Brief Report on English-Speaking Africa SUBRAC meeting

The English-Speaking Africa Sub-regional Advisory Committee (ESA SUBRAC) meeting was held in Nairobi, Kenya on 13-14 March 2024. It brought together 45 participants from Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Ghana and Liberia. The meeting looked at a number of issues affecting countries, the public sector and the workers. Some of the notable challenges included the high devaluation of many currencies in the region, political instability, the high costs of living, rising taxes and the removal of fuel subsidies that has led to an increase in other food prices.

In terms of trade union rights, it was observed that a number of governments did not respect workers’ rights including freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Many countries reported that collective agreements signed by the government had not been enforced for up to five years in some cases. It was further observed that some countries were introducing a third party into the collective bargaining process in the form of a salary review commission, known in some countries as emoluments and remuneration commissions. In Kenya, for instance, the commission vetoes the implementation of salaries negotiated with the government and other employers. This was rendering the CBA process ineffective. Many unions in Kenya had sought court redress to stop the actions of the commission, which have weakened the power of trade unions to represent and negotiate with employers in Kenya.

Government brutality on trade union leaders in some countries, including Kenya and Nigeria, has been highly condemned. The shooting of Comrade Davji Atella, Secretary General of the Kenya Medical, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) in February and the brutality meted out on Comrade Joe Aajero, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress and General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees of Nigeria (NUEE) in November 2023 were highly condemned. The meeting in session called upon the two governments to respect the right to strike, including peaceful demonstration, without targeting elected union leaders.  PSI and other global unions that sent solidarity support letters to the two unions were appreciated.

The General Secretary, Daniel Bertossa assured the sub-region of PSI’s commitment to defending workers’ rights, including the right to strike. He called upon leaders and unions to be vigilant and to support the PSI Programme of Action (PoA), as this would provide a number of options for addressing the various challenges facing workers and communities in a world faced with multiple crisis and pushed forward by neo-liberal policies that place profit over people.

The meeting undertook a SWOT analysis for the unions in the regions. While a number of strengths were identified, including seasoned leadership, strong negotiating teams, recognition by government, high membership for some unions, institutional memory, young workers, existence of constitutions that incorporate women and young workers, registered CBAs, it was observed that many weaknesses remained, hampering the ability of unions to effectively represent, recruit, and empower workers effectively. These weaknesses include very low density/low membership, weak financial base, low participation of women and young workers in the union leadership, lack of funds for training and education, the non-existence of CBAs in some workplaces, poor communication and low uptake of digital spaces. Key opportunities identified include young population, affiliation to global trade union federation, job security, digitalisation, the independence of the judiciary in some countries, huge potential of the membership and open CBA negotiations cycles. On the other hand, key threats are hostile governments, non-implementation of CBAs, the creation of Salary Review Commissions and similar bodies, the increased privatisation of public services, outsourcing and contracting, yellow and splinter unions, unfavourable national policies and legislations, disregard of ILO conventions by governments, climate change, and downsizing and mergers. The meeting agreed to use the themes provided for in the PSI PoA to tackle some of the threats and maximise the opportunities and strength while at the same time addressing the internal weaknesses.

Women and Young Workers also held their meeting and submitted their recommendation to SUBRAC for consideration. Following a request at the 2023 SUBRAC meeting for a regional meeting for young workers, CLOGSAG Ghana offered to host the meeting in Ghana before the end of 2024. NASU-Nigeria has also pledged to contribute to the meeting. The meeting should enable young workers to share experiences, discuss challenges and make recommendations on areas they need to improve, including training to better organise more workers in unions.