Africa Summit: African Unions Say Prioritize Good Jobs, Worker Rights

African trade union leaders from across the continent called on U.S. and African leaders to adopt a decent work agenda for trade and economic growth where the creation of good jobs that respect worker rights and provide social protections will lead to greater shared prosperity.

Union leaders discussed issues regarding jobs, development and investment at an official U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit workshop yesterday: “Promoting Decent Work: Priorities for U.S. and African Leaders, Civil Society and Private-Sector Shareholders.” Their recommendations, which include a focus on gender equality, will be submitted to the African heads of state also meeting this week in Washington, D.C.

The panel discussion highlighted the reality that although many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are seeing tremendous economic growth through oil and mineral exports, the emergence of a textile sector and expanding foreign investment, workers and their families are not sharing in the prosperity. Indeed, in many sub-Saharan African countries, the majority of workers toil in the informal economy, leaving them vulnerable to economic shocks, without social protections and with limited ability to transition into formal employment—and often trapped in a multigenerational cycle of poverty.

Sahra Ryklief, secretary general of the International Federation of Workers’ Education Associations (South Africa), said: “Why do we promote decent work? Because if we don’t, we are headed for disaster. For a worker who does not have a steady income, life is precarious. And Africa has 80 percent of the population in informal work–many of them women. So many that they have come to be known as the ‘precariat.’”

To combat this problem and the gross inequality that it engenders, Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, Secretary General of the International Trade Union Confederation-Africa called for focused strategies that industrialize national economies and create better, formal-sector jobs. Formal livelihoods that provide real wages and a decent standard of living, he argued, are key to lifting up the working poor. In addition, the wealth generated through high levels of economic growth over the past decade should be reinvested in the African people via strong social institutions and investment in working women and men, through effective skills training programs.

Speakers also stressed the importance of extending social protections and worker rights to the majority of African workers in informal employment, to improve livelihoods and provide them equal protection under the law.

The workshop featured:
• Christopher Lu, U.S. deputy secretary of labor;
• Steven Feldstein, deputy assistant secretary of state, U.S. Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor;
• Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, general secretary, International Trade Union Confederation-Africa;
• Eric Biehl, associate deputy undersecretary for international affairs, U.S. Department of Labor, International Labor Affairs Bureau;
• Sahra Ryklief, secretary general, International Federation of Workers’ Education Associations; and
• Sabina Dewan, president and executive director, Just Jobs Network.

A set of recommendations will be publicly available soon.