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Zimbabwean unions demand pro-worker trade policies

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12 May, 2023Is trade and industrialization a panacea to Zimbabwe’s economic woes, and what roles can trade unions play in policy making to ensure that workers and communities benefit from trade? These were the topics discussed at the sustainable trade and industrialization policy conference in Harare on 4-5 May. 50 participants from six countries, trade unions, civil society organizations, Members of Parliament, government departments and key stakeholders grappled with these questions.

The conference, organized by IndustriALL Global Union Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), UNISON, and the International Labour Organization (ILO), heard that Zimbabwe is endowed with minerals that are in high demand because of the energy transition. The country has the sixth largest lithium reserves globally and second largest platinum group metals as well as other minerals. But there were mineral governance deficits and illicit financial flows. This led to loss of benefits to the economy through resource-led industrialization said delegates who include those from PSI and ITUC-Africa.

The policy conference’s theme: making trade work for workers – Trade, Investment, Industrialization, and decent work with special reference to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The event is one of the activities being carried out by the IndustriALL SSA as part of the trade and African industrialization campaign.

The conference discussed inclusion of labour provisions and the decent work agenda with emphasis on ILO fundamental rights at work. Economic development and industrialization strategies that contribute towards regional value chains in mining and metals, automotive, energy, chemical, textile, garment shoe and leather, and public services must be promoted. Youth and women representation in the sectors was identified as key.

With most Zimbabwean workers now eking a living in the informal sector emphasis was put on the transition from informal to formal sectors. Illicit financial flows which included smuggling and under invoicing of minerals could be curbed under the African Minerals Governance Framework. 

“Too many trade deals prioritise the already extensive rights of international corporations over the right to decent work and quality public services. It’s why this conference and ZCTU’s work on trade are vital, and why we need to fight globally for public services to be excluded from trade deals and protected from private investor courts,”

said Mark Beacon, UNISON, international officer.

Florence Taruvinga, ZCTU president says,

“with most trade agreements including the AfCFTA not talking about labour provisions, we have a lot of work to do as trade unions. We must demand for these provisions from the African Union, our national governments, and even from the Chinese with whom our countries have signed bilateral agreements with.”

Kemal Ozkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary said: 

“We need a new narrative on Zimbabwean trade and industrialization. This narrative should talk about what works for workers, a new society, regional integration, a rich African continent with sufficient resources, and robust industrial sectors that add value to regional value chains that contribute to economic growth and development.”