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History of ARLAC

The African Regional Labour Administration Centre (ARLAC) was jointly established by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 1974 as a project for the development of Labour Administration issues, then referred to as public administration activities in the field of national labour policy in its member states.

The ILO had, prior to this, recognized the need for strengthening the capacities of labour administration systems in Africa. The ILO with the assistance of the UNDP initially tried to address this need, as far back as the 1960’s, by designing and implementing ad hoc, short courses on labour administration for the personnel working in the Department/Ministries of Labour in the English-speaking countries of Africa.

The need for strengthening the labour administration systems in Africa was informed by an ILO observation that the Ministries responsible for labour matters in Africa had on gaining independence inherited growing unemployment, underemployment, lack of skilled manpower, lack of clear and progressive wages and incomes policy, poor industrial relations, inadequate protection from work environments, absence of comprehensive social security schemes and a host of many other ills. The setup of the Department/Ministries of Labour were usually weak and narrow in scope and could not bear the weight of heavy responsibilities and demands that, of necessity, fell upon them.

The Labour Ministries of English-speaking African countries had themselves focused their attention on the urgency of bringing this desire into reality at the various ILO fora, such as at the African advisory Committee meeting of 1967, the ILO African Regional Conference of 1969 in Accra, Ghana and finally, at the OAU Labour Ministers’ Conference in Kampala, Uganda, in 1972, when a concrete decision was reached to ask the ILO to seek UNDP assistance to set up the proposed Centre.

A preliminary draft project document outlining a two-year work plan was subsequently prepared and circulated by the ILO to the prospective member countries for comments to determine their degree of commitment to the establishment of the Centre and eventual assumption of its financial charge for operational costs when the UNDP gradually phased out its contributions. A substantial number of the members responded positively to the proposals and pre-requisites among which were:

  1. The Centre was to be established as an African inter-governmental institution for English-speaking countries of Africa,
  2. That as soon as possible, and certainly within the second phase, i.e. from 1982 onwards, ARLAC will become a shared charge on the public funds of the participating countries, until it is financed entirely, or virtually so by the African Governments concerned; and
  3. Further institutional support from participating countries would include the designation (or strengthening) of a focal point in each Ministry or Department of labour to liaise with ARLAC, to assist in its policy and programme formulation, provide data and documentation for its studies and research, ensure follow up and career development of trainees who have attended its courses, and arrange national counterpart contributions to training or short term assistance missions to their countries by ARLAC’s experts.
ARLAC’s Home in Kenya

The project was temporarily based in Kenya in 1975 before it was briefly suspended in 1976 due to lack of funds. Given the importance of its mandate, it was however revived in 1978 with funding from the UNDP through the ILO.  Based on the needs on the ground, the project was upgraded to an organization in 1982. In October 1986, the ARLAC headquarters moved to Harare, Zimbabwe following an agreement to establish the permanent Headquarters of the Centre.

Plaque Commemorating the Official Opening of the Harare Office

ARLAC contends that Labour Administrations must have at their disposal, officials who were fully trained in their social and economic roles, with the required dedication and competence as well as information and knowledge to enable each administration to benefit from the experience of others.  

Today the organization provides capacity building services to labour administrators and their social partners throughout Africa. Its programmes are designed to provide participants with a unique opportunity to explore key issues in labour administration and labour policy development in an environment, which encourages close interaction between participants themselves as well as between participants and resource persons. The thematic areas address both traditional Labour Administration concerns and broader socio-economic issues which impact on the labour market and Labour Administration systems generally.

Block C – One of the Residential Halls at ARLAC

ARLAC capacity building initiatives are expressed through training; consultancy and advisory services; research and studies; as well as information provision services. ARLAC also contributes to the work of the ILO by  promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all in its own activities.