Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, ITUC-Africa general-secretary, highlighted the need for jobs and worker rights this week in Washington, D.C. Credit: RadioLabour
During this week’s U.S.-Africa Summit with heads of state in Washington, D.C., more than 40 African trade union leaders took part in parallel meetings to call on U.S. and African leaders to adopt a decent work agenda for trade and economic growth.
In interview with RadioLabour, Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, general-secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation-Africa, discussed the focus on decent work
“Decent work … refers to the need for employment, but when people are employed, they have to have rights,” Adu-Amankwah said.
“Employment is one pillar of decent work, and the existence of worker rights also is another pillar,” Adu-Amankwah said, citing social protection as the third part of a decent work agenda.
“Then there is a question of social dialogue—when people are at work, they must have rights to speak out. So they must be able to organize and to bargain collectively.”
Adu-Anamkwah also spoke at the official Africa Summit civil-society side event, “Promoting Decent Work: Priorities for U.S. and African Leaders, Civil Society and Private-Sector Shareholders.”
Listen to the full interview.
Meeting in Washington, D.C., this week, 40 African trade union leaders highlighted creation of good jobs, social protections and freedom to form unions as essential for Africa’s development. One way to do so is to make the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) work for working people.
AGOA must have strong labor clauses “to ensure that workers’ rights are protected, they are given decent work,” said Caroline Khamati Mugalla, executive secretary of the East African Trade Union Confederation. Mugalla spoke with RadioLabour.
AGOA, which gives eligible sub-Saharan countries duty-free access to the U.S. market for a variety of products, is up for re-authorization in 2015. In the 15 years AGOA has been in effect, it has increased exports from sub-Saharan Africa, but by focusing mostly on tariff reductions, it has not spurred broader development or fostered a robust and equitable economic system.
Trade agreements must create decent work, Mugalla said, and decent work “is all about social dialogue, strengthening social dialogue to ensure that workers’ rights are actually met.”
African union leaders met as African heads of state took part in the US-Africa Summit August 4-6 in Washington, D.C.
Listen to the full interview.
Find out more about AGOA
The Solidarity Center joins the global labor movement and human rights community in condemning the death threat made by the Swazi prime minister against two worker and human rights leaders who traveled to the U.S.-Africa summit this week.
Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini, prime minister of Swaziland, told the Times of Swaziland that Vincent Ncongwane, secretary general of the Trade Union Confederation of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), and Sipho Gumede, secretary general of Lawyers for Human Rights, should be “strangled” for traveling to Washington, D.C., for the summit. (You can e-mail the Swazi prime minister to condemn his threats.)
“The Swazi government’s contempt for workers, for human rights and for civil society is evident and reprehensible,” said Shawna Bader-Blau, executive director of the Solidarity Center. “We stand with brave rights activists like Vincent and Sipho and with all Swazi workers who face repression from their own government, and we support their efforts to fight for basic rights.”
In July, Swaziland lost benefits under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) for its failure to respect 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.
Thousands of Guatemalans turned out on May Day this year to protest violence against union members and demand worker rights. Credit: Stephen Wishart
Guatemalan trade union leaders met with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman in Guatemala City today to express their frustration with the failure of the Guatemalan government to make any meaningful progress in protecting worker rights.
The meeting took place as Guatemala neared the deadline for complying with a “Labor Action Plan” it signed with the United States in April 2013. The United States granted Guatemala a four-month extension earlier this year. Guatemalan unions and the AFL-CIO first raised concerns about egregious labor rights violations in Guatemala in a joint complaint filed in 2008 under the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).
The union leaders told Froman that the government has failed to improve worker rights since the complaint was filed six years ago and in fact, the situation for workers in Guatemala has deteriorated in recent years.
Seventy-two unionists have been murdered in Guatemala since CAFTA was implemented.
“One of the main challenges in achieving labor justice in Guatemala are the high levels of impunity and lack of accountability of those public officials responsible for ensuring respect for labor rights,” said Victoriano Zacarias, deputy general secretary of the Confederacion Central de Trabajadores de Guatemala (Central Confederation of Guatemalan Workers, CGTG).
“Moreover, the bills before Congress on labor issues in Guatemala, if approved, will result only in more labor rights violations and further facilitate greater migration to the U.S. for lack of basic conditions of labor rights.” Zacarias was among union leaders taking part in today’s meeting.
Another participant in the meeting, Carlos Mancilla, general secretary of theConfederacion Unitaria Sindical de Guatemala (United Trade Union Confederation of Guatemala, CUSG), said “the government of Guatemala has no political will to solve the existing labor problems.”
“The government of Guatemala has stated it has made advances, but the only progress has been creating roundtable discussions that have not provided solutions to labor problems, and the establishment of agreements and protocols that are not implemented.”
“This year, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) named Guatemala the most dangerous place in the world to be a union leader,” said Solidarity Center Country Program Director Stephen Wishart, who attended the meeting. “So we’re pleased to see that Ambassador Froman is taking the issue of worker rights seriously and meeting with the unions to hear their side.”
Wishart said that Guatemalan unions will continue to press their government to live up to its labor rights commitments, and added, “The Solidarity Center will stand with our union partners in Guatemala as they keep up their fight for worker rights, safety and decent jobs for Guatemalan workers.”