September 2013 - Roundtable on Trade unions and Labour Issues in Africa

On 25 September 2013, the African Studies Centre (ASC) of the University of Leiden in the Netherlands hosted an international roundtable on Trade Unions and Labour Issues in Africa. This event was co-organised with the Institute of Work and Society (HIVA) at the University of Leuven In Belgium, and brought together 30 participants from different countries.

The roundtable was organised in the framework of the newly established research collaborative on ‘Labour Issues and Trade Unions in Africa
Today’, which brings together African, Dutch and international experts in the field in order to exchange and discuss current trends and dynamics. Additionally, by incorporating African and Western stakeholders and practitioners we hope to support evidence-based research with high policy relevance.

These initiatives have been taken In light of Africa’s booming economies and the need to consider such growth from a labour perspective. Although the Decent Work agenda is gaining importance, questions about the extent to which labour can benefit from the current economic boom in Africa remain largely unanswered. The research collaborative aims to fill the gap in current knowledge by creating and supporting a labour oriented research agenda. The round table on 25 September brought together 20 researchers from various Dutch, Belgian and English institutions, including six African scholars representing institutions in Ghana, Cameroon, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Egypt. In addition 10 representatives from trade unions in The Netherlands and Belgium were present as well as an expert in workers relations at the International Labour Organisation in Geneva. Freek Schiphorst (ISS), Naome Chakanya (LEDRIZ) and William Baah Boateng (University of Ghana), each held a ground breaking pitch on ‘Recent developments in African labour markets’, ‘Trade unions from a civil- society perspective’ and ‘The international labour movement agenda and African realities’, respectively. This spurred interesting debates amongst the diverse group of experts and practitioners in which the following key issues were raised:

-  The continuity in many African labour markets (large informal sector, dependency on primary resources, the precarity of workers as well as the limited engagement of governments) despite the economic growth
-  The struggles (in some cases reluctance) of trade unions with organizing precarious and informal workers, especially the self-employed
-  The relevance of the decent work agenda for Africa: should it be interpreted as an objective or an effective means?
-  The impact of emerging economies, such as China and India, on African labour markets and labour conditions
-  The changing roles of trade unions on the continent and the challenges they face ‘post structural adjustment plans’ of finding a well-defined ideological entity.
-  The articulation of social dialogue and collective bargaining processes in Africa and the influence of colonial history on these processes.
-  The dynamics in international solidarity mechanisms and the nature of the relationship between trade unions and civil society organisations which strongly differs across countries

The roundtable closed with a commitment to create a research hub in order to support a labour oriented research agenda as well as strong connections between academics and practitioners in order to foster policy relevant outputs.

The round table was followed by a writers’ workshop with most of the researchers present at the roundtable. The researchers reviewed the issues that were raised the previous day and drew the outlines of an edited volume on ‘Labour Issues and Trade Unions in Africa Today’ (working title) that will be co-edited by Mayke Kaag and André Leliveld.

For more information on the activities of the research collaborative on ‘Labour Issues and Trade Unions in Africa Today’ please send an email to André Leliveld ([email protected]).