Achieving Social Protection in Africa through the Sustainable Development Goals: Unmasking the SDGs as trade union struggle

African nations have already committed to achieving the goals of the SDG 2030 and the Africa Union Agenda 2063, however trade union involvement in the implementation and monitoring of the SDGs is not up to speed.

by Alex Nkosi, African Trade Union Development Network

It is no doubt that at political level, the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals has been universally adopted. African nations too have already committed to achieving the 2030 Agenda and the Africa Union Agenda 2063. However, there remains a huge gap between what the successful implementation of the agenda requires and what is actually happening on the ground.

For the goals to be reached, it is clear that everyone has to do their part: governments, private sector, trade union and CSOs - basically everyone! This multi-stakeholder approach means that trade unions can no longer stand on the side-lines but ought to get involved and be counted as development actors in their own right. The reality in Africa however is that trade union involvement in the implementation and monitoring of the SDGs is not up to speed.

Social Protection targets in SDGs

Unlike the Millennium Development Goals that preceded the 2030 Agenda, the current development framework is an “all things to all people”. In it trade unions can find their key matters covered; for instance, social protection is covered in a number of SDG targets such as target 1.3, which talks about implementing nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 the achievement of substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable. Target 3.8, aims at achieving universal health coverage (UHC), including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health care services, and access to safe, effective, quality, and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all. Targets 5.4 and 8.5 recognise and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate – and aim to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value by 2030, respectively.

What role can trade unions play in this?

The SDGs proffer trade unions with extra tools and spaces for engaging their national governments and holding them to accountable on their commitments. There is a lot that can be done in mobilising the workers’ support for social protection. For example, developing tools and practical guides for workers’ groups on social protection education, advocacy and good governance is one sure way of strengthening the struggle for improved working and living conditions. Another role that trade unions can champion is fostering national dialogues to encourage tripartite discussions on national social protection situations and expansion ambitions while advocating for the improvement of the national legislation.

Regarding the generic role that the trade unions can play in implementing and monitoring the SDGs in Africa, the Africa Trade Union Development Network (ATUDN) promulgates a three-pronged strategy. Number one, trade unions ought to mobile and engage. To achieve this unions should familiarise themselves with the 2030 Agenda and isolate the goals that resonate with their specific struggles. Number two, trade unions should, through social dialogue, influence the planning and implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Number three and finally, trade unions should monitor and report on the progress of the implementation. The ATUDN has already showed one way on how to do this. Through the production of country reports on the national implementation of the SDGs, unions can feed into the official progress report on how specific countries are faring in implementing the 2030 Agenda.

Some examples of advancing union struggle through the SDGs

In Zimbabwe, thanks to the work of the ATUDN, unions have been able to mobilise civil society to hold a national dialogue on the SDGs, involving government representatives, development partners and the ILO.

In Congo Brazzaville, Ghana and Chad, unions use their national country report to approach the government to advance the decent work agenda and show that unions are important development partners and actors. This work led to strengthen the understanding and confidence of governments towards unions in the sphere of development and the planning and implementation of the 2030 Agenda.