By Michael Oche
Workers in Africa, especially West Africa have said they will not accept a situation where the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) is at the detriment of the rights that trade unions have fought for in several decades.
The workers, who are demanding an inclusion in the AfCFTA processes, made their position known at a workshop on Trade Unions and the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) organised by Organisation of Trade Unions of West Africa OTUWA and ITUC Africa.
Speaking at the events, OTUWA general secretary, Comrade John Odah said the workshop was necessitated by the need to help West Africa Trade unions develop an Action Plan/Advocacy Strategy for engagement on the AfCFTA.
He said, “This meeting is planned to develop a trade union action plan, advocacy on the key issues that we wish to raise as far as the continental African Free Trade Agreement is concerned. We are concerned as trade unions that in the quest to have free trade between the respective African states and non-African states that the rights which we have fought for and won with respect to trade union rights are not sacrificed in the process.
“It is important that we do not allow a situation where efforts to liberalize our trade laws and leads to retrenchment, leads to situations where companies that are coming in to do investment in each of our 55 countries hide under the flexibility that may be created by the agreement to refuse to allow trade unions to exist in their companies, to refuse to allow collective bargaining and to create conditions where workers are paid less salaries than receive currently.
“These are some of the main areas we focus on. We are also focused on avoiding a situation where countries outside the African continent that have better infrastructure, can manufacture things at cheap rates and then come and flood our countries in the African continent in the way to kill our manufacturing. So we feel that our manufacturing sector should be protected in subsequent agreements that will be reached to facilitate these continental free trade agreements.”
In his address to the event, ITUC-AFRICA general secretary, Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, said given the importance of the AfCFTA and its direct linkage to labour rights, trade unions have to engage in its negotiation / implementation processes to ensure that the voice of labour unions is fully considered.
“We need to ensure that labour provisions which are inherently absent in this important trade agreement are taken into account both in negotiations of the AfCFTA associated Protocols and in implementation Strategies,” he said.
Furthermore, he said it is the responsibility for the trade union movement at all levels- national, regional and continental – to pursue the establishment of the necessary mechanisms that would help workers have a say in the AfCFTA processes.
Also speaking, the Director ILO office in Abuja, Ms Vanessa Phala, said to effectively influence the AfCFTA processes, trade unions require concerted effort at sub-regional and the national levels.
According to her, at the sub-regional level, OTUWA would have to engage with ECOWAS on trade and investment protocols, placing decent work at the centre of such engagement.
She said, “Fortunately, the AfCFTA Secretariat is here with us in West Africa. National trade unions must engage with their Ministries of Trade and other public agencies on the AfCFTA. The Ministries of labour, and the social partners have a critical role to play in ensuring that labour provisions are aligned with the ILO decent work agenda. In this regard social dialogue and tripartism play a key role.
“Let me also underline that in your sub-regional and national engagements of the AfCFTA ensure special emphasis on mainstreaming international labour standards, paying attention to the likely impact of trade and investment on the informal economy, on migrant workers, youth and women, especially cross-border traders.
“To do the above effectively, trade unions must build their capacity for evidence-based positions for effective engagements on developments on the implementation of the AfCFTA protocols.”