Growth in the informal sector, illegal immigration, post-covid issues and climate change. These four parameters could compromise the sustainability of The Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) and the union’s ability to respond to the AfCFTA in the short- term, according to The issues of the AfCFTA agreement in Tunisia and its impact on the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) study. Study co-author at UGTT, Mohamed Faical, gives some insights in this interview.
What is the level of awareness about the AfCFTA and the potential impacts of the agreement?
Some civil society organisations are exploring the impacts of the AfCFTA agreement. As representatives of workers, unions can influence some dimensions of trade outcomes. The Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) seeks to enhance its capacity to engage with matters relating to the AfCFTA agreement. For example, UGTT’s recent study will contribute to the trade discourse and help to shape the union’s response to the AfCFTA. The study calls for strong trade union solidarity to ensure a balanced implementation of the agreement across the continent. However, more political will is needed to address the key concerns of trade unions in Tunisia.
Source: The issues of the AfCFTA agreement in Tunisia and its impact on the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), 2021
Did you struggle to get information on the AfCFTA?
Information on trade with other countries can be elusive, either because of excessive red tape in government ministries or because the information does not exist. The union would benefit from having easily accessible and up-to-date information on the AfCFTA, which would help to inform our responses to the identified concerns for labour. Closely related to the information bottleneck is the lacklustre transparency and stakeholder engagement around AfCFTA processes by the government in the past, and it may have implications for future participatory approaches.
Did you engage stakeholders for the research study?
We engaged a broad layer of stakeholders for the study, from trade unionists and academics to politicians and international experts. The varied expertise and in-depth examination of the scientific literature helped to surface the risks and impacts of the AfCFTA agreement on sustainable development, social issues, etc.
How are manufacturing unions likely to be affected by the continental FTA?
The study findings show potential risks for UGTT and affiliates organising in the manufacturing sector. The unions have been effective at representing the interests of members. But trade liberalisation could trigger scenarios that may threaten their ability to work and remain sustainable. Robust empirical evidence suggests the link between trade liberalisation and informalisation. Formal SMEs and big local and foreign firms, faced with increased demand and the need for achieving economies of scale under the AfCFTA, might turn to informal production processes to remain competitive. In the context of trade liberalisation, informalisation and illegal immigration feed off each other. And the AfCFTA agreement will not be an exception. Unions can expect to confront government-backed capital interests, labour violations and stifling union activity in the sectors most exposed to free trade.
STUDY: SWOT matrix as a tool for assessing the impacts of the AfCFTA agreement on the UGTT
It is strongly recommended that the UGTT (as well as any African labour organisation) base its perspective on the AfCFTA agreement on a SWOT matrix.
What can the trade union movement push for at the continental and national levels?
Some of the things unions should advocate and demand are:
- Harmonisation of rules, to prevent unfair competition and dumping, for example.
- A shared vision for a just transition in energy
- Inclusion of labour provisions in the AfCFTA agreement.
- Union participation in resolution mechanisms for commercial, environmental, social and environmental disputes.
- Surveillance and monitoring role in the agreement’s implementation.
- Mechanisms for transforming corporate governance and ensuring decent work in multinational corporations operating in Africa.
- Strengthened solidarity and knowledge transfer in Africa’s trade union movement.