- Tables Charter Of Demands To AfCFTA Secretariat In Accra
THE ORGANISATION of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA) has commenced advocacy for the inclusion of labour rights provisions in the Africa Continental Free Trade Area(AfCFTA) and its related protocols in order to guarantee a seamless cross-continental protection of trade unions rights.
Comrade John Odah, the Executive Secretary of OTUWA, an umbrella body of all the national centres in the 15 countries that make up the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), with headquarters in Abuja, revealed this at a courtesy visit to the headquarters of AfCFTA in Accra, Ghana.
Comrade Odah told AfCFTA’s Secretary General, Mr Wamkele Mene, that following series of education workshops on the various aspects of AfCFTA and its negotiation/implementation processes, OTUWA developed a charter of demands to be used to embark on an advocacy for the inclusion of labour rights provisions in AfCFTA and its protocols.
“At one of such educational workshop, we held in Abuja for the ECOWAS sub-region on the 31st October and 1st November last year, we involved the ECOWAS Department of Trade, Nigeria’s National Negotiation Team in the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, the ILO Area Office for Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia and ITUC-Africa to participate and present papers on various aspects of AfCFTA and its negotiation/implementation processes,” Odah said.
According to Odah, OTUWA had also worked with fraternal partners such as the Solidarity Centre and the International Trade Union Confederation Africa Region (ITUC-Africa) and its counterparts in Southern Africa and Eastern Africa, the Southern Africa Trade Union Coordinating Council (SATUCC) and East Africa Trade Union Confederation (EATUC), respectively “to educate our affiliates on the AfCFTA Agreement and the benefits and potential challenges the negotiation of the various protocols posed to organised labour in the continent, at the sub-regional and national levels.”
The charter of demands around which OTUWA is carrying out its advocacy, Odah said, include: “The National Implementation Committee or appropriate agencies responsible for AfCFTA in the various countries that have ratified the AfCFTA Agreement MUST set up mechanism to involve Labour Union Representatives in their countries in the negotiations on protocols that are still ongoing;
“A protocol on Labour Rights should be developed to mainstream workers’ rights such as freedom of association (the right to form and join trade unions), right to organise and bargain collectively, elimination/prohibition of child labour, forced or compulsory labour, and discrimination, establishment of minimum living wage, universal social protection, right to health care and occupational safety and health;
“There is need for the establishment of effective enforcement mechanisms, including labour inspection, a halt to abuses in supply chains, and measures supporting labour’s role in sustainable development and just transition to mitigate possible abuses of workers’ rights;
“The Partnership between UNDP and AfCFTA Secretariat needs to involved Labour Representatives who will observe and monitor the level of respect for rights of women and youth workers which partly supports the objectives of the partnership.
“That as AfCFTA may lead to privatisation of businesses, stakeholders must ensure that the profit maximisation pursuit of investors do not denigrate workers’ rights;
“That Labour Representative (s) be nominated into the Dispute Settlement Body to interpret Labour dispute issues, rights provisions and protect the workers’ right to fair hearing and representation in the event of his/her involvement in an industrial dispute that requires the intervention of the DSB;
“That all on-going violation of workers’ rights across all West African Countries must stop forthwith and that the enforcement mechanisms be applied against those that continue any form of violation of workers’ rights; and
“That the national labour laws of all countries in West Africa must be made to comply with International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s standards for workers’ rights and be seen to be respected within the countries and where applicable under the AfCFTA Implementation Frameworks”
Odah said a research by OTUWA on the issue indicate “that as at 2019, 85 Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) include a labour dimension either in the agreement itself or in a separate parallel agreement.”
The OTUWA scribe also stated: “In our continent, the treaties establishing the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East Africa Community (EAC) have labour rights provisions. We are therefore, not asking for something that is alien to our continent. We are aware that the protocol on investment has some Labour provision, but outside this, the main text of the AfCFTA treaty has not addressed the labour dimension.
“We have come with the request for the Secretariat of AfCFTA to work with the relevant bodies and authorities to rectify this anomaly to avert a situation where during implementation of the Treaty, potential labour rights violations may occur and there are no remedies to address them.”
Odah noted that the leadership of OTUWA got the mandate to commence the advocacy with AfCFTA at its education workshop held last year in Abuja in which the ECOWAS Department of Trade, Nigeria’s National Negotiation Team in the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, the ILO Area Office for Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia and ITUC-Africa participated and present papers on various aspects of AfCFTA and its negotiation/implementation processes.
He said going by Article 8 of the AfCFTA agreement, “we see an opportunity or leeway to place a labour rights protocol as an annex to the original agreement as a very necessary one to further the agenda of continental economic integration where the interest of the working people would be fully protected.”
In his response, the Secretary General of AfCFTA, Mr Mene, said there is first and foremost the “need to have a clear strategy at the regional level through consultations to build the position of labour from bottom-up” in addition to the need to “establish a Task Force made of trade union representatives and officers of the AfCFTA Secretariat to spearhead the regional consultations across the continent and come up with a declaration that can be presented to leaders including the trade ministers.”
Mene also said a conference of labour on AfCFTA should be convened just as there is the need to “identify some trade ministers across the continent that are pro-labour inclusion into the AfCFTA.”
Noting that AfCFTA cannot benefit only the private sector and therefore the need for an inclusive trade agreement to ensure its successful implementation, he contended that a crucial step is recognition “that not everybody is a friend of labour. Not every country in Africa recognises the role of labour and unions. In other words, not everyone would like to hear labour’s position. In fact, the balance of forces is against labour.”
According to him, “at the initial stages of the negotiations to develop the text of the AfCFTA protocols, some countries wanted a limited compact. There are no protocols on the Environment and Labour Provisions. Surprisingly, countries that had their independence way back kicked against the inclusion of labour provisions. Countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia supported the inclusion of labour provisions.
The Secretary General said that unless this discussion on labour rights is brought back on the table, there may be no further discussion on it after the finalisation of the current Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade and Digital Trade.
Comrade Odah led a four-person delegation for the courtesy visit which included Mary Karimu, Head of the International Department of the Trade Union Congress of Ghana (Ghana-TUC), Dr Kwabena Otoo, Director of Policy and Research Institute of Ghana of Ghana-TUC and Comrade Kingsley Ofei Nkansah, a consultant with OTUWA and former General Secretary of Ghana Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU).