Trade unions have a dual role in the negotiations and implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement. First, unions must demand the inclusion of labour provisions within the AfCFTA agreement. The labour provisions should be a separate chapter or section within the trade agreement. Second, unions would be the monitoring agents responsible for confronting countries and companies who flout labour provisions in the AfCFTA.

Any labour provisions in the AfCFTA must consider and incorporate ILO’s Decent Work Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. Importantly, unions would need to view labour provisions in the AfCFTA agreement as a tool for monitoring progress and demanding accountability. That’s because having labour provisions in trade agreements does not automatically shore up the Decent Work Agenda in countries.

Things that unions can deliberate and demand when pushing for labour provisions in the AfCFTA agreement include:

  1. The AfCFTA agreement should fully integrate labour provisions. The labour provisions need to be in a chapter format. That would provide an accessible monitoring tool for trade unions to use while holding accountable those violating the labour provisions. Labour must become a determining factor in all decisions and processes.
  2. Labour provisions must include a commitment to adopt and maintain the ILO core labour rights, the Decent Work Agenda and domestic labour laws, including minimum wage laws.
  3. The AfCFTA must acknowledge and respect national labour laws and legislative frameworks.
  4. The AfCFTA negotiations are ongoing and unions can take advantage and present their demands to ensure workers have protection instruments.
  5. Demand clear clauses without any room for misinterpretation. Reject phrasing such as: “shall not fail to effectively enforce its labour laws.” An acceptable option here would be, “shall strive to ensure that its laws provide for labour standards consistent with the internationally recognized labour rights.”
  6. Demand labour-related compliance mechanisms within the AfCFTA:
    • Promote the inclusion of promotional compliance labour mechanisms, which can spur capacity building and strengthened domestic labour institutions. Countries should be helped rather than punished.
    • Enforceable labour compliance mechanisms offer the alternative to promotional compliance mechanisms. Enforcing compliance would involve awarding fines and penalties or removing some preferential treatment granted under the agreement. The awarded fines could be escrowed for remediation of labour rights violations.
    • The most successful approach for ensuring labour standards in trade agreements is the pre-ratification approach. States wishing to ratify an agreement are given the pre-condition to labour standards. Because so many countries have already ratified the AfCFTA, the option isn’t feasible but can apply in the negotiations of future agreements.
  1. The AfCFTA should be a tool for ending the abuse of workers’ rights in African value chains.
  2. Gender mainstreaming should happen together with labour mainstreaming in the AfCFTA. The gender objectives in the AfCFTA agreement can’t be achieved without the inclusion of labour provisions.
  3. AfCFTA must respect human rights spelt out in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
  4. There must be transparency throughout the planning, negotiations and monitoring of labour provisions in AfCFTA. The inclusion of trade unions and civil society actors is essential.

 

Non-compliance with labour standards in Africa and globally is widespread, according to ITUC’s Global Rights Index. Trade unions can assist in promoting the enforcement of anti-labour provisions in the AfCFTA agreement. That would be through, for example, highlighting non-compliance where they come across it and demanding accountability.

 

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