By Vera E. Abah
THE Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) has assured the Organisation of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA) of the need for mutual collaboration between the two organisations to achieve great results in the subregion.
ECOWAS Commissioner for Human Development and Social Services, Prof. Fatou Sow Sarr, stated this on Wednesday at the ECOWAS headquarters in Abuja during a courtesy visit by the President of OTUWA, Comrade Mademba Sock, and OTUWA Executive Secretary, Comrade John Odah.
According to Prof Sarr, who was speaking in response to an address by Comrade Sock, said ECOWAS is obliged to work with civil society organisations and trade unions.
She added that the broad nature of workers issues in the subregion make it compelling for strategic alignment in specific areas to be able to make great impact.
Stating that trade union issues are important because they speak to addressing both the rights of workers and rights of children, Prof Sarr also noted that development-minded trade unions have a major role to play in contributing to the development of their states.
“We can work together to achieve great results within the ECOWAS space. We are obligated to work with civil society organisations as well as trade unions.
“The issue of workers today in the sub-region is a broad issue that requires strategic alignment to areas of core interest and great impact.
“Trade unions that are development-minded have a major role to play in contributing to the development of their States,” Prof Sarr stated.
She noted that several indicators already show that the future of the world of work is changing and that “this change will affect all workers especially those in the informal sector who are at the centre of development.”
She further stressed: “ECOWAS should anticipate these changes. Tomorrow is already with us. The mutation of trade unions must also be prepared for the new problems that confront workers in our sub-region,” adding that “the context of the future already shows that the world of work is changing.
While acknowledging that it is the responsibility of the Department of Human Development and Social Affairs of the ECOWAS to work with trade unions, it would be useful to do some work in the area of the informal economy. “Even if we don’t have much subvention to give but at least we have subventions to support the implementation of programmes/projects for example in the area of education, science.”
Prof Sarr said as a subregional trade union body established by ECOWAS, she will advocate before the leadership of the ECOWAS Commission to fuel engagement between the Commission and OTUWA.
“However, it is true that there are issues that are very pertinent especially with regards to trade unions, which for me is an issue that is very important. But as you said, you are a sub-regional workers organisation that was established by ECOWAS.
“For now, I can’t give you a direct response with regards to funding but I will advocate before the ECOWAS leadership”
We’re Here To Exchange Views – OTUWA President
Earlier in his address, Comrade Sock expressed delight for the visit as previous efforts to do so had not been successful.
He stated that the mission of OTUWA was to exchange views with the Commissioner for Human Development and Social Services on the state of the relationship between OTUWA and ECOWAS.
A Brief history
Comrade Sock gave a brief history of OTUWA from its founding to the current efforts at its revival: “To place the discussion in a proper context, please permit me to give a brief account of the history of our organization.
“Established in April 1983 and inaugurated by President Sekou Touré, President of Guinea, in Guinea-Conakry, OTUWA is an umbrella organization for all the national trade union centers in the 15 countries of West Africa, which constitutes the member countries of ECOWAS.
“In 1986, at the recommendation of the Council of Ministers (Resolution C/RES.2/86), and in furtherance of the Recommendation A/REC.1/5/83 adopted by the 6th Summit of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government held in Conakry in May 1983, on the effective mobilization of organizations of the masses and universities of the sub-region in the integration process of the ECOWAS Community, the Heads of State and Government meeting in Abuja ratified a decision that granted OTUWA recognition within the structures of ECOWAS.
“In fact, the instrument said that the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS “Decide to establish, in accordance with the principles and programmes of ECOWAS, a trade union organization to be called Organisation of Trade Unions of West Africa.”
“The constitution of OTUWA that accompanied this declaration under Chapter 1, Article 3 (Aims and Objectives) listed 6 political objectives which include “to give strong support to the economic integration process embarked upon by ECOWAS and work towards the attainment of its economic, social and cultural objectives.”
