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Capacity building of East African trade unions

TUC Aid project
Report type
Research and reports
Issue date
Project summary

Capacity building of East African trade unions to advocate for trade deals that deliver decent work and support the UN Sustainable Development Goals 

Funded by TUC Aid and the Trade Union Unit Trust Charitable Trust

(The total 3-4 year project cost is £91,500) 

The project aims to increase the capacity and efficacy of unions in the East African Community countries (EAC) – Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda - to influence negotiations on trade deals involving the UK, EU and US so that they promote decent work, gender equality, access to social protection, and support meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It is being run by the East African Trade Union Confederation (EATUC)

More Information

Currently East African Community countries receive tariff free access to UK and EU markets due to their middle and lower income status.  However, the Economic Partnership Agreements currently being pursued by UK and EU governments would require African countries to lower tariffs on UK and EU goods as a condition for retaining tariff-free access to UK and EU markets. 

Unions in East Africa have raised concerns that this could lead to dumping of UK and EU goods on their markets which would put jobs at risk and mean that women workers particularly faced the threat of losing decent employment in the formal sector and being forced to work in the informal sector where exploitative conditions are common.  Furthermore, individual trade agreements with East African Community countries threatens to undermine the customs union that exists between them.

The UK government negotiated its first Economic Partnership Agreement with an East African Community country in October 2020 when it signed the UK-Kenya Economic Partnership Agreement. The UK government is currently seeking to negotiate similar deals with the other East African Community countries.     

The EU agreed an Economic Partnership Agreements with Kenya in February 2022 and is seeking to negotiate similar agreements with the other East African Community countries.    

The US is also currently pursuing an agreement with Kenya that will require it to lower tariffs on US goods. 

Meanwhile East African Community countries are also involved in negotiations over the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) which aims to bring down barriers to trade between African countries and regional customs blocs.  Trade unions have concerns that the AfCFTA may reduce social protections in the process of reducing ‘non-tariff’ barriers to trade and the agreement has no provisions to enforce fundamental labour rights. 

In order to address trade union concerns about the ongoing Economic Partnership Agreements and the AfCFTA, it is crucial trade unions are involved in negotiations.  At the start of the project, there had been very limited engagement between the governments of East African Community countries and trade unions on trade negotiations.

Ms. Faith Lumonya of SEATINI-Uganda, taking NOTU participants through a group work session
Ms. Faith Lumonya of SEATINI-Uganda, taking NOTU participants through a group work session

Project Phase 1

Phase 1 project activities include:

Working with experts to develop a training manual. The baseline information provided by EATUC’s national affiliates between January and March 2020 will provide the basis for the development of the training materials and training content. EATUC and its affiliates are identifying a total of 70 trade union participants who will take part in training and train the trainer’ workshops. Participants will be identified through EATUC’s affiliates’ Women and Youth committees, to ensure inclusion. EATUC will work with its affiliates to develop an advocacy strategy.

Project progress (August 2021)

Implementation of project activities has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, but the project coordinator based at EATUC has made progress on delivering some project activities.

Outcomes in phase 1 include:

  • Development of a training manual by the EATUC and the Southern and East Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institution (SEATINI Uganda) – which covers the UN Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 8 (sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all); information about the multilateral trading system; bilateral and regional trade and investment agreements and their linkage to decent work; and understanding the engagement structures related to trade at national, regional and global level to aid effective trade union advocacy.
  • In November 2020, training of 10 trade union participants in Uganda, with a gender balanced group. This was delivered in collaboration with the National Organization of Trade Unions, Uganda, by SEATINI Uganda and the EATUC.
  • A COTU-Kenya trade network was formulated as an outcome of the training, which will continue engaging government on trade union objectives in trade deals. This has supported the sharing of information, campaign plans & advocacy work in real time through social media on Whatsapp. EATUC also shares regional trade and investment news with all the trained members through this platform, and this has helped disseminate information to all the national affiliates and union experts.
  • Increased partnerships with civil society organisations including GreenPeace Africa and ECOnews Africa to strengthen advocacy.
  • In December 2020 and January 2021, COTU-(K) was able to successfully lobby some members of parliament to reject and delay ratification of the Kenya-UK FTA the first time it was tabled on the floor of Parliament in Kenya. The Unions in Kenya and their allies heavily opposed the deal pointing out that it wasn’t subjected to any public discussion and scrutiny that would generate and capture views of important stakeholders.  The second time the deal came back to the floor of Parliament in Kenya, it was ratified (in February 2021). However, the government came out to address concerns raised by key stakeholders. It informed unions and other stakeholders that their views and concerns have been noted and would be considered once the deal is opened up for review in one year’s time.
  • Relationships with like-minded organisations will be strengthened through joint campaigning, advocacy and media work.
  • In November 2020, training of 12 trade union participants in Kenya, in a gender balanced group. This was delivered in collaboration with COTU-Kenya.

