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Jerson is guiding Madagascar toward a national policy on OSH

He sees a direct link between the Vision Zero Fund project and the country’s efforts to ratify new conventions on occupational safety and health.

“I have always wanted to help people, work on a global scale, and be a guardian of the law.”

Jerson Razafimanantsoa was born in the spring of 1974 in Mananjary, a city in Vatovavy, Madagascar. The town lies on the southeastern coast of the country, a place where locals make their living by fishing or producing crops like coffee, vanilla, and pepper.

He arrived in Fianarantsoa, a four hour’s drive inland, in 1990 to study law. Fianarantsoa means “good education” in Malagasy; the city is the island’s cultural and intellectual center.

Jerson’s dream was to work for the government. After graduation, he entered the national administration school, where he earned his license to become a labour inspector. In that role, he was in charge of applying the laws to promote decent work in Madagascar.

After serving his country for 15 years, he moved up in the ranks to become a head of service, then Regional Director. Since April 2019, he has held the position of Director General in the Ministry of Labour.

After COVID-19 hit, his daily activities doubled. He began shouldering more responsibilities and gained new ones. According to Jerson, everyone in the ministry was and continues to be dedicated to overcoming challenges related to the pandemic. But it hasn’t been easy. Madagascar was one of the hardest hit countries on the continent, battling a wave of infections and the socio-economic downturn that followed.

Jerson’s days start around 5 a.m. and end around 7 p.m. But, since work-from-home became the norm in 2020, he is still aiming to strike a balance between his personal and professional life. He sometimes receives work-related calls as late as midnight.

“All this time, I’m just thinking about how I can make progress and overcome the COVID-19 challenges. Sometimes, I confuse daily life with work life. Even when I should be sleeping, I still keep thinking.”

Building a culture of prevention in the workplace

When Vision Zero Fund opened a dialogue with Madagascar about the training programme in 2017, there were already stipulations about OSH in the country’s labour code. However, Jerson admits that, in practice, his work had been more focused on economic prosperity – improving social security, for example. 

The goal of the project was to train specialists like Jerson in OSH practices. Through the training, Jerson gained a better appreciation of the risks associated with work – situations that increase the possibility of getting into an accident. Now, after completing the Vision Zero Fund training programme, he has a better sense of what those risks are, and how to address them.

Jerson then trained labour inspectors, who went on to train even more labour inspectors. Other stakeholders, like employers and doctors that operate in workplaces, were included as well.

That said, decent work deficits persist in Madagascar. The government is trying to address them, and the Vision Zero Fund project supports those efforts. Currently, the ministry is preparing to ratify conventions around OSH. Jerson sees a direct link from the training programme to the progress being made in government.

“Since the implementation of the project, there’s been a true restoration of a culture of prevention in the workplace.”

Two workers roofing a house.

A worker on a construction site.

Unloading of the lychee garaba (basket) from the truck to the processing station.

Preparation of the carton to pack the lychee in Toamasina.

“If we didn’t have the Vision Zero Fund project, we would not be in the position to accelerate this process.”

Steering the country toward improved OSH

While he is not personally active in the daily activities of the Vision Zero Fund project, he and his colleagues in the ministry encourage all labour inspectors to participate and learn as much as possible about OSH.

As proof of its commitment, he rattles off the ways the ministry is committed to OSH: it describes itself as a partner of Vision Zero Fund, it is always present for regional Vision Zero Fund activities, and it has named a director of social security in the workplace – one of the labour inspectors that received training as part of the Vision Zero Fund project.

Jerson and his colleagues in the ministry are also preparing a strategic plan for labour inspection in certain sectors, including mining, tourism, and the textile industry. Jerson says he expects better, more concrete results.

The ministry’s efforts to push through with progress on labour inspection, while overcoming COVID-19 challenges, have been recognized by the national parliament. According to Jerson, it would have been impossible without Vision Zero Fund’s support.

He admits that challenges remain in relation to OSH and to preventing and mitigating the impacts of COVID-19. But he is optimistic that the government will continue working hard to face them.

With so much going on, Jerson is still seeking that elusive work-life balance.

“When the pandemic is over, ideally, possibly, I would like to take a little bit of a vacation,” he laughs.

“But there’s a lot to do.”

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These impact stories were produced with the financial support of the European Union.