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Preparing world of work for ‘new normal’ socialisation

By Collins Olayinka, Abuja 
21 December 2021   |   4:26 am
COVID-19 made physical meetings almost impossible and forced the world into embracing technology as the medium of not just commerce but of human interactions.

Maria Helena André

COVID-19 made physical meetings almost impossible and forced the world into embracing technology as the medium of not just commerce but of human interactions. 
Embracing the ‘new normal’ thus becomes the only way of surviving both at the individual and corporate levels. This is the new challenge the labour movement has been called to respond to positively by its internal stakeholders. 
Speaking at the sub-regional seminar on ‘Trade unions in transition in West Africa’ organised by the Organization of Trade Unions of West Africa OTUWA with support of the Bureau for Workers’ Activities of the International Labour Organisation (ILO-ACTRAV), labour experts and practitioners believe that the time has come for the movement to innovate or be booted into irrelevance.

The Executive Secretary, OTUWA, John Odah noted that trade union revitalization is key and the movement has to ensure inclusive and effective social dialogue on the issues of today and tomorrow.
Director, ILO/ACTRAV, Maria Helena André, observed that the whole world is in transition. She explained: “Transitions from young to old age. Transitions from informal to formal economy. Transitions from analogue to a digital world. Transitions regarding environmental considerations. Transitions from normal working situations to lockdowns and teleworking, back to what appeared to some resemblance of normal times then back to travel restrictions in much of the world … such are the modern times thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic!”
She then followed the submission with a rhetorical question: how do these transitions affect the world of work?
She urged the movement to reflect on what transitions meant for their organizations, adding: “We need to understand the implication of the transitions to our members in their diversity. We need to know the significance of these transitions to the organisational operations of trade unions. We may also wish to examine ourselves what needs to change for this transition to be appropriate, meaningful and fit for purpose and in line with our trade union mandate, values, principles and actions to improve workers’ life all around the world.” 
Helena André hinted that there was a consensus that what is urgently needed is a strong and representative trade unions to ‘build forward better’ from the current crisis, adding, that it requires an understanding of the multitude of challenges posed by an ever-changing world of work and this requires constant dialogue, both within the labour movement and beyond.
In his intervention, the Deputy Secretary-General, Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU), Okechukwu Udeh, declared that trade unions will have to change their old ways of doing things. 
He argued that the older generation must begin to make way for the younger generation who are IT-compliant and understand the language of modern times.  
His argument: “The internal governance structure of trade unions whereby the older generation still dominates almost all trade union actions and activities must now give way and rather capacitate the young workers and women in the management and decision-making processes of unions. There is an urgent need to strengthen internal democracy among the union.”
He stressed that research and data collection are very vital for the unions to properly plan and execute their programmes and activities, especially when engaging the various stakeholders on policy issues.
Udeh added that since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many trade unions all over the world have taken advantage of digitization to organise sensitisation and educational activities while some organised digital strikes targeting young workers through virtual organizing and social media.
He submitted that this is a unique opportunity for the unions to make themselves more relevant than ever before.
The OATUU deputy scribe added: “The role of networking and sharing of experiences or best practices are equally important as a tool for the unions in enriching objectives.”
The Executive Secretary, South African Trade Unions Coordinating Council (SATUCC), Marvis Koogotsitse said at the webinar series that strengthening social dialogue is fundamental for trade union revitalization. 
“Ensure that national dialogue institutions are inclusive and provide space and entry points for trade unions and civil society to be part of the decision-making process on issues that affect workers,” she stated.
She further stressed that the labour movement drawing upon their basic trade union education to share information, skills and build more robust rank and file and grassroots networks is necessary. 
Koogotsitse maintained that COVID 19 amplified the need for national and international cooperation and solidarity, accelerated digitalisation and reskilling and encourages social dialogue, rethinking of labour migration policies, to put Occupational Safety and Health and decent work agenda on the table as it pushes for disaster management policies and new jobs. 
Drawing inspiration from SATUCC, she stated the need for labour and trade unions in the continent to have labour academies for youth, women with a focus on leadership development, saying this will see the affiliates also developing national action plans on leadership skills development.
Koogotsitse said there is a need at the sub-regional level to tie the knots and make recommendations in terms of concrete actions and strategies to address the identified challenges and start on the path of renewal and revitalisation.