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Africa: Where have all the dismissed workers gone?

From People's Weekly World,
19 August, 1995, pg. 15

Harare, Zimbabwe - One day Nigerian journalist James Olufemi was going about his usual business of gathering news for the state-owned outfit where he worked, next he was hunting for a job.

That was in 1990, when the West African nation was four years into a home-grown structural adjustment program patterned after those prescribed by the World Bank. Olufemi was one of its many casualties.

Official statistics show that Nigeria had about 500.000 state workers up to 1986. Since then, the public service has been depleted by more than 40 percent, according to the Nigerian Labor Congress.

In Tanzania the state has shed about 50,000 employees in the past two years, while in Zambia, structural adjustment has cost about 130,000 jobs in the public and private sectors.

In some cases, workers have not received their terminal benefits, as has happened in Zambia, where scores of workers demonstrated in July outside State House in Lusaka in protest against the non-payment of severance pay. They were thrown in jail.

Says Godwin Erapi, head of research and industrial relations in the Nigerian Labor Congress, "Most workers are retrenched with terminal benefits, but in most cases such benefits are not enough. . .especially with the current rate of inflation.

In most countries, the bulk of those who have lost their jobs have been absorbed by the small farming and informal sectors but in a few cases, the lack of economic prospects has led affected families to turn to activities frowned upon by the authorities.

In Zambia, for example, many women whose husbands lost their jobs have resorted to brewing and selling illicit beer.

A document prepared by Zambia's Ministry of Labor and Social Security admits that "while substantial progress has been made in implementing economic reforms, progress in addressing the social dimensions has been lagging."

The Zambian government plans to encourage jobless workers to go into farming. But years of neglect have caused a near-collapse of social services and infrastructure in rural areas and it is unlikely that many of the urban unemployed will jump at the resettlement option.

In Nigeria, no provision is made for former public servants, whereas the military has a skills-training program for retired soldiers.

In Zimbabwe, a Social Dimensions Fund (SDF), set up by government to cushion the structural adjustment blow, provides training in small-scale entrepreneurship and soft start-up loans of up to $1,750.

However, critics here point out that retrenchees can seldom raise the 10 percent contribution in cash or assets needed to secure a loan.

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