REMARKS OF H.E. RAILA ODINGA AT THE PAN-AFRICAN TRADE UNION CONFERENCE; HILTON HOTEL, NAIROBI, 27TH FEBRUARY 2019:
It is a pleasure to be at this great conference.
It comes at a critical moment in our country with regard to our economy, politics and our grand vision of the future.
The situation is more or less the same for Africa and the entire globe. It is a time of significant changes in Africa and across the world and a period of uncertainty, especially for workers, job seekers, leaders and employers all at once.
Whether they are talking of the Wall and tariffs in the US, Migration laws in Europe or Brexit in the UK, the common denominator is the future of work and the future of workers.
It is the same story when we in Africa talk of Vision 2063, of greater connectivity via infrastructure, Single African Air Transport Market, the African Continental Free Trade Area, it is about the future of work and workers, of trade and traders and traders and their investments.
Across the world, and in Africa in particular, we are struggling with how to ensure full employment for our people, how to provide quality education for our children, security and equality of opportunity for all citizens, regardless of their race, their origin, or tribe.
Wherever we have come from for this meeting, I believe that one of the most pressing issues we face in our countries is work; how to provide well-paying and sustainable jobs for our people especially our youth.
And jobs are not about welfare of individuals. Jobs affirm the soundness of the economy. Availability of jobs ensures security, dignity and better pay for workers.
This means job creation should be a concern to the worker, the employer, the management and, most important, to the trade unionist fighting for the welfare of workers.
As a country, we have always believed in strong and responsible Trade Union movement. Even at our lowest moments, we have always embraced the idea that workers need protection and so they need strong unions to protect and represent their interests.
We believe in trade unions that use their power to think not just about today’s pay and working conditions but also how to ensure we create a vibrant economy that creates more jobs for more jobless. We must admit that even as we champion interests of those already in employment, there are millions of our citizens who are out of work and are praying that we can create a good environment for more firms to set up here and take in more people.
In this regard, I hold the view that workers are better served when they, through their unions, build genuine trust and understanding with employers and when there is genuine trust between management and trade union officials, including shop stewards.
What this means is that management and unions need to stop regarding each other with suspicion. It means management, unions and employers need to stop viewing each other as adversaries and instead regard each other as partners in a joint venture.
I know this is easier said than done. I know many workers are making do with deplorable working conditions without even basic protections just because employers feel there is a glut of job seekers willing to take up work at the most miserable of conditions.
I also know there are employers struggling with near impossible demands of workers who feel they deserve better because of their level of education and service to society.
The answer lies in a collaborative approach that makes workers, employers and managers view each other as partners in a joint venture. This approach serves the interests of all.
It means pupils remain in school with their teachers, patients are attended to by their doctors, factories keep running while the workers, including teachers, doctors and all others get what is seen and agreed to a fair deal that also allows the employers the space to provide desired services, expand to absorb more people while also making some profit for those that need to do so.
The fact is that our countries have suffered too much and too long from employers, management and unions regarding each other with suspicion and as enemies. Unions and employers have behaved as adversaries rather than as partners in a joint venture.
We need to encourage greater participation and involvement of employees before management takes decisions. Employees need to know about proposed changes and the introduction of new measures that may affect their future. They need to know this in good time so they have a chance to express their views and weigh their options.
The input by workers experience may actually enable organisations and firms to foresee things, which had escaped the notice of management.
Where recognised trade unions exist, they must be allowed to use their machinery for negotiations and consultations with employers and ensure that their views are considered alongside others.
The right to participate should be available to all employees whether trade unionists or not. But this does not mean management and employers should not make decisions.
In the balance of power between workers and employers, none should hold the other at ransom. None should take advantage of the other.
All should be guided by the idea that partnership and co-operation are essential for economic recovery and economic recovery is vital for better working conditions.
Workers, unions and employers must therefore change attitude. Dismissing labourers and withholding of labour or strikes must therefore be tools of last resort.
The need for co-operation and dialogue needs to be inculcated at all levels of both government and private sector.
Governments should not have any difficulty in working with trade unions. And unions should have no problem negotiating with government in an environment devoid of victor and loser mind-sets.
The economic problems of the nation need to be mastered by both workers or their unions and employers alike.
In Kenya last year, the political class or rather a section of it set an example of what we can achieve when we give dialogue a chance. In about a week, we shall be marking the first anniversary of the March 9th handshake between president Uhuru Kenyatta and I.
I have had occasion to discuss the import of that event with a number of labour movement leaders including secretary general brother Francis Atwoli and I know they agree it was a turning point.
The labour movement in Kenya knows that the Kenyan workers were the main beneficiaries of the handshake as it calmed the heated political temperatures in the country and restored investor confidence.
The few months of uncertainty before and after elections had seen Kenya lose over 100,000 jobs.
A stable nation where leaders talk to each other guarantees a better economy hence job opportunities for workers. That should always be our goal; the welfare of the workers which translates into the welfare of the nation.
I am glad that this conference is dedicated to the education of the workers. This is an important area for possible collaboration between unions and governments. It is important for African governments to consider funding education programmes for workers because a better skilled and knowledgeable work force is more productive and better placed to engage on issues of industrial relations including strike actions.
In Kenya, the Labour movement has called on the government to consider supporting workers’ education through funding of Tom Mboya Labour College. I support this call.
I am aware that the government has previously supported the college by financing a resource center. But the second phase of that project stalled due to lack of funds. I will stand with the Labour movement in lobbying for support.
In the end, it boils down to how workers, employers and governments relate. This has impact on economy, which in turn has impact in the welfare of the workers. We must always have this in mind.
I believe the great majority of trade union leaders are reasonable people who know the economic conditions in their countries.
I believe employers too, including governments, know the difficult conditions their workers are struggling with. As you fight boldly for strong and free trade unions as you should, also engage sincerely and strongly with employers, including governments. A win-win approach must always be our goal as none succeeds without the other.
Thank you and God bless you.