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Building sustainable unions in Malawi

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31 March, 2021IndustriALL Global Union affiliates organizing over 25,000 workers in the textile, garment, leather and shoe, cement manufacturing, mining, chemicals, energy, and other industrial sectors met in Lilongwe 22-25 March to discuss sustainability, building union power, and strengthening the capacity development of organizers and shop stewards through training and online learning.

The unions discussed how to develop communications strategies and the importance of using digital organizing tools and social media to improve the efficiency of the union.

The unions carried out self-evaluation of the activities that were implemented in the last three years. Emphasis was put on how improving competencies and coordination can assist in union growth.

The project activities, which were implemented with support from SASK, included strengthening recruitment and organizing, negotiating for better collective bargaining agreements, understanding labour laws, grievance handling, improving service to members, and prioritizing youth and women integration.

However, in 2020 the project was adversely affected by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic as some workers were paid reduced wages whilst others were retrenchments. The unions also discussed how they are fighting workers’ rights violations by some Chinese owned companies that ignored national labour laws.

The unions which are affiliated to IndustriALL are Building Construction, Civil Engineering and Allied Workers Union (BCCEAWU) Chemical Energy Mining and Allied Workers Union (CEMAWU), Commercial Industrial and Allied Workers Union (CIAWU), Escom Staff Union (ESU), and Textile, Garment, Leather and Security Services Workers Union (TGLSSWU).

Simião Simbine, Trade Union Solidarity Centre of Finland (SASK) Regional Representative for Southern Africa said:

“The aim of doing self-assessments is to identify gaps that are stopping unions from achieving their goals. Once the gaps are addressed, the union is then able to progress and build on its strengths. The information from the assessments identifies what needs to be done and is a useful resource from which the unions can learn.”

Tendai Makanza, IndustriALL regional officer for Sub Saharan Africa said:

“It is important for unions to think strategically when planning project activities. For example, what changes does the union want to make in the future? If it wants to improve services to members, how will that be done? It is also important to include the youth and women in building union power as this strengthens union democracy and lays solid foundations for the future leadership of the labour movement in Malawi.”