African governments that seek to promote sustainable development, will not permit mining in protected areas under any circumstance, especially in forest reserves, Mr Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, General Secretary of the International Trades Union Confederation (ITUC) has said.
He said recent natural disaster around nuclear plants in Japan gives enough reason for global concerns about economic development and environmental issues.
Mr Adu-Amankwah was speaking at the Fourth Sub-Regional Conference of the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers Union (ICEM) in Accra.
The event attended by participants from 20 African countries, was hosted by the Ghana Mines Workers Union of the Ghana Trades Union Congress to review past activities and to suggest ways that would help members to promote the concept of sustainable development in member countries through building vibrant unions.
It was under the theme: “Building Strong Unions for Sustainable Development.”
Mr Adu-Amankwah charged trade unions directly operating in the mineral, oil and gas sectors under the umbrella of ICEM to hold their managements and shareholders accountable to address the negative effects of natural resource exploitation.
He said that would ensure that the “creation of employment for them does not result in the destruction of livelihoods of indigenous people, pollution of water bodies, degradation of the environment, violation of the rights of citizens and leave massive negative legacies for generations after us.
“We have a responsibility to ensure that the exploitation of the natural wealth of our countries do not turn into a curse for our people” and reiterated the need for a strong union to achieved that.
Mr Adu-Amankwah said weaknesses such as lack of due attention to recruitment, low level of internal democracy, undue competition among union leaders, and complacency among union leaders should be resolved in the unions.
He said though solutions to the weaknesses were not far-fetched, the missing link for the unions was in large measure how they should apply themselves to walk their talk and to implement the remedies that could help them to meet the challenge of building strong unions that were well positioned to serve the interests of workers.
Mr Adu-Amankwah called on unions to rededicate themselves to the task of building strong bodies and a vibrant labour movement for their countries and Africa as a whole.
“In doing so, we must work in ways that do not isolate us, but move us towards the building of alliances with other contingents of civil society for the common purpose of seeking development and progress”, he said.
Mr Adu-Amankwah said multinational companies operating in developing countries took advantage of the weak negotiating capacity of the host countries and negotiated fiscal regimes that provided them with incentives that were normally described as too generous to offer tangible and sustainable benefits to affected communities and the countries that played host to them.
Citing Ghana as a classic example, he said, the Minerals and Mining Act, 2006(Act 703) provides that mining companies pay three per cent to six per cent of their gross revenues from mineral sales as royalty, but added that until recently when the government of Ghana increased the royalty rate to five per cent, all the mining companies were paying the minimum of three per cent royalty rate.
Mr Adu-Amankwah indicated that even with the increase in royalty by government, the giants among them have resisted payment of the five per cent royalty by invoking the stability agreements that government had signed with the companies to maintain the fiscal arrangement for about 15 years.
For many of our countries, he noted that royalties constituted the most reliable source of revenues that accrue to governments from the mineral sector, which enjoys exemptions from custom duties on equipment for mining and other benefits such as capital allowance.
Mr Senzeni Zokwana, ICEM President, stressed on the need to build strong and sustainable unions in member countries, which should be able to insulate unions from governmental influence and control.
He said events in Libya, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere were disturbing and the unions should take interest in governance but that would depend largely on how formidable they would be.
Mr Kofi Asamoah, Secretary General of the Ghana Trades Union Congress, said Sub-Saharan African could not have peace, security and life worthy of human beings, unless and until social transformation in society was attained.
He said challenges of social transformation of societies were even more difficult in the era of globalization where authority of the neo-liberal ideology sought to present itself as an unchallenging law of nature.
Mr Asamoah called on workers in Africa “to think more critically about the frightening but not impossible to solve tasks that confront workers and all working people in the sub-Saharan Africa.
“It is the historical obligations of trade unions. But we can do so and only when we build a strong unions.”