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Unions can play an important role in intra-African trade

13 February, 2020Trade unions as workers’ organizations can play important roles in intra-African trade between Sierra Leone and South Africa to ensure sustainable decent work, health and safety, and living wages, says IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers.

At a meeting on 5 February at the Mining Indaba, Cape Town, with the President of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio, the Government of South Africa, the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), the NUM as labour representatives, the South African Mining Development Association and other stakeholders, it was discussed that opportunities existed for expanding trade in minerals and other manufactured products between the countries.

Currently the countries trade in machinery, iron and steel products, electrical equipment, rubber, plastic, railway equipment, mineral fuels and other products. Sierra Leone’s mineral resources include diamonds, bauxite, gold and iron.

According to the Trade Law Centre, in 2018 37 per cent of Sierra Leone’s intra-Africa imports were from South Africa. The countries have also signed the African Continental Free Trade Area which seeks to integrate regional economic communities that includes the Economic Community of West African States and the Southern Africa Development Community to which the countries belong.

President Maada Bio said:

“Sierra Leone is coming from a situation of war and corruption. I inherited a government on the brink of collapse from Ebola and war. We need to promote trade amongst African countries, and have done a survey, collected data, developed a strategic plan, and identified strategic mineral resources. We are also establishing a sovereign wealth fund for human capital development. Foreign direct investment must not be the only source of funds for African countries.”

Sierra Leone President, Julius Maada Bio, speaks to NUM President Joseph Montisetse

Joseph Montisetse president of the NUM said:

“Trade agreements between African countries should include workers’ interests. Workers create wealth through their labour in the mines, and governments should work with trade unions. Further, laws should promote social dialogue and education should align to Industry 4.0 and cater for social needs.”

He added that the NUM is prepared to work in solidarity with unions in Sierra Leone and gave the union’s Mineworkers Investment Trust’s bursary scheme as a useful example of what unions can do to improve workers welfare.

Bridgette Motsepe Radebe, ambassador of the Pan African Parliament, facilitated the meeting and stressed that trade agreements can benefit from the inclusion of policies like South Africa’s Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act’s requirements on social labour plans that benefited mining communities.

The PIC, whose funds are mainly from pensions, is interested in investing in Sierra Leone, has assets valued at ZAR 2.3 trillion (US $1.6 billion).