AFRICAN trade unionists have, while hailing the appointment of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the new Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, tasked her to ensure that global trade agreements promote workers’ rights, eradicate poverty and guarantee sustainable industrial development in the world.
The appointment of Dr Okonjo Iweala as the first female and first African, to the position was endorsed on 15th February, 2021 by the General Council of WTO. She will formally take office on 1st March, 2021.
In a congratulatory statement signed by Comrade Issa Aremu, Vice President of IndustriALL Global Union, Africa, and Comrade Joseph Montisetse of South Africa’s National Union of Mine Workers (NUM) and co-chairman of the African Council of IndustriALL, said given Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s impeccable credentials as Finance, and later Foreign Minister, and her record performance at the World Bank, her appointment was earned and deserved beyond gender affirmation.
The trade unionists said it was time for what they call “alternative trade policies that must take into account the needs of working people around the world, inclusive of economic growth and sustainable development”.
The duo advised Dr Okonjo-Iweala, who is the seventh Director-General of the WTO to be guided by the history of WTO in Africa which it says has “in many respects fostered de-industrialisation and job losses” through “uncritical wholesale dismantling of protection for domestic industries.”
The unionists noted that the emergence of Dr Okonjo-Iweala was “significant and in the fullest of time” when the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) involving 54 African countries with a combined population of more than one billion people and combined gross domestic product of more than US$3.4 trillion had become a reality.
They added that the WTO under the leadership of an African must make a difference by ensuring that trade serves the purpose of wider growth, as well as advance industrialisation and create mass jobs on the basis of respect for workers and their rights.
The WTO, the unionists argue, must partner with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), ensure the dismantling of institutional constraints against workers exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining in member countries of WTO.
According to the two, “trade facilitation must go hand in hand with workers’ rights to form free trade unions to represent labour in order to collectively bargain on wages and working conditions”.
Condemn Coup in Myanmar
Meanwhile the African Council of the IndustriAll Global Union, on its part, called on the military regime in Myanmar to immediately step down and respect the election results of last year, where NLD won a crushing majority over the military-led Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
The global union, while strongly condemning the coup d’état by the military in Myanmar and the detention of democratically elected leaders of National League for Democracy (NLD), Win Myint and Aung San Suu Kyi, also demanded for the immediate and unconditional release of all detained pro-democracy activists and citizens of Myanmar.
The African Council stated that after 50 years of military regime, “it was time to build sustainable democracy in Myanmar.”