UNI Africa unions from across the continent met for a three-day virtual conference from 1 to 3 December and resolved to take action to strengthen collective bargaining, ensure workers’ rights in a digital world and promote gender equality, youth inclusion and occupational health and safety.
“We are going to make UNI Africa a force to be reckoned with,” said newly elected UNI Africa President Moses Lekota. “Covid-19 has brought a lot of fear an uncertainty on all of us and unions are going to need our support more than ever.”
“We have a clear mandate to organize, organize and organize,” said Keith Jacobs, who was re-elected Regional Secretary. “Because without members we can forget collective bargaining.”
However, even the best collective agreement is no good if it does not provide for safe and health working conditions, said Jacobs. “We have seen workers get sick and die during the pandemic and we must first and foremost demand a safe place to work.”
The conference backed a motion promising to campaign to establish Covid-19 health protocols in workplaces, set up health and safety committees and use collective bargaining to ensure the right to refuse unsafe work.
Jacobs also announced the creation of a new online workers’ academy to strengthen capacity of workers and leaders in the region in the new world of work.
“This moment of technological change, coupled with post-Covid rebuilding should be an opportunity for transformation towards a new green economy with workers’ interests at the core and collective bargaining as a central feature,” said UNI Global Union General Secretary, Christy Hoffman.
Africa unions vowed to increase gender equality, and renewed support for UNI’s mentoring programme which involves some 800 women on the continent. The conference took place during the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, and affiliates strongly endorsed a motion to lobby for the ratification and implementation of ILO Convention 190 to end violence and harassment in the world of work.
In closing the conference, President Lekota appealed to workers to get vaccinated and Jacobs called for an urgent TRIPS waiver to allow African countries to produce vaccines in their own countries and speed up vaccination programmes.
“As long as there is vaccine inequality, this pandemic will continue. We must demand vaccine access in Africa and the Global South,” said UNI Global Union President Ruben Cortina.
President Lekota, who is President of Sasbo finance union in South Africa, takes over from Founé Niang from SNTPT union in Senegal, after four years of dedicated leadership.