“Under the economic and training objectives, it enjoins OTUWA: “to organize colloquia and seminars with the aim among other things of raising the level of community consciousness among workers of ECOWAS member States.” Since its creation 40 years ago, the headquarters of the organization has been in Niamey, Niger Republic, Cotonou in Benin Republic and Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire. While the Secretariat was in Abidjan, the Ivorian civil war caused in calculable damage to the organization. We lost the Secretary General of the organization and the Secretariat was vandalized.
“A revival congress held in Abuja in October 2015, where we took the decision to move the headquarters to Abuja, primarily to be closer to the ECOWAS Headquarters. During the conference, I was elected President to lead the revival of the organization.”
Quest To Link Up With ECOWAS
Comrade Sock also spoke on the efforts made by the emergent leadership of OTUWA to re-establish link with the ECOWAS Commission since the revival conference, highlighting the drafting of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with ECOWAS.
He said: “We keep relating with ECOWAS during most of our programmes; from the time Mrs. Florence Iheme was Director of the Department of Humanitarian Services who is now retired from the services of ECOWAS up to the present time of Dr. Sintiki as Director in the same department/directorate.
“Just before COVID-19 struck and disrupted our lives globally, we found a copy of the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government decision on OTUWA; which was signed by President Ibrahim Babangida, then Chairman of ECOWAS and also President of Nigeria. We then used the information contained in the Resolution to draft a Memorandum of Understanding between ECOWAS and OTUWA, in order to streamline our engagement. We came and presented this to Dr. Sintiki in the ECOWAS Commission as we understood that the then Honourable Commissioner was not available.
“In the Draft MOU, we outlined six goals and objectives and responsibilities of both parties and forms of collaboration among other subheadings.
“Among the six items listed in the draft MOU are two key issues namely:
“a) The full participation of OTUWA’s Executive Secretary/President in all ECOWAS major events, including the Heads of State and Government Summits, as representatives and spokesperson of trade unions.”
“b) The granting of statutory funding by the ECOWAS Commission in support of OTUWA’s administrative and programmatic expenses.”
“Unfortunately, up till date, over four years since we presented the draft, we have not received any response from ECOWAS Commission.”
Sock revealed that in the past, ECOWAS gave financial support to OTUWA, a situation which had changed with the organisational evolution of ECOWAS Commission.
“The ECOWAS Commission had in the past given financial support to OTUWA, but over the years due to turnover of staff within the Commission and its Departments/Directorate, many of the staff are not conversant with this history.
“In fact, in the constitution of OTUWA that was attached to the 1986 decision of the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government, Chapter V; Article 22 under financial resources of OTUWA, Subsection 4 states that OTUWA shall derive its financial resources from: “grants, donations and legacies from ECOWAS and its member states, Pan African and International Organisations whose principles and objectives conform with those of OTUWA”.
“Under Final Provisions on Chapter VIII Article 30 of the Constitution, it says that: “In the event of dissolution, the movable and immovable assets shall become the property of ECOWAS.”
“Honourable Commissioner, we have done this narrative to underscore the clear intentions of the leaders of ECOWAS thirty-seven (37) years ago when they granted OTUWA this unique Consultative status within ECOWAS.
“It is absolutely important that we go back to this frame of relationship where as an organization, we are given regular annual financial support and are invited to all major ECOWAS programmes, from the summit of Heads of State and Government, to ministerial meetings and meetings of Agencies of ECOWAS like the West Africa Health Organization, meetings on Trade and other directorates of ECOWAS.
“We need to have a calendar of ECOWAS yearly activities so that where ECOWAS is unable to fund our participation, we can either raise funds to be in attendance or ask our affiliate(s) in the hosting country to represent OTUWA and write a report for us to follow up.
“I also want to use the opportunity of this visit to canvas for the effective funding of the ECOWAS Social Dialogue Forum (SDF), which the Authorities of the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government created in 2011.
“In conclusion, I wish to thank you for the opportunity to raise these pertinent issues, with the hope that this will go a long way to strengthen collaboration between OTUWA and the ECOWAS Commission,” Comrade Sock stated.