Francis Atwoli: “We need to create more sustainable jobs for youth in Africa”

Africa needs more sustainable jobs for youth who represent the majority of African population, says Francis Atwoli, the newly elected president of African Trade Unions Unity (OATUU) and vice president of the global International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). In this interview, Atwoli gives his views about the role of unions in helping young workers in Africa. As Secretary General of the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU-Kenya), Atwoli also discusses workers’ complaints in his country.

News | 02 April 2014
Francis Atwoli
Secretary General of COTU-Kenya
ACTRAV INFO: During this ILO Governing Body session (March 2014), special focus was placed on youth employment. As newly elected president of OATUU, what is your view on this issue for Africa?

Africa has so many problems regarding working women and men. But we need to work hard to make sure that we support our governments on the management and utilization of our minerals. Then we can be in a position to create employment for our own people.

With OATUU’s efforts, we need also to make sure that employers on the continent are creating employment for youth. In this regard, we need more investment on education and skills. Africa has a lot of opportunities -- more than any other continent. The global economic and financial crisis adversely affected Africa because our continent invested very heavily in its informal economy. We need to do now is make sure that the informal economy is formalized. This process will help to create sustained employment on the continent especially for youth and women. We need to make sure that youth and women are also involved with production on the continent.

Africa is full of potential. We only need to try to correct some of our governments on where they go wrong and make sure we are able to attract sustainable direct and indirect investments for economic growth on the continent.

ACTRAV INFO: What can unions do to help young workers in Africa?

Trade unions will have an impact in sensitizing our governments, making sure that we protect the output of our minerals and in promoting region integration. By doing this, we can trade among ourselves, because we are not in a position of competing internationally. On the international market, Africa contributes only 3% but if we can use that 3% on the continent, it will redouble. When we start competing, we could have a better share of more than 25 or 30% on the total global economic market.

ACTRAV INFO: As Secretary General of COTU-Kenya, could you tell us more about the trade union situation in Kenya vis-à-vis relations with employers and your government ?

We have a problem with the newly elected government in Kenya, especially in relation to the operations and management of the National Social Security Funds (NSSF). The government is currently not respecting tripartism arrangements that governs the NSSF, in line with several ILO Conventions, including Conventions Nos. 1, 87, 98, and 144.

Elsewhere, the government is trying to disrupt the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU-Kenya) by not adhering to the National Labour Board which regulates industrial relations in Kenya. They have gone out of their way in trying to support and form yellow unions that listen to the government. I don’t think that is the way of strengthening industrial relations. It is against ILO standards because it engages in the application of unfair labour practices. That is what the Kenya government is trying to introduce but as workers, we are united and employers are supporting us.