Lusaka: Mobilizing for tangible trade unions’ collective action

The 14th edition of the African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa) New Years School is ongoing in Lusaka , Zambia. In   this report, . MOSES JOHN presents issues that would be central during the 5-day period. 

The ITUC-Africa new year school  has continued to champion issues that create  consciousness of trade union organisations in Africa bordering on the unity of all trade union organisations, African emancipation, regional integration and  sustainable development, among others 

This year’s edition, will further look  into contemporary social, economic and political issues affecting the rich continent. The catch is that ITUC-Africa, as a stakeholder in the business of a prosperous and decent Africa, is keen at driving result-oriented processes that will usher in the continent into the desired utopia.

 For the 2024 edition of the school, more than a hundred participants drawn from trade union organisations across the continent as well as other stakeholders are presently in Lusaka, Zambia, for the programme tagged ““Advancing Africa’s Transformation Agenda: Mobilizing for Tangible Trade Union Collective Action.”

…Setting the agenda

The organizer, ITUC -Africa, further said: “Africa finds itself at a critical crossroads, undergoing significant socio-economic shifts that necessitate cohesive and strategic actions. At the heart of this transformation journey are trade unions, positioned as pivotal drivers of tangible collective action that can propel Africa’s transformational agenda. The multifaceted role of trade unions across key focal areas assumes paramount importance in shaping and navigating Africa’s future landscape. 

“The unity and organizational strength of trade unions serve as linchpins for bolstering collective action, contributing significantly to Africa’s transformative efforts. According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) report in 2020, trade unions in Africa represent over 40 million workers, a force to be reckoned with in negotiating improved working conditions, advocating for labour rights, and fostering social dialogue. This unity among diverse unions amplifies their collective voice and enhances their capacity to engage with policymakers, contributing to broader social change.”

 …Illicit financial flows as barrier

It further said; “One of the major hurdles in establishing and sustaining comprehensive social protection systems in Africa is the challenge posed by illicit financial flows and the subsequent burgeoning debt. According to the African Development Bank, Africa loses an estimated $50 billion annually due to illicit financial flows, hampering the region’s economic progress. This loss is equivalent to 3.7% of the continent’s GDP, severely undermining the capacity to invest in social protection measures and alleviate poverty Trade unions play a critical role in curbing these financial leaks through advocating for policies that promote transparency in fiscal practices and efficient resource reallocation toward bolstering robust social protection mechanisms. 

“The intersection of social protection financing and sovereign debt renewal in Africa presents a critical nexus fraught with multifaceted challenges that demand urgent attention. In many African nations, the need for robust social protection systems is undeniable, as these systems serve as vital mechanisms to shield vulnerable populations from economic shocks and ensure inclusive development. However, the escalating burden of sovereign debt restructuring threatens the sustainability and expansion of social protection schemes, thereby jeopardizing the welfare of millions. 

“This challenge is exacerbated by the growing pressure on African governments to balance fiscal austerity measures in debt management with the imperative to strengthen social safety nets. The conundrum emerges from the trade-offs between debt repayment obligations and the essential need to bolster social protection systems, raising pertinent questions about prioritization, resource allocation, and long-term sustainability.” 

“According to the International Labour Organization, inadequate social protection coverage remains a significant concern across the continent, with only a fraction of the population having access to comprehensive protection measures . The World Bank highlights the vulnerability of African economies to debt distress, emphasizing the urgent need for prudent debt management strategies to avoid compromising vital social expenditures. This complex landscape demands a comprehensive exploration from a trade union perspective to discern viable solutions that safeguard both social protection financing and sustainable debt management in Africa. 

“Moreso, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) stands as a catalyst for transformation in regional economic integration and industrialization throughout the continent. Projections anticipate AfCFTA potentially lifting 30 million Africans out of extreme poverty and 68 million from moderate poverty by 2035. With its goal to establish a unified market for goods and services, AfCFTA’s estimated combined GDP surpasses $3.4 trillion, signifying an epoch of economic growth and job creation.

“Trade unions, leveraging their influence, can advocate beyond supporting the African value chain and local industries. They can champion various pivotal areas such as advocating for skills development programs aligned with AfCFTA’s demands to bolster the workforce’s capabilities and mobility. Empowering small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through easier access to finance and market linkages, particularly within the AfCFTA framework, aligns with union objectives. Ensuring gender inclusivity, promoting women’s economic empowerment, and encouraging eco-friendly practices are equally vital pursuits. Additionally, prioritizing consumer protection, high-quality standards, and fostering technological integration and innovation are arenas where trade unions can foster positive impacts within the AfCFTA.

