This week, young delegates from all over Africa came together during the UNI Africa Youth Conference online. The conference saw the unveiling of an ambitious action plan which seeks to put youth at the heart of economic and trade union growth in the African region.
Inspired by the slogan “Let’s Bounce,” activists discussed ways to increase youth representation in their trade unions, enhance skills and training, and to lead the fight against precarious work and insecure jobs.
According to the World Economic Forum, Africa has the youngest population in the world, with the world’s ten youngest populations are all in Africa. Subsequently, in order to take advantage of the opportunity to build inclusive and equitable economic growth, young people must be at the forefront of their trade unions’ organizing work.
Assane Sy, President of UNI Africa Youth and SNPT member in Senegal underlined the crucial need to focus on organizing young workers in the region.
“To connect with young workers and engage them to join the union, we need organizing initiatives managed by young and dynamic organizers,” said Sy. “It’s fundamental that young people are represented on the shop floors and in their unions.”
As in other parts of the world, young workers in Africa continue to face a raft of challenges –access to adequate training opportunities, representation at decision-making levels, precarious work, zero-hour contracts and harassment in the workplace are all commonplace.
One way to fight this, said Yao Kouakou Obin, from SYPINCI in Cote d’Ivoire, was to ensure that young people are well-integrated and listened to in their unions.
“Young people can change the world, but in order to do so, we need to be an active and integral part of our trade unions,” said Obin. “Without youth, there’s no future for unions.”
The ILO report on Global Employment Trends for Youth 2020 – technology and future jobs shows why unions are so critical for young workers. Around 30 per cent of employed youth, remain in extreme or moderate poverty despite having a job and the Covid-19 pandemic has served to exacerbate these conditions. Unions promote higher wages, more secure employment and continued training.
But Jane Katusabe, a UHFTAWU representative from Uganda said there was plenty of room for optimism, particularly when young trade unionists were involved in the bargaining process.
“Especially after a global pandemic which has sped up the race to the bottom, young people must take part in negotiating collective agreements,” said Katusabe. “Collective agreements are the foundation on which we build our futures, and without youth participation, we won’t have the decent work, secure jobs and fair wages we deserve.”