ATUDN Regional Meeting: UNECA, African Union and ILO acknowledge the need to ensure effective trade union engagement in development processes

The African Trade Union Development Network (ATUDN) met online on 16-17 February to update its strategy and plan its participation in the upcoming African Regional Sustainable Development Forum. The meeting also provided an excellent platform for the ILO, UNECA and the African Union to share views and exchange best practices both between themselves and with trade unionists.

The first day was dedicated to exchanging positive experiences of improved trade union participation in development processes in 2022 and to strategise next steps for 2023 ahead of key processes such as the UNECA African Regional Sustainable Development Forum (28 Feb-2 Mar.), the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (10-19 July) and the SDG Summit scheduled for September 2023.

The director of ILO ACTRAV, Maria Helena André, who participated in the meeting, praised unions for the progress achieved over the years and for their enhanced engagement in complex political processes with both governments and the UN.

“It is those unions that are proactive and invest in their own capacity development that are registering the best results,” said Ms. André. Active engagement was the red thread that dominated the session when representatives from Senegal, Somalia and Botswana shared their advocacy wins of 2022

In her concluding remarks, the director of the Equality Department at the ITUC, Paola Simonetti, underlined the importance of the next three years as a key period during which the “post-2030” will start to be shaped. She encouraged all attendees to “engage, engage and engage. Because it works!”

On day two, a high-level panel composed of the acting director of the Gender, Poverty and Social Division at UNECA, Sweta Saxena, the programme coordinator of the Labour, Employment and Migration Division at the African Union, Odette Sarr Bolly, and ILO Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Africa Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon discussed the role of decent work, just transition and trade unions in accelerating the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063 in Africa.

All speakers agreed on the importance of acknowledging that social justice is as important as economic growth and environmental protection to achieve the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063. According to Ms Samuel-Olonjuwon, Africa is sitting on two major time bombs: the “criminal” number of informal workers across the continent, which amount to 90 per cent of all employments in Africa, and the urgent need to deliver on social protection in a continent where only 17.4 per cent of the population, that is one in 10, has access to the most basic social protection coverage.

Speakers stressed that until the issue of decent work is addressed, the potential role of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) as a key driver of development across the continent cannot be fulfilled.

Speakers also agreed on the importance of building trade unions’ capacity and creating space for effective engagement to ensure their meaningful participation in development discussions and processes with relevant institutions.

In the plenary discussion, trade union representatives agreed with the points discussed and shared experiences and best practices. The importance of closer cooperation between the ILO, UNECA and the African Union was also point of consensus, as was the need to take advantage of key opportunities, such as the UN Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection for Just Transition, that will start to be implemented this year.