The Trades Union Congress, Ghana hosted the 4th Conference from Friday, 2 August to Monday, 5August 2019. The Conference brought together the leaders and delegates from the TUC, Ghana, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). For the first time, Central Organisation of Trade Unions of Kenya (COTU-K) was invited to the Conference. Also in attendance were the two main trade union Confederations in Africa: International Trade Union Confederation, Africa Regional Organisation (ITUC-Africa) and the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU).
The four-day Conference was under the theme “Promoting and Protecting the Rights of Workers in Africa”. The Conference was in two-parts:
The first part was confined to a meeting of the leadership of the four Federations and was held from Friday, August 2 to Saturday, 3 August. This part focused on political, economic and social situation including the situation of workers in the participating countries and discussions of trade union priorities including reviewing progress on priorities agreed at the earlier meetings. This part focused mainly on internal trade union issues including current prospects and key challenges confronting workers and their trade unions.
The second part of the Conference was the General Meeting or the Plenary, which ran from Sunday, 4 August to Monday, 5 August 2019. This part involved the leadership of the four federations and their affiliate unions as well as trade union officials. The Plenary was opened by, the Deputy Minister of Employment and Labour Relations of Ghana, Honourable Bright Wireko-Brobbey.
The Conference deliberated on several issues that have implications for workers and their families. These included the trending issue of the Future of Work with special focus on Africa. Other issues discussed were the recently launched Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA), Social Protection and ending Violence and Harassment in the world of work among others.
On the basis of the deliberations around the theme and the various topics/issues, and in the context of global developments and Africa’s situation, the Conference decided and wishes to communicate to the governments, workers and peoples of Africa as follows:
- The Conference noted with concern the continued lowering of decent work standards across Africa. Workers continue to face abuses of their basic human rights. In their haste to attract elusive investments, African Governments are being coerced to reform labour laws in a manner that remove legal protection for workers. Governments are failing to enforce the basic laws that offer protection to workers. The Labour Market Institutions that are mandated to enforce labour laws have suffered systematic reductions in budgetary allocations. This has emboldened some employers including employers both local and foreign to abuse the right of African workers with impunity. This situation must be halted. The Conference urged African Governments invest in social dialogue, strengthen the labour laws and the institutions of social dialogue as part of the general effort towards “promoting and protecting the right workers in Africa”.
- The Conference also deliberated extensively on the acute shortage of decent employment on the continent. The challenge of rising joblessness is disproportionately affecting young people driving them into all manner of anti-social situations. Lack of decent employment has turned the employment market in Africa into employers’ market and allowing them particularly foreign investors to abuse the right of workers. Jobseekers are compelled to sign away their rights in a tight employment market. Joblessness in the midst of economic growth, the Conference observed, is the result of an economic policy framework being implemented on the continent and which has failed the majority while enormously privileging the Africa’s comprador classes and their external benefactors.
The Conference resolved to embark on a sustained campaign with the aim of changing the nature of economic policy in areas of macroeconomics, trade, labour market and wage, investment and industrialisation among others. In this regard, the Federations will work other progressive partners to develop alternative economic framework that delivers jobs and serves the needs of Africans.
- The Conference discussed as well the trending issue of the changing nature of employment in the context of the Future of Work. The Conference noted and rightly so that current and future trends in technology, automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will profoundly change the nature of work including the way it is done. This will complicate the dire employment situation in Africa. If and when driverless cars come into widespread use, Africa will struggle to find alternatives for the many trotro and matatu drivers on the continent. But the Conference also noted that technology and the impending AI revolution is not inevitable particularly in the way they affect work and employment. For the negative impact, we must organise and strengthen our capacity to prevent them from tearing society apart. Technology can surely have beneficial impact, which we must harness. The Conference resolved to push for a human-centred approach to the deployment of technology.
- The Conference resolved to organise workers in both the formal and informal economy more aggressively recognising the changing nature of the workforce and the world of work. Effective organisation is necessary as part of the general efforts towards wrestling the institutions of popular decisions making from finance capitalism. That is the surest to ensure that society will be able to harness technology including AI to serve the needs of humanity.
- The recently launched African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) that is seeking to establish the free trade area was also on the agenda. The Conference observed that the ACFTA has the potential to increase intra-African trade and investment, with positive implications for economic growth and employment creation. At the same time, the AfCTA carries risks for Africa. There is the risk of capture of the African market by the advanced countries especially the EU, which already has trade agreements with several African countries. The Conference, therefore urged the adoption of tighter rules of origin to safeguard African markets for African products. The Conference resolved to work with the various trade ministries and Governments to ensure that the AfCTA serves Africans.
- The Conference also discussed the issue of ending violence and harassment in the world of work including gender-based discrimination in the world of work. The Conference noted with concern, the continued challenges women face in the labour market because of their gender. The Conference encouraged the unions to work towards the ratification of the recently adopted ILO Convention (C190) and its accompanying Recommendation (R206) and ensure that their tenets domesticated in national laws and trade union policies and programmes.
- The Conference also discussed the state of social protection in Africa. The Conference noted with concern the low coverage of social protection on the continent. The Conference resolved to work towards the attainment of comprehensive social protection for all. The discussions also addressed the issue of government involvements in the investment of retirement funds and resolved to work with National Authorities including Pension Regulatory Agencies to strengthen pension administration and increase pension coverage on the continent.
Long live TUC, Ghana
Long live NLC, Nigeria
Long live, COSATU, South Africa
Long live, COTU-K, Kenya
Long live, African workers’ Solidarity