NUMSA commemorates the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution

AFRICA BRIEFS l IFAs: Weapons against marauding capital

8 September 2004, Posted in News

Numsa organised companies like Eskom, Siemens and BHP-Billiton are taking over businesses and setting up shop in countries north of the Limpopo . Like other multi-national corporations (MNCs) in the world, these South African companies have immense power not only in terms of their control of workers’ lives in their newly-adopted countries but also through their ability to force governments to adopt policies favourable to them.

Through their business activities these companies influence continental trade. They are also in the forefront of jobless growth as they replace workers with new technology and adopt work practices that reduce labour.

What weapons do we as trade unions have to minimise whatever disastrous effects that this movement of South African capital can have on the rest of the continent?

A new knobkierie in workers’ armoury

Although trade unions are organised inside most MNCs, we have not managed to match their power at national and international levels, especially around investment decisions and relocation of production.

Over the last few years, the international trade union movement has fashioned a new weapon to deal with movement of capital. These are global agreements negotiated between MNCs and trade unions. The contents of these international framework agreements (IFAs) stipulate that companies that are signatories should respect core labour standards such as freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, the right to strike, no slave labour and no unfair discrimination. Through IFAs companies also commit themselves to decent working conditions, better wages and working hours.

The agreement binds the company wherever it operates regardless of what the host country’s national laws say. The agreement also ensures that company suppliers, customers, sub-contractors and outsourced companies observe agreed conditions.

The International Metalworkers Federation (IMF) has already signed agreements with Bosch, Daimler Chrysler, Volkswagen, Leoni, SKF, Rheinmetall, GEA and Merloni.

The Bosch IFA covers 225 000 workers in 236 plants in 50 countries. The agreement deals with issues such as human rights, integration of physically challenged, trade union rights, working conditions, training and health & safety.

How useful are IFAs?

For many Numsa members IFAs can at a glance seem useless as we in our workplaces already enjoy the rights in these agreements. But this is not the case in the rest of Africa where our companies are moving into. Workers in many countries in the continent do not have the right to join unions, the right to strike and other basic labour rights.

By negotiating IFAs that bind South African companies that move to the rest of the continent, we will be extending our hand of solidarity to workers of Africa .

But IFAs are not only beneficial to workers in other countries. Our members in suppliers, dealerships, outsourced, sub-contracted companies and customers businesses are weakly organised and face bad conditions. We can use the agreement to organise and protect them. IFAs give us an opportunity to raise issues related to skills training, occupational health and safety, environmental issues and improved conditions for these vulnerable sectors.