ILO, others seek protection of labour rights under AfCFTA
The Guardian 6th November 2022
By Collins Olayinka, Abuja
The International Labour Organisation (ILO), Organisation of Trade Unions in West Africa (OTUWA) and International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) have called for the protection of labour rights when the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) takes off.
Speaking at a workshop on AfCFTA in Abuja, the Executive Secretary of OTUWA, John Odah, said plans were underway by the trade unions in West Africa to develop an advocacy plan on the key issues the labour movement is worried about as contained in the continental trade agreement.
He said: “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 liberalise our trade laws lead to retrenchment, situations where companies that are coming in to invest 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 or refuse to allow collective bargaining where workers are paid lesser salaries than they receive currently.”
The Director, ILO Country Office for Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Liaison Office for ECOWAS, Vanessa Phala, noted that AfCFTA had the potential to facilitate the industrialisation of Africa.
She stressed that undoubtedly, the AfCFTA, has many significant implications for socio-economic development and decent work in the African continent, saying it possesses the potential to deliver positive economic and labour market outcomes.
Phala explained that the removal or reduction of tariffs and non-tariff barriers should promote access to cheaper goods, stimulating consumer welfare on the continent.
Her words: “It should also lower production costs by ensuring improved access to cheaper intermediate inputs. The creation of a single African market – of about 1.3 billion people and combined GDP of approximately US$3.4 trillion, can unlock manufacturing potential and facilitate industrialization in Africa, bringing about sustainable development and employment creation.”
The ILO country director insisted that the gathering was a veritable platform to facilitate deliberations for deepening understanding of the trade and labour market nexus and its implications for the African region in terms of decent work and sustainable development, maintained that the deliberation will also open discussions for considering the broader labour market implications of AfCFTA, as a trade and investment policy including employment, and workers’ rights, working conditions and other aspects of decent work such as OSH and social dialogue.
She said it is also important to place particular attention on how the AfCFTA aligns with broader policy and regional development frameworks including the African Union’s Agenda 2063, UNSDCFs, DWCPs and relevant ECOWAS protocols.
Phala emphasised that it is equally high time that trade unions and the voices of workers are at the centre of industrial, trade and investment policy-making.
She disclosed that the ILO, through the broader multilateral system and UN family, is working to make jobs and decent work a concrete objective of trade policies, adding that the wealth of a country must be seen in how the lives of workers, their families and the broader society are transformed, secured today and in the future.
AfCFTA is the world’s largest free trade area bringing together the 55 countries of the African Union (AU) and eight Regional Economic Communities (RECs) 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.
It is estimated that the AfCFTA has the potential both to boost intra-Africa trade by 52.3 per cent by eliminating import duties and to double this trade if non-tariff barriers are also reduced and it is expected to expand the size of Africa’s economy to US$29 trillion by 2050.
In his intervention, the General Secretary of the ITUC-Africa, Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, stressed that given the importance of the AfCFTA and its direct linkage to labour rights, it is the responsibility of the stakeholders to engage in its negotiation and implementation processes to ensure that the voice of labour unions is fully considered.