First, an intense trade union discussion, was held on sustainable industrial policy and the implications of Industry 4.0 for the Africa region on 17 November 2017, in Nigeria.
Participants included trade union officials from Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Ghana. It was generally agreed that the impacts of Industry 4.0 could be quite significant given Africa’s role in the global marketplace and position within global value chains. This is true despite many industries in Africa being a long way from directly adopting advanced technologies such as digitization or artificial intelligence. Of course, many other aspects of a sustainable industrial policy such as climate change, sustainable energy, decent work and an end to precarious work, and the need for a Just Transition, were discussed as well.
On November 19, trade unions held a well-attended press conference to emphasize the need for a plan – a sustainable industrial policy – for Africa. This plan must address current realities: energy and sustainable development; global trade trends; climate change, and the need for Just Transition programmes, education and training, and the impacts of so-called Industry 4.0 – the rapid transformation of production with digitalization, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and so on.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Although IndustriALL Global Union can help to provide a framework for thinking about these things, it relies on its national and regional affiliates to drive these ideas forward.
Brian Kohler, IndustriALL’s Director for Health, Safety and Sustainability said,
“The environment, the economy, and society must be considered as an integrated whole. Everything affects everything. But as trade unions, of course we are very focused on the social dimension and in particular on jobs – on decent work. Our aim is to create a healthy economy, with both quantity and quality employment while minimizing the negative environmental impacts and advancing the interests of society as a whole.”
“Governments must intervene to ensure wealth is shared; the free market alone will not assure sustainability. The role and credibility of government must be expanded,” Kohler added.
African Industrialization Day is 20 November, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989 and organized principally by UNIDO, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. A very large event was held to highlight the need for industrial development, attended by government Ministers and officials, industry leaders, ambassadors – and of course hundreds of trade unionists who marched to the event singing and holding signs and banners.
Both Issa Aremu, IndustriALL’s Vice President for Africa region and principal organizer of the events to mark Africa Industrialization Day, and Brian Kohler, IndustriALL’s Director for Health, Safety and Sustainability emphasized the need for social dialogue and a seat at the table for workers, when important policy decisions were under consideration that affect thousands, if not millions, of workers.
The message was well received. At the event, the Honourable Dr. Enelamah, Nigerian Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment gave his commitment to Issa Aremu that trade unions would be a part of future discussions.
Issa Aremu concluded,
“Despite the challenges of Industry 4.0, climate change, trade and finance Africa must, and will, succeed. With its vast natural and human resources, Africa needs and deserves better than to simply be a supplier of commodities for processing elsewhere. With IndustriALL’s support, the message was delivered.”
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