Organisation of Trade Union of West Africa (OTUWA) and ITUC-Africa have raised alarm on the possibility of the liberalisation of Africa trade laws through African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to lead to retrenchment and a situation where foreign investors will under any guise or agreement hamper the existence of trade unionism, collective bargaining or create conditions that may warrant workers being paid less salaries.
“It is important that we do not allow a situation where efforts to liberalise our trade laws lead to retrenchment and 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 allow trade unions to exist in their companies, refuse to allow collective bargaining and create conditions where workers are paid less salaries than they receive currently,” said OTUWA General Secretary, Comrade John Oda.
Responding to questions at the sideline of OTUWA workshop on AfCFTA in Abuja last week, Comrade Oda went on to say, “This meeting is planned to develop a trade union action plan and 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
“We are also focused on avoiding a situation where countries outside the African continent that have better infrastructure and 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.
“Our advocacy is centred on ensuring that this free trade is not to the detriment of our working rights or to the detriment of all the trade union rights we have fought and gained in the several decades of our independence.”
Earlier at the opening session of the meeting, OTUWA President, Comrade Mademba Sock, said, “The history of the decolonisation of our continent and effort to achieve full political and economic independence from erstwhile colonial masters (and new actors) has been dogged with a lot of setbacks. This has been due mainly because these powers have sought to maintain our now independent countries as their vassal states whose economies are not only tied to their metro poles, but continue to serve as outputs for the production of raw materials for the benefit of the industries in Europe and the emergent new economies in America and Asia.”
“As trade unions, we have also strived to engage the agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area to enable us as African workers and African people to avoid the mistakes and landmines we found in other free trade agreements where the powerful and developed economies seek to use free trade agreements to perpetuate unequal economic relations and seek to integrate weak economies in continuing subordination and as cheap vassals for production of manufactured goods at cheap labour costs for their markets.
“Two key principles that we as trade union organisations will like to see entrenched in all the protocol negotiations are (a) a commitment to uphold and ratify ILO fundamental principles and rights as basic minimum expectations and (b) commitment to implement, as well as not waiver or derogate from national laws implementing labour rights.”
On his part, the General Secretary of ITUC-Africa, Comrade Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, said, “Our engagement with AfCFTA will contribute to shaping the Africa that future generations will inherit and it is our responsibility to ensure that our action bear fruit to support the well-being of Africans.
“Given the importance of the AfCFTA and its direct linkage to labour rights, we all have to engage in its negotiation/implementation process to ensure that the voice of labour unions is fully considered. We need to ensure that the 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.
“The AfCFTA is for workers and the people of Africa and we have to be part of the process. 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.”
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In her speech, ILO Director Country Office for Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Liaison Office for ECOWAS, Vanessa Phala, noted that “There are several reasons the ILO is placing importance on trade, investments, employment, and decent work.
“When conducted properly and fairly, international trade and investments can promote economic growth. Trade can generate and bring about more and better jobs and promote the welfare of consumers through improved access to goods and services.
“The ILO Tripartite Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy Declaration underscores the relevance of international trade and investment in creation of productive employment and promotion of decent work.
“African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is the world’s largest free trade area bringing together 55 countries of the African Union (AU) and eight Regional Economic Communities (REC) to create a single market for the continent. The aim is to enable the free flow of goods and services across the continent and boost the trading position of Africa in the global market. The AfCFTA is expected to expand the size of Africa’s economy to $29 trillion by 2050.”