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Vera of CNV Youth visits ITUC Conference in Nigeria

Vera of CNV Youth visits ITUC Conference in Nigeria

And puts youth employability on the agenda

Vera de Man, executive committee member for CNV Youth, talks about her experiences in Nigeria. She went to Nigeria on behalf of CNV Internationaal to work on an event promoting the topic of youth employability during the ITUC Africa conference. The conference, which takes place every four years, was held in November. It focused on cooperation within the movement and the plans being forged for the coming years to support workers in Africa, as well as youth employability there.

Solidarity for everyone: Cooperation makes us strong. Vera says that these words were sung during every break and they played on in her mind throughout the day. The words clearly show what the conference was all about: Encouraging African trade unions to work together so they can support workers in the best way possible.

Young workers speak out

It’s very important to pay attention to the position of workers, especially when it comes to youth in the labour market. Youth employability is a major theme for (youth) union leaders in Africa. “About 70% of the working population in Africa is between 15 and 25 years old,” Vera tells us. “Many of these young people work in the shadow economy where they have to work long hours for little pay. Nothing is secure for them, and in comparison to the formal sector, they don’t have the same rights or the ability build a pension.”

A special two day side event on youth employability in Africa took place before the conference in November. A large group of young union leaders met and shared their experiences. Vera says, “The positive attitude of the youth was remarkable. One young leader from Chad said: There are hardly any jobs available in the formal sector right now. But we shouldn’t wait around until the system changes; we need to take action ourselves. We need to get young people to realize the necessity for action.”

About 70% of the working population in Africa is between 15 and 25 years old.

CNV Youth as inspiration

At the event, Vera gave a presentation on how CNV Youth is organised and how they position themselves in the lobby field. “In the Netherlands, we work to support the interests of young workers, but I’m glad that CNV’s  efforts aren’t limited to just our country.“ While in Nigeria, Vera’s speaking topics included the structure of CNV Youth, the executive committee, and various lobbying strategies.

Vera’s presentation seems to have inspired a lot of the people present. She told them, “Students can become members of unions with CNV Youth. That can be a real eye opener because in Africa, people often think that unions are only for workers. I emphasised how students can benefit from being union members. It makes them conscious of their rights and opportunities, even before they enter the labour market. I received quite a bit of feedback telling me that my audience really wants to do something concrete with the information.”

The conference also paid attention to the importance of coalitions and cooperation among parties representing youth interests. Vera says, “ One of the examples I gave was the visit we made with Coalition Y to the Prime Minister’s home, the Catshuis. It surprised many of the people attending the conference that politicians and the media are so open to hearing the voices of our youth. And also that you can achieve so much by working with other organisations who share the same goals.

1/3 of the future global working population will be African youth. - Samuel Olonjuwon, regionaal directeur ILO

Youth employability on the agenda for the 20s

All the youth who had attended the side event were given the spotlight at the ITUC conference. The conference lasted two days. The resolutions regarding the various themes covered during the conference were reviewed on the final day. “Youth employability needed to be featured on the ITUC agenda. We did a lot of lobbying to make that happen,” Vera says. “And we were successful! Jayne Njoki from Kenya, President of the ITUC Africa Youth Committee, presented the recommendations which were adopted during the conference. That decent work for youth is a human right and youth employability is a business case because young workers create innovation. And the agreement that from now on, ITUC Africa committees will be represented for at least 30% by youth.” What a great start for the 20s! These recommendations are going to be implemented in the ITUC Africa planning for the next four years.

Working faithfully together towards a better future

Having African youth faithfully work together on their strategies and then be able to see real changes take place in the labour market is what Vera hopes to see. “Step by step, these countries are building a new future for their youth. I’m so happy to see how CNV Internationaal has developed strong partnerships with trade unions in various countries. Union leaders from Benin and Niger are taking a hard stand to improve the position of youth and to make sure they’re represented in different commissions. There’s still a great deal of work to do, but there’s also real progress being made.”

Fish and coffee

Vera not only met new and inspiring colleagues, but she also got a taste of the local culture. “I was surprised with a spontaneous coffee break in the middle of my presentation when all the technology suddenly stopped working,” she laughs. “That wasn’t really a big surprise though. The power had already gone out three times that morning. Nobody gets stressed out! That and the fish they serve with the coffee and the fun dance party at the hotel all added up to a great African experience.”

But Vera’s work isn’t done yet. The youth from the different countries are staying in contact through a WhatsApp group. “They chat in a lot in different languages, but sometimes they’re also looking for advice. Or they want to share their plans.” Vera hopes to see more cooperation between CNV Youth and global organisations. “How that will look still needs to be worked out. But as a European country, we should certainly show our concerns about youth unemployment. And we should contribute to finding solutions in any way we can. I have to say, I’m feeling enthusiastic!”

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