Interview with Zakari Koudougou, Regional Secretary of UNI Africa

The Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV) has been promoting several activities in support of trade union actions in trying to organize in multinational companies, using the ILO’s MNE Declaration and its standards. In September 2011 a meeting was organized which brought together UNI Africa affiliates, who discussed strategies for organizing in the different countries covered by telecommunications giant MTN (the only African global telecom carrier). The workshop took place in Johannesburg, with a strong representation of the confederal centres affiliated to ITUC–AFRICA, with local high-level representation from the ILO’s Pretoria Office, and with the participation of Anna Biondi, ACTRAV’s Deputy Director and focal point for MNEs, as well as Kristi Drew from TUAC who addressed the newly revised OECD Guidelines. The following is an interview with Zakari Koudougou, Regional Secretary for UNI Africa, who led the UNI delegation.

Press release | Abidjan, Ivory Coast | 04 September 2012

ACTRAV INFO: Last year UNI Africa, ITUC-Africa, and ACTRAV, organized a workshop on the ILO’s MNE Declaration in order to support your work on organizing in the MTN telecoms multinational. Was it helpful and can you tell us where you are today?

The meeting was very helpful. It was very interesting to have around the same table trade union members, national leaders, confederations, and the ILO, as well as TUAC for the meeting on the MNEs especially on African multinationals. Participants discussed common issues such as conflict resolution, way to OECD guidelines and ILO core Conventions on Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining. We welcomed the participation of ILO Staff led by Anna Biondi, and they interactively exposed the ILO Conventions which was very helpful for the union leaders present at this meeting.

ACTRAV INFO: What are your views about the outcomes of this workshop?

The aim of the meeting was to build an action plan for improving industrial relations across the countries in which MTN operates around Africa, and reinvigorate the trade union network in the company: I am happy to report that we achieved the objectives. We have now built a communication network which links the MTN unions across the continent through online networking. We also drafted a global agreement to be considered by both UNI and MTN and we hope that a table will be opened in order to launch the alliance this year or early next year. Finally, another concrete outcome is that we now recruit and organize MTN workers in Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea-Conakry.

ACTRAV INFO: In general what are the challenges that you see for workers in multinationals operating in the African continent?

The biggest challenge is the lack of respect for Freedom of Association: management is usually very reluctant to let unions be established and workers be organized in all types of companies. There are no permanent and solid structures for social dialogue. Precarious jobs and lack of employment relationships, informality, and absence of jobs per se are all factors across the African economies that weaken unionization. Workers are also under serious threat of losing their jobs if they want to unionize and management proceeds unilaterally on decisions concerning working conditions and other features.

ACTRAV INFO: Is the labour movement creating links across countries and the region in order to overcome barriers to industrial relations?

Yes! Within UNI, we are building these networks and there are several networks and alliances on the continent. We can name Shoprite which is a South African multinational retailer in the commerce sector and France Telecom as two successful examples. We are currently in negotiation with Barclays in the Finance sector and also with Ecobank (based in Togo), to build a trade union network across the countries. These are practical examples where we can be successful in setting up alliances of unions from different countries but with the same employer.

ACTRAV INFO: In a period where there are many private initiatives, corporate social responsibility, ISO, and other standards, what is your view of the ILO standards, especially core labour standards on Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining?

We think that it is more important today than ever that we work together to get ratification and implementation of the ILO’s core labour standards. When we talk about social dialogue, decent work and other general concepts, these can only be a consequence of the implementation of the ILO’s core labour standards: in particular Freedom of Association, and Collective Bargaining. In order to pursue our work in a positive way, we need to work with our members in order to always make sure that all multinationals comply with them.

ACTRAV INFO: How could the ILO support your work more?

There are several ways. First at the global level: the ILO needs to raise its voice , be more and more present, in international gatherings where otherwise workers’ issues will not be prominent: I think for example of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the G20, global level interaction with the IMF, and the World Bank. But also we need the ILO to take a more proactive role among the UN family, with organizations such as UNAIDS or UNDP.

Secondly, we expect direct support to our members, we have capacity needs and, for example, more training programmes on a sectoral basis would be extremely helpful; technical cooperation support for the execution of a number of specific action plans will be pivotal for countries where unions are still weak; and the provision of resource persons for our meetings, and materials on Decent Work, and core conventions are also welcomed.

Thirdly, the fact that the ILO can call on employers, urging them to respect workers’ rights.

Finally, we believe that it is very important to boost both bipartite and tripartite meetings involving managers of multinationals. Capacity building is also required for management, as well as government representatives, in some countries on the respect of workers’ rights in a globalized economy.

ACTRAV INFO: What are the next steps after this workshop?

First, we would like to again thank the ILO, and ACTRAV in particular, for being with us jointly with ITUC-AFRICA. This has proven a very successful “white stone” as we say in Africa in the coordination work between confederal centres and sectoral unions. We also continue our network with ITUC-AFRICA in Lomé and our teams are working together.

In reference to the company MTN, we were able to finalize the heart of the network. We had more than 17 participants across the continent only from UNI Africa, one per country. The next step will be the finalization of a draft global agreement upon which to have a discussion with the multinationals. We would like to be able to soon announce a meeting to launch the MTN Alliance in Africa. These are concrete steps and I think ACTRAV can be proud of the good developments in our cooperation.