Project phase 2

Phase 2 project activities include:

  • EATUC implementing the regional-level, two-year advocacy strategy, which was developed in phase 1, and supporting affiliates with developing and implementing their own national advocacy plans.  
  • Delivering ‘train the trainer’ sessions, in follow up to the training in phase 1.  
  • Developing trade policy position papers and making submissions.  
  • Continuing to strengthen relationships with like minded civil society organisations and undertake joint advocacy, campaigning and media work.  
  • Sharing information between the EATUC and TUC/affiliates on trade talks and trade policy is ongoing 

Project outcomes

  • The 14th Annual EATUC Summit took place on 18 November 2021 considered and adopted the two-year Advocacy Plan and the Training Manual on Trade and Investment (developed in phase 1) which are now official EATUC documents that shall be used by all the national affiliates.
  • The national training of trainers’ activities conducted in TUCTA-Tanzania Mainland, CESTRAR-Rwanda, NOTU-Uganda brought together about 30 trade union members included; trade union educators selected from the national women and youth committees to ensure gender parity and youthfulness throughout these trainings. In Uganda six females and four males were trained, in Tanzania mainland six females and four males, and in Rwanda five females and five males were trained. The trainers will continue to advocate for workers’ involvement in trade and investment negotiations as well as lobby to ensure labour rights and decent work are central in trade documents.
  • The advocacy strategy developed earlier during phase 1 helps to guide EATUC and its affiliates in designing their engagement plans, lobby and advocacy strategies. During the period under review we have witnessed engagements made by EATUC and its affiliates, for instance EATUC Submission to the Secretary, U.S. International Trade Commission regarding Public Hearing on African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Program Usage, Trends, and Sectoral Highlights: The case of Apparel Sector in the East African Community (EAC) in May 2022 where trade expert from EATUC affiliates participated in drafting the document, COTU- Kenya engagement on US-Kenya trade deal, EATUC / COTU- K joint submission on comments regarding workers’ rights provisions on US-Kenya strategic trade partnership and on-going engagement by EATUC and its affiliates on AfCFTA negotiations. In Rwanda the project has enhanced trade union capacity to lobby, CESTRAR has managed to lobby the government to have a representative of workers in the negotiation team of AfCFTA from Rwanda, fortunately the Ministry of Trade has directed CESTRAR to appoint representatives who will join the team of the negotiations, apart from AfCFTA negotiations the representatives will also represent CESTRAR in negotiation of other upcoming FTAs.
  • At Sub- regional level EATUC has joined Africa Trade Network (ATN, ATN draws together trade unions and labour organisations, NGOs, women's networks, faith-based and community-based organizations and CSOs that are committed to environment, Human rights and development issues. ATN's active involvement has been towards the spread of public information on the negative effects that bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations, within or outside the WTO, have on Africa.
  • At national level we have witnessed COTU-K working with TUC-UK and AFL-CIO and come up with joint statements on UK-Kenya Trade deal and US-Kenya Trade deal The project has created a sustainable working relationship which has enabled unions voice heard by national authorities.


EATUC ES during the High-Level Retreat for the Summit on the EAC Common Market in July 2022.

Kenyan trade unionists in session
COTU-(K) Participants in session attending the trade union capacity building training on trade and investment policy that delivers decent work and protects workers’ rights. Held on 23rd – 25th November 2020, Nairobi, Kenya
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