Trade unions have been facing rapid globalisation with markets dominated by multinational enterprises and neo-liberal economic policies since the 1990s, associated with increasing exploitation of labour, a creeping trend towards informal, precarious jobs and far-reaching structural adaptation programmes. This has in turn gone hand in hand with a considerable deterioration in living and working conditions as a result of the erosion and undermining of labour and social standards. Unemployment, poverty among large sections of the working population and an extremely unequal distribution of income and wealth characterise the African societies in which trade unions operate.
On top of this, the structures of trade union organisations are above all marked at the national level by excessive ageing, male dominance, dwindling numbers of members, scarce resources as well as a lack of properly functioning representation structures at companies and in public administrations. Above and beyond this, the trade union landscape is becoming increasingly fragmented and marked by competitive attitudes and isolation. The design of the social dialogue has not been assigned very much importance in particular in those countries in which traditional ties to political parties have dominated the scene down to the present.
The task at hand is to strengthen actors at various levels themselves on the one hand, reducing their structural deficits while on the other hand establishing them as partners capable of acting and intervening in certain relevant fields of issues. Only if internal organisational deficits are surmounted, strategic alliances are forged and viable campaigns are developed will trade unions become recognised actors (again).
The FES TU Competence Centre for Sub Sahara Africa stands in close contact with sub-regional trade union organisations such as the Southern Africa Trade Union Co-ordination Council (SATUCC), the Organization of Trade Unions in West Africa (OTUWA), the East Africa Trade Union Confederation (EATUC) and the African Continental Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa). The FES TU Competence Centre engages with these organisations particularly on issues with international dimensions; such as labour migration, trade union revitalization, the informal economy, the G20 Process, “green just transformation” and the state of the African labour movement in general.
A major target is also the support of close interactions between the regional TU organisations such as the Global Union Federations (GUFs), SATUCC, OTUWA and EATUC, OATUU and ITUC-Africa. All in all, it is the FES TU Competence Centre’s particular aim to create capacities and space for sub-regional and regional trade union organisations to get involved in international labour issues and also to stimulate internal as well as inter- organisational dialogue.