“In 2021, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) published a study on “Investment in social protection: impacts on economic growth”. ITUC-Africa, building on all these, sees social protection for all as well as its financing as a central element of the new social contract in Africa. It has also commissioned studies, the last of which in 2022 focus on how to fill the financing gaps in social protection systems, to achieve universal social protection by 2030 titled “Financial Mechanisms for Social Protection Oriented Towards the Implementation of R 204 And Gender Mainstreaming: The Case of South Africa and Burkina Faso”. Additionally, ITUC-Africa published a Trade Union policy document to guide advocacy actions on funding for promotion and extension of social protection for all in Africa. These studies show ITUC-Africa’s commitment to the subject matter,” it added. 

In addition, the body  said; “Just Transition is another area of concern. The African Trade Union Just Transition campaign embodies the vision of a sustainable future by advocating for a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy while ensuring workers’ rights and livelihoods are protected. This campaign aligns with global climate objectives and resonates strongly in Africa, where environmental challenges are particularly acute. The transition to renewable energy sources has the potential to create millions of new jobs while mitigating the adverse effects of climate change. By championing this cause, trade unions aim to ensure that workers are not left behind in this fundamental economic and environmental transformation.

  “While the ITUC-Africa is coming out of the congress with new elected leadership, the 14th edition of the New Year School intends to build the capacity of the trade union constituencies in the areas of sovereign debt crisis, social protection financing, organizing trade union unity, AfCFTA for driving the African value chains for industrialization and advancing African Trade Union campaign. 

“Trade unions in Africa stand at the forefront of transformative initiatives, wielding substantial influence and agency across various domains. Their unity, strategic advocacy, and proactive engagement hold the promise of steering Africa’s socio-economic transformation towards a future marked by equitable development and sustainable growth.”

…School’s main menu

Also according to ITUC-Africa the main menu of the school will feature, serious discussion on how best to foster trade union unity and organizational strength, especially in terms cultivation of enhanced unity among trade unions, emphasizing organizational fortitude and collaborative action to bolster collective efficacy, ultimately advocating for labor rights and improved working conditions. 

Equally, addressing illicit financial flows and continuing sovereign debt crisis is another top issue. Therefore, a session of the school will delve into the challenges posed by illicit financial flows and burgeoning sovereign debt, advocating for policies that promote fiscal transparency and efficient resource reallocation to fortify robust social protection mechanisms.

It will in addition examine the adverse impact of debt on essential sectors like healthcare, education, and social protection, seeking sustainable solutions. There is the need to drive discussions on achieving universal social protection by examining studies on financing gaps, mechanisms for social protection, and gender mainstreaming. Aim to build a new social contract in Africa, ensuring social protection for all and advocating for funding to extend these measures across the continent. 

On the issue of maximization of the potential of AfCFTA for Industrialization, a session will also explore  avenues to harness the transformative potential of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) by advocating for policies that support the African value chain, local industries, and job creation. Focus on initiatives like skills development aligned with AfCFTA demands, empowering SMEs, ensuring gender inclusivity, and fostering technological innovation within AfCFTA’s framework.

 African  trade union just transition campaign will equally be looked at. There will be serious consideration on advocacy for a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources while ensuring workers’ rights and livelihoods are safeguarded. Highlight the potential of renewable energy in job creation and mitigating climate change’s adverse effects, emphasizing trade unions’ roles in this economic and environmental transformation. And of course, trade union leadership capacities enhancement. This is targeted at strengthening the capacities of trade union constituencies in critical areas such as addressing the sovereign debt crisis, managing social protection financing, unifying trade unions, leveraging AfCFTA for industrialization, and advancing the African Trade Union campaign. Empower leaders to navigate the socio-economic challenges effectively. 

…Expected participants

Participants at this important event will include: Trade union leaders (national, sub-regional and continental), ITUC-Africa General Council Members, ALREI Governing Board, Members of the Governing Body of the ILO, Women in trade union leadership structures, Youth in trade union leadership structures, Labour researchers and educators, Global Union Federations (GUFs), ILO and Solidarity Support Organisations representatives, and ITUC-Africa Staff.