Project: Trade Unions and Trade

Trade Unions and Trade

The African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa), in collaboration with the Labour Research Service (LRS) and supported by the Trade Union Solidarity Centre of Finland (SASK), is working to strengthen the capacity of the trade union movement in Africa to engage on matters relating to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). 

Focus countries and participating unions in Trade Unions in AfCFTA Project 

  1. Chad – Union of Trade Unions of Chad
  2. Ghana – Trade Union Congress
  3. Rwanda – Rwanda Workers’ Trade Union Confederation
  4. Tunisia – Tunisian General Union of Labour
  5. Nigeria – Nigeria Labour Congress 
  6. Namibia – Trade Union Congress of Namibia
  7. South Africa – Congress of South African Trade Unions 
  8. Kenya – Central Organization of Trade Unions – Kenya 
  9. Senegal – National Confederation of Senegalese Workers

As the representatives of workers, trade unions are important partners in influencing the social dimension of trade outcomes and are advocating for labour and decent work creation as an integral part of AfCFTA  processes.

Project Objectives

  1. Participating trade unions become equipped to engage with the development and implementation of the AfCFTA at a national, sub-regional and regional level.
  2. Participating trade unions  advance decent work and workers’ rights in the negotiations and implementation of the AfCFTA at the national, sub-regional and regional level.

Background and problem statement 

The African Continental Free Trade Area came into effect on 1 January 2021. 54 of the 55 African Union members have signed the AfCFTA, which has 1.2 billion people located within its geographical boundaries and will be the largest free trade area in the world. 

The AfCFTA responds to the AU Agenda 2063 aspirations 1, 6 and 7, which aim to: ‘attain a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development, an Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth and an Africa that is a strong, united, resilient and an influential global player and partner’

The AfCFTA is expected to lead to the creation of a single African market for goods and services, facilitate the long-awaited free movement of people, mobilise regional investments and be the necessary building impetus towards the establishment of a Continental Customs Union. The hope is that the agreement will improve African regional competitiveness, industrial development and resolve the challenges caused by multiple and overlapping Regional Economic Community memberships, as well as fast-track the long-awaited African regional and continental integration process. 

The national contexts for the implementation of the AfCFTA are important and will need to be understood. Trade unions are particularly interested in how the AfCFTA will influence national policy processes and affect employment, incomes and livelihoods.

The AfCFTA is by definition a regional instrument and requires that the trade union movement is also able to engage at national, regional and sectoral levels. The levels of trade union development, organisation, representation, governance and administration vary from country to country and from region to region. This means that the implementing partners must be as responsive to these dynamics as possible. Yet, civil society, including trade unions, did not have adequate participation in the process leading up to the ratification of AfCFTA. 

From the perspective of trade unions, there is a glaring absence of reliable baseline data and impact studies of the AfCFTA. Trade unions do not also have a developed and agreed policy position on the ACFTA. If trade unions in Africa are not able to engage with the AfCFTA it is quite likely that its incremental implementation will take unions unawares, that it may undermine national legislation on worker protection, disrupt the national labour market, undermine the existing organisational gains of trade unions or limit their possibilities in the future.

How will success look like?

"A continental free trade agreement requires a continental free trade union movement on the continent."

  1. Participating trade Unions can engage with the onward development of the AfCFTA and demand that labour becomes an integral part of the agreement.
  2. Participating trade unions can hold their governments, regional and international development institutions, the private sector, civil society and other power holders accountable to the citizens.
  3. Participating trade unions in Africa map the institutional environment for the negotiation and implementation processes of the AfCFTA at different levels and begin to consider strategies for engaging those spaces.
  4. Participating trade unions in Africa have begun to exchange information and sharing of experiences with other trade unionists and social activists through regional and international cooperation and exchanges.
  5. Participating trade unions in Africa analyse the extent of involvement of trade unions with the negotiation and implementation processes at various levels and develop strategies to ensuring that the interests of trade unions are addressed during the remaining phases of the negotiations and the implementation.
  6. Research supports the efforts of participating trade unions in Africa to engage in the AfCFTA.
  7. Participating trade unions in Africa develop a generic framework for a popular campaign to raise awareness about the AfCFTA among workers in African countries.

The implementation of the AfCFTA marks a process that may well define what workers, their trade unions and their leaders of tomorrow will inherit. It is therefore important that the next generation of trade unionists are initiated into the institutions, processes and possibilities of this continent-wide trade agreement.

Project partners

Key project contact: Trenton Elsely | [email protected]

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