

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