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African Nations Campaign for Living Wages

As Africa becomes an increasingly relevant manufacturer, country affiliates are putting living wage campaigns in place and working to settle on a standard for determining pay.

Following IndustriALL Global Union’s Sub-Saharan Africa regional conference last week, leaders from Mauritius, Madagascar, Lesotho, Ethiopia, South Africa and Nigeria met in Johannesburg to discuss how best to push for living wages.

Wage fixing differs in each of the countries, but each faces one set of issues or another. In some countries, the government sets the wage rates without heeding input from social partners, and in others the government is required to consult with social stakeholders, but the rule is disregarded. And in many of the countries, the minimum wage is well below what constitutes a living wage—loosely defined as enough income to meet what is considered to be basic needs—namely shelter, nutrition and clothing.

In Madagascar, the monthly minimum wage is roughly $53, but the living wage is estimated to be a much higher $400, according to IndustriALL. Unions in the country, where 80 percent of the population reportedly live below poverty, struggle to fight for wages without adequate resources and capacity.

And in Ethiopia, leaders are working to establish a firm minimum wage in the country where workers currently make between $35 and $50 per month. The country is expected to see considerable growth in the coming months, so a too-low wage won’t take long to come to light.

Collective bargaining has so far been the most effective for yielding wage increases, unions from South Africa and Nigeria noted at the meeting.

The Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU) fought for higher wages over the summer, striking for two weeks before agreeing to an 8 percent wage increase which took effect from July 1. More than 7,000 workers participated in the strike, affecting roughly 164 international companies, but the ultimate increase was higher than the domestic inflation rate.

Unions from Lesotho said they are working with the government and employers to establish bargaining councils and consolidate its unions for added strength. The country is campaigning for a living wage of 2,020 maloti ($184) per month, up from the much lower 664 ($61) per month that workers currently make.