Certificate Course in Trade Unionism for Social Justice in East Africa


Between September and December 2013, ILO’s Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV), through the Norwegian funded project on “Trade Unions for Social Justice”, sponsored 27 trade union activists from Kenya and Tanzania to undertake a three month course on Trade Unions for Social Justice in East Africa. It was a collaborative programme involving the Trade Union Congress of Tanzania (TUCTA) and the Central Organisation of Trade Union (Kenya), and was hosted by the Tom Mboya Labour College (TMLC), in Kisumu, Kenya.

The course marked another milestone in the collaboration between TMLC and ILO. It also served to fortify the relationship of unionists from Kenya and Tanzania. Majority of the students were derived from the Tanzania Teachers Union who travelled to Kisumu to pursue trade union education. The participation of the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (KUDHEIHA) added a new and dynamic dimension to the programme.

The pioneers of the certificate programme have raised high expectations and performed well in the respective workplaces. The investment has received impressive commendation and trade union leaders from the sub-region have persistently urged ACTRAV to further invest in workers’ education, because it is the only sure way of guaranteeing strong and effective trade unionism. They have argued that workers' education is key to the workplace and sure way of survival of the trade union movement.

This second intake of the three-month course is a response to such requests.

II- Main Orientation of the Course

In spite of the impressive profile of the college, much of the potential, objectives and activities have not been fully realized. In fact, during the late 1990s the college experienced steady deterioration, both in terms of physical structures and provision of training services. Following extensive refurbishment and rehabilitation in the beginning of the millennium, the college assumed a higher level of visibility. The new trade union leadership of COTU (K) has been committed to upgrade the physical infrastructure needs of the college and promote the original mandate and key functional and organisational performance.

It is now the intention of the college to maintain its distinctive character of being a trade union learning centre. The launch of the Diploma course is a first and concrete step towards re-orienting the college to its original and intended character. The course is intended as a first step towards making the college to effectively enhance its operational capacity and organisational capability and be able to improve and sustain its proposed training programmes.

It is assumed that by providing a reasonably quality service, the college will be able to attract a sufficiently and diversified group of trade union participants to use its facilities. Therefore, besides the supportive and catalytic role of the proposed financial input the derived net benefits will include, among others, improved credibility and competitiveness of the college as well as self sustainability in material and financial resources.

In rethinking the role of the college in the current situation it is important to recognise that the needs of the unions in Kenya and other countries have significantly changed. Some of the changes are as a result of wider shifts in the political and economic spheres. Quite clearly the democratisation process that has taken place in Africa and the globalisation of the world economy have had major impacts on the trade unions and how they function. It is now imperative that trade unionists must be fully informed about different aspects of life affecting them not only at the place of work, but in the wider community of nations. It is with this in view that COTU (K) proposes that the college organises a comprehensive or core programme throughout the year.

The current proposed course is meant to be a pilot for virtually all the aspects of trade union activities to be offered at the college. As such, on successful completion of the proposed course, the college will also provide full and comprehensive facilities for individual trade unions, COTU (K) and others, including international trade union organisations, and the ILO, seeking to run other courses. Other programme under consideration will include:
  • Planning and administration of trade unions;
  • Collective bargaining;
  • Organizing and recruitment;
  • Trade union rights;
  • Gender perspectives;
  • Research;
  • Economics;
  • Co-operative movement;
  • Job evaluation;
  • Population and family welfare issues;
  • Financial management.
To realise these educational plans the college will aggressively pursue a marketing oriented strategy, but still maintains its unique characteristics towards building an independent, free and democratic trade union movement.


(a) Who is the course for?

This certificate course is designed primarily for trade union representatives at the enterprise level – the key link between the workplace and the wider union. The course is intended to help students understand the early, present and potential role of trade unions in social and economic development, and to develop values and skills needed for higher level study or activism.

The course may be used to gain access to Higher or Further Education diploma or degree course. The Central Organisation of Trade Unions and the Tom Mboya Labour College will establish closer links with the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology for this purpose.

(b) What are the aims of the course?

The aims of the Diploma course are to:
  • provide guided learning through which the student may become more effective as a trade union representative at the workplace;
  • promote an understanding of trade union values and policies at the national, regional and international levels;
  • widen and deepen understanding of trade union and workplace issues and offer up to date detail of new developments; and
  • deepen and extend the education capacities of students, enabling them to access higher education opportunities.
(c) How is the course going to be offered?

Working collectively and co-operatively is particularly important to trade unionism, and teaching and learning methods on the course are designed to enhance the capacity to do so. In this case, various teaching methods will be adopted by the tutors in this course. These include role-play, drama, discussion, brainstorming, lecture, demonstration, case study, audio visual, field visits, and story telling.

(d) How long is the course?

The course is organized into three blocks, covering a twelve (12) weeks period. The first part is a full time residential component to be conducted at the Tom Mboya Labour College, Kisumu. The second part will be comprised of field study at the students’ respective workplaces. The final part will be another four-week residential session at the College. This last part will also constitute revision, examination and graduation ceremony.

(e) What subjects will be studied?

The Diploma course is divided into three subject modules and five study skills modules.

Three subject modules:
  • The development of trade unions, with special reference to East Africa;
  • Trade unions today;
  • The future of trade unions

These are intended to build on from students in trade unionism, by identifying key issues and questions, analysing research or other commentaries - working towards an informed opinion of the subjects of study.

Five study skills modules:
  • Communication and study skills;
  • Working with figures;
  • Information communication technology;
  • Trade union campaigns against HIV/AIDS;
  • Research project
The purpose of the study skills modules is to enable learners to develop the kind of skills needed to make the most of the subject modules. The ability to find and understand information quickly, to take notes and write in a structured way, to analyse, criticise and communicate information will make the challenge of study more enjoyable and fulfilling.

(f) How will the course be assessed?

The activities and workplace reports carried out each week will be compiled in a portfolio and form the basis for assessment. For each academic subject module this will include a key assignment, which may take the form of an essay or report. Prior to these assignments, aspects of study skills involving the processes and techniques needed will be covered in group and individual activities. Examinations (moderated by the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology) will be conducted for each of the modules during the residential sessions.