A trade union approach to ending child labour … the case of GAWU

The ILO’s most recent global estimates indicate that, in 2016, 152 million children were in child labour – 64 million girls and 88 million boys, with 114 million aged 5-14. The 2016 estimates tell a story of both real progress and a job unfinished.

They show a dramatic decline in child labour over the 16 years since the ILO began monitoring it in 2000. But the estimates also indicate that the pace of decline has slowed considerably in the last four years – precisely at a time when substantial acceleration is needed to reach the ambitious 2025 target date for ending child labour. These ambitious targets can be achieved if the right conditions are established to tackle the root-causes of child labour and forced labour, as well as their consequences.

It is therefore in line with this aim that the International Day Against Child Labour was marked on June 12th, with the theme In Conflict and Disasters, Protect Children from Child Labour: Mobilising resources for the effective implementation of the National Plan of Action (NPA2) (2016-2020)’. It highlighted the efforts of trade union movements in the fight and  struggle geared toward restoring hope to the vulnerable in society – specifically children in Ghana, and to encourage civil society organisations to participate in the fight against child labour and forced labour.

The General Agricultural Workers’ Union (GAWU) started a campaign against child labour in the year 2004. This is because the hazardous nature of agricultural work makes it susceptible to the menace, and it is crucially important to integrate child labour and youth employment concerns in the organisation and bargaining of GAWU’s agendas.

Studies conducted by GAWU on child labour show that though poverty contributes to child labour, it is child labour that perpetuates poverty. The poverty of adults who are denied decent work, and that of children whose mental, intellectual, psychological, social and physical growth have suffered as a result of child labouris not addressed by actors and stakeholders in most cases.

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Meeting the global challenge of eradicating child labour and modern slavery requires tackling the root-causes of social injustice – which are almost always related to violations of other fundamental rights at work and are most prevalent in the rural and informal economy.

It is against this backdrop GAWU initiated various child labour strategies using an integrated area-based approach to eliminate child labour and create child labour-free zones, as well as the Torkor model which seeks to address  the key components of SDG target 8.7 on forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking and migration. The model thus uses Torkor as an entry point to address the endemic nature of child labour on the Volta Lake by applying its three (3) components: (1) Organisation of informal workers; (2) Socail mobilisation through capacity building and sensitisation; and (3) Knowledge Sharing.

The unions’ contribution to the eradication of child labour has centred on strengthening organic solidarity among informal cocoa workers as a strategic response to some of the challenges of globalisation in general, and the specific challenges of child labour and sustainability in the cocoa industry. It is in this vein it established the cocoa farmers division of the union and organised over 30,000 cocoa farmers into the union – as well as strengthening and forming other farmer groups to facilitate the establishment of safety zones through (OSH) education and improved livelihood options among farmers. This is meant to create sustainable structures in a new trade union modus operendi that empowers farmers to halt and reverse the child labour situation.

Organising farmers into groups generally has the potential of strengthening farmers’ bargaining power and ensuring equity and cost-effective service delivery. Group formation also has potential for facilitating the dissemination of information on agriculture technologies and best farming practices that are environmentally-friendly to improve occupational safety and health and promote decent work for farmers.

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Child labour is a social evil, and undermines trade unions and freedom of association. GAWU has therefore played and continues to play important, effective roles in eliminating child labour through:

  • Building partnerships and dialogue with government, employers and civil society organisations to address child labour;
  • Act as a pressure group for ratifying relevant international instruments and enacting national child labour laws;
  • Campaign for effective enforcement of child labour legislation, proper implementation of rehabilitation services, implementation of minimum wages and other social security measures for adult workers;
  • Raise awareness of adult workers on child labour issues, and influence public opinion against child labour;
  • The development and provision of alternative livelihood schemes (non-farm income generating activities) for workers;

In conclusion, governments and other stakeholders across Africa agree that child labour and forced labour are unacceptable; they have negative consequences for the victim, both individual and the families, and also constitute obstacles to the achievement of decent work for all. The future of our children is in our own hands. Let us (Government, Civil Society Organisations and Trade Unions) put our efforts together to address the underlying demand and supply factors of poverty and education, while strengthening the legal frameworks for preventing exploitation and fostering coordination among organisations charged with different aspects  of the problem.

About the writer                                                                         

The writer is a management and development expert working with the General Agricultural Workers’ Union (GAWU) as a Senior Programmes Officer. He is into policy, projects and research, with a lot of interest in issues relating to child labour and occupational safety and health. He is also an International Advisory Board Member of DemandAT of the Durham University and the International Centre for Migration Policy Development. 

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