Solidarity Center Africa Regional Program Director Imani Countess Credit: Tula Connell
The U.S.-Africa Summit in Washington, D.C., last week stood apart from similar trade and investment meetings held by China or by the European Union because African union leaders, representing millions of working people, made their voices heard, said Imani Countess, Solidarity Center regional program director for Africa.
“Any U.S. conversation discussing economic development, trade and investment in Africa couldn’t happen without … people understanding how foundational decent work, labor rights … are to overall growth and economic development,” Countess said, speaking on RadioLabour.
The Solidarity Center and the AFL-CIO facilitated meetings, held in tandem with the U.S.-Africa Summit, that included nearly 40 union leaders from 11 countries to highlight the need for good jobs as a priority in trade and investment decisions.
“As one is looking at promoting investment in Africa, that investment has to be pro-employment, as opposed to the continued emphasis and support for growth that is benefiting a very small minority,” Countess said.
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Joel Odigie says poverty and inequality are worsening in Africa, despite the continent’s economic growth.
“Africa rising” was the catchphrase buzzing around Washington, D.C., last week, as African heads of state met for a three-day summit with U.S. government and private business.
But Joel Odigie, coordinator of human and trade union rights for the International Trade Union Confederation-Africa, says working people are not benefiting from the continent’s economic growth.
“In reality, there is an economic growth in Africa that is for the 1 percent. Poverty continues to increase, inequality continues to widen,” he said,” speaking on RadioLabour. “The question of investment and trade should be the issues of how we are able to use that to address some of these concerns.”
Odigie was among 40 African union leaders meeting in Washington, D.C., to highlight the need for decent work—which includes good wages, safe working conditions and the freedom to form unions and collectively bargain—gender equality and human rights.
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The rapid economic growth of many African countries is not translating into good jobs or worker rights, especially for women, and worker organizations, governments and business must be more proactive in expanding employment and improving wages and social protections, according to a new Solidarity Center report.
“African Trade Unions and Africa’s Future: Strategic Choices in a Changing World” calls for measures to promote job creation, secure worker rights, invest in social and physical infrastructure and achieve gender equality.
Based on a 2013 survey of trade unionists in nine African countries, the report finds that trade unions have played a significant part in the political and economic lives of their countries, for instance by shaping policy around issues such as the minimum wage and social insurance coverage, and in promoting and defending democratic institutions.
But rapid globalization has created new challenges that will most effectively be solved through coordination among unions, government and business. Some of measures the report calls for include:
• Confronting obstacles to equal rights and equal participation for women. Sustainable development and inclusive economic growth are only possible when gender inequity, a key human rights component, is integrated throughout the process. Such actions should include opening up economic sectors and occupations that are still largely closed to women, as well as advancing education for women and social support for family obligations now primarily met by women.
• Taking innovative approaches to addressing the informal economy.National and global economic trends suggest that the proportion of workers in formal employment will continue to decrease. Worker associations and African governments need to share experiences and invest more resources to empower workers in the informal economy and extend social protections to informal-sector workers, especially women.
• Enforcing existing international worker rights standards. A broad body of international and national laws and standards protects workers and their rights, but they generally are not enforced, including by countries participating in programs like the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). As a result, workers are vulnerable to abuses such as unsafe and unhealthy workplaces, forced labor, lost wages, sexual harassment and workplace violence.
Released on the eve of the August 5–6 White House Africa Leaders Summit and the annual AGOA meeting, African Trade Unions and Africa’s Future serves as a clear call to action to the continent’s most powerful leaders and policymakers.