By Maria Mutandwa Communications Officer International Labour Organisation
The ILO in collaboration with its tripartite partners who include the Ministry of Public Service Labour and Social Welfare; Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions will, on 3 December 2021, be launching a refurbished shelter to house Small Enterprises in Bulawayo.
This is part of its efforts to promote decent work and socio-economic justice in Zimbabwe.
“The lessons learnt from Bulawayo will be of use to national actors and beyond by informing us on how to develop more responsive policies. We hope that the project will also help to deepen the respect for workers’ fundamental rights and ensure opportunities for income security, livelihoods and entrepreneurship,” said Ms Hopolang Phororo, the ILO Country Director for Zimbabwe and Namibia.
The informal sector in Zimbabwe contributes to employment and poverty reduction. According to the 2019 Labour Force and Child Labour Survey, it is estimated that around 2.2 million of the employed population in Zimbabwe are employed in the informal sector constituting about 76% of total employment.
SMEs in the different sectors face many difficulties. For example, whilst there are opportunities manufacturing due to closure of formal businesses, SMEs lack capacity to acquire the required machinery, technology and the human skills needed to operate such machines. Other challenges at the micro level include restrictions in accessing finance to buy and stock inputs, constricted workspaces and poor strategic planning and financial management practices.
The aim of the intervention under the Employment Promotion and Labour Market Governance Programme is to improve working conditions for those participating in the informal economy. The initiative seeks to facilitate the transition from the informal economy to the formal economy in the City of Bulawayo, and it serves as a model that can be replicated in other urban areas.
“We want the transition of workers and enterprises from informality to formality and to strengthen respect for workers’ rights and operate in decent working spaces,” added Ms Phororo. “The initiative will provide hands-on and practical guidance on how to promote higher productivity and better working conditions in the informal economy.”
The City of Bulawayo was selected in 2019 to pilot the project to promote the creation and sustainability of enterprises and decent jobs in the informal economy. SMEs housed at this Centre behind OK Mart, highlighted the following drawbacks: regulatory framework inhibiting formalization, limited access to foreign currency and capital, thereby hampering purchasing of raw materials and poor infrastructure.
Partitions were predominantly brick walls or iron sheets, which created problems in terms of aesthetics and occupational health and safety issues associated with management of lighting, high temperatures and humidity.
A factory shell housing these micro-enterprises was refurbished using sustainable approaches to ensure the workspace is safer, more attractive and allows for more sustainable production. New partitioning from rhino-boards minimizes fire hazards, are easier to repair and enable shifting around for people to pay only for space sizes that they require.
The intervention has so far benefitted sixty enterprises and about ninety of their employees
The programme also demonstrates a public-private-partnership (PPP) relationship, as it partnered with Old Mutual and the Bulawayo Chamber of SMEs, an organization representing workers in the informal economy –to promote higher productivity and better working conditions.
Against this background, the intervention aimed at contributing to the broader efforts to promote the creation, preservation and sustainability of enterprises and decent jobs in the informal economy and the coherence of macroeconomic, employment, social protection, and other social policies.
The site in Bulawayo was selected through a competitive process on the potential it presents to become a model for other micro-enterprises.