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African unions commemorate International Workers' Memorial Day 

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2 May, 2023To commemorate International Workers’ Memorial Day a group of shop stewards from different trade unions in Sub-Saharan Africa came together, in Ghana, to visit and learn about adherence to occupational health and safety standards at state-owned Tema oil refinery and Trafigura’s Tema multiproduct terminal known as Blue Ocean. As symbols of remembrance the workers and delegation wore black ribbons and carried black candles.

Kofi Poku, the union branch chairperson at the terminal said, 

“Blue Ocean is known to be conscious on health and safety issues and workers make significant contributions towards creating a safe working environment. The visit by IndustriALL is commendable and highlights the commitment of organised labour at global level to ensure health and safety at work.” 

A meeting preceding the visit discussed country reports which focused on: accident reporting systems in Togo, campaigns for health and safety laws in mining that protected workers’ rights in South Africa, and campaigns against precarious work as workers, in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda, with short contracts faced more health and safety risks than those on permanent contracts. 

The meeting also heard that Madagascar’s garment and textile factories’ contract workers faced risks that were worsened by sexual harassment which was targeted at young women workers. The meeting discussed the positive impact of the Bangladesh Accord on Sub-Saharan Africa especially the involvement of brands through global framework agreements after the Rana Plaza disaster which happened a decade ago.

In Mauritius, unions were campaigning for proposed amendments to Articles 7, 10, 11, and 22, to the Rotterdam Convention, a global treaty to facilitate informed decision making by countries to manage chemicals in international trade and exchange information on hazardous chemicals and their potential risks. The campaign by the CTSP received government endorsement, and Mauritius’ position will be presented at the 11th conference of parties to the Rotterdam Convention that is currently taking place in Geneva, Switzerland.

Glen Mpufane, Industrial director for mining and lead on health and safety, said: 

“Workers have made immense sacrifices on health and safety and as trade union activists we are in solidarity on their demands for safer workplaces. It is a victory for workers that health and safety is now one of the fundamental rights at work and this is why we must have knowledge on international labour conventions and recommendations. However, as we remember the injured and dead, we must adapt our programmes to include human rights’ due diligence and demand responsible business conduct from employers.”

 Glen added that workers must remain vigilant on identifying hazards and risks at the workplaces including wearing of appropriate personal protective equipment in hazardous areas and exercising the right to refuse unfair and unsafework.

The participants are part of the Sub-Saharan Africa occupational health and safety committee whose members are drawn from the chemical, garment and textile, mining, oil and gas, and other industrial sectors. This visit was organized by IndustriALL affiliate, the Ghana Transport Petroleum and Chemical Workers Union which organizes workers at the Tema Oil Refinery and Blue Ocean.