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Impact of Covid-19 pandemic on textile industries on Africa – IGU

by Achadu Gabriel, Kaduna

Industrial Global Union, IGU, in the Sub Saharan Africa Region held a Virtual Regional Meeting of the unions in the Textile, Garment, Shoe and Leather industries on Wednesday, 28th May, 2020. 

The regional virtual meeting was attended by leadership of the textile and garment unions in the member countries, namely, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Madagascar, Mauritius, South Africa, Uganda, and Lesotho, among others.

The meeting discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the textile and garment sector in Africa and trade union response.

Speaking at the virtual meeting, president of the National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN), Comrade John Adaji, commended the Director of Textile and Garment Industries, Ms Christina Hajagos, Regional Secretary, Paule France Ndessomin and other secretariat staff of IndustriALL Global Union for successfully organising the virtual meeting of the unions in textile, garment, shoe and leather sector in the region.

Comrade Adaji observed that the worldwide spread of COVID-19 pandemic was having a devastating impact on workers in the textile and garment industries in Africa, including Nigeria.

He stated that the textile and garment industry in Nigeria is no doubt adversely affected by the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19).  Prior to the pandemic, the industry was on the part of recovery, following some interventions by the federal government through the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, within the framework of the Cotton Textile and Garment, CTG, policy.

He acknowledged the effort and remarkable contribution of Vice President of IndustriALL Global Union and immediate past general secretary of the union, Comrade Issa Aremu, for making some of the interventions by the federal government possible. 

He recalled that, in July, 2019, the leadership of the Union paid a historic courtesy visit to the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, where he reiterated the commitment of the federal government to ensure the revival of the cotton, textile and garment sector.

However, the factories were forced to shut down effectively, from 27th March, in compliance with the nationwide lock-down order by the federal government to contain the spread of COVID-19. 

With the gradual/partial ease of lockdown from 5th May, 2020, some of the factories, particularly in Lagos have resumed operation, though not at full capacity in line with the federal government’s directive. 

The inability to operate at full capacity, coupled with closure of major markets nationwide and ban on inter-state movement, continues to have adverse effect on the companies, as there are no sales for the limited number of goods produced.

Some of the employers commendably paid full salaries to workers for the month of April in line with the demand by the union, while some are bent on wage cut for the period of the lockdown. The union is in discussion with the affected companies for amicable resolution.

Today, some of our factories are still closed in compliance with the government’s regulation. Jobs of our members are being threatened and, daily, we continue to engage the employers on the issue of wages of our members.

·       In the factories that have commenced operation, we ensure appropriate health and safety measures are put in place, in accordance with IndustriALL’s ‘Covid-19 Advice for Workers and Employers.’

·       We have not received any request for closure or redundancy from any of our employers. The union has made it clear that factory closure and retrenchment of workers are unhelpful and unacceptable. It is certainly not the best option at this moment.

·       The major challenge at the moment is lack of sales of the limited number of goods produced by the factories. Without sales, it will be difficult for the employers to fulfill their obligations to the workers.  We hope things return to normal as soon as possible.

·       He reiterated the union’s commitment to the defence of the rights of its members during the COVID19 pandemic and beyond.

·       He said through the union’s advocacy for patronage of locally produced face-masks, members in the informal sector (self-employed tailors) have been massively engaged across the states for production of face-masks.

Meanwhile, a panelist, who is Vice President of IndustriALL Global Union, Comrade Issa Aremu, had made a case for special government and donors’ support for textile, garment and tailoring sectors in Africa during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The International Labour Organization (ILO) had launched ILO Call for Action initiative to generate funds to protect garment workers’ income during the current COVID-19 crisis. The objective is to generate funds to protect garment workers’ income during the crisis as well as strengthen social protection for the future.

Many textile factories have threatened closures, retrenched workers and cut wages in the wake off of continental lock-down in response to the virus that had claimed 4,000 deaths and infected about 120,000 people. 

Commenting on the criteria being considered for support for textile industry in Africa, Comrade Aremu said “Beyond the level of dependency of the country on garment industry for exports and jobs, the financial ability of the country to support the garment during the health and economic crisis and liquidity needs for business continuity and payment of worker wages, the government bailouts should be part of the overall efforts to re-industrialize the continent.”

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