The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum creates a significant opportunity to elevate issues associated with labour standards and social justice.
This is according to Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi who delivered opening remarks at the Organised Labour and Civil Society AGOA Forum on Thursday.
“We exist within complex social and economic environments that are ever changing. But our goals should be to achieve social justice and decent work for all people through a focus on decreasing unpaid labour, increasing social protection, doing away with employment discrimination, increasing wages, and improving job security.
“Through these efforts we could contribute significantly to raising the standard of living within our communities,” he said.
The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act is a unilateral trade preference scheme that provides qualifying Sub-Saharan African countries with duty-free, quota-free access into the United States market. AGOA remains the cornerstone of the USA’s commercial relations with Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Minister highlighted that an important component of the AGOA built into the AGOA Act are issues of labour, employment and human rights.
He said that each AGOA Forum has had a Civil Society Forum on the fringes which has included organised labour and civil society organisations from AGOA eligible countries.
However, the Organised Labour and Civil Society Forum being hosted in South Africa marks the first time that organised labour is elevated as a separate sector.
“From a South African perspective we see this as a significant step to elevate some key issues in relation to employment, labour rights and trade matters,” the Minister said.
Nxesi said Africa has a youthful workforce and this creates a significant opportunity for the development of the continent.
“To be able to leverage this immense potential it is becoming increasingly important to consider the forces at play in shaping the future of work globally and on the continent.
“The digital transformation and technological advancements in and across sectors create immense opportunities for greater diversification within sectors of the economy however, they also pose challenges to our labour and social fabric.
“Therefore, as we grapple with the integration and mainstreaming of these forces into our communities we should not lose sight of the importance of respecting, promoting and realising fundamental principles and rights at work,” he said.
Guided by international labour standards, the Minister said stakeholders should seek to create resilient, sustainable and inclusive communities with greater levels of equity that lead to the improvement of living standards.
Nxesi said the question that needs to be asked is: “How do we best utilise the opportunities which come with AGOA to expand trade and investment – but in such a way that we create employment, thus improving the conditions of our people – whilst also strengthening human and labour rights?”