Action plans are being developed in several African countries to push for living wages, with unions across the region agreeing to work towards this goal.

Representatives from Mauritius, Madagascar, Lesotho, Ethiopia, South Africa and Nigeria met in Johannesburg last week to discuss the issue as part of the IndustriAll Global Union's Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Conference.

Each of the countries has different wage fixing mechanisms, ranging from Ethiopia, which is struggling to establish a minimum wage for the first time, to a minimum wage the unions believe to be "far below the level of a living wage" in other countries.

Likewise, in some countries minimum wage increases are unilaterally declared by government with no consultation of social partners, while in others, consultation is "cursory and ignored."

Unions from South Africa and Nigeria support collective bargaining at industry level as the most effective means of delivering wage increases.

For South African textile and clothing union SACTWU, the living wage campaign is at the core of its work and centralised bargaining is used to achieve the best outcome for workers. The union works to bring employers into the national bargaining council, which covers over 100,000 workers, and the government can extend the agreements to other employers. Increases for 2014 were above the inflation rate at an average of 8%.

Similarly in Nigeria, industry level collective bargaining is recognized by the National Union of Textile, Garment & Tailoring Workers (NUTGTW) as the most effective means of securing wage increases that benefit the largest number of workers.

Unions in Lesotho are working towards a merger to be finalised in February 2015 as a means of consolidating union strength. They are currently in joint negotiations with government and employers towards their own model of bargaining councils, based on the South Africa experience. The Lesotho unions' living wage campaign is called 2020, referring to the target figure of ZAR2,020 (US$184) per month.

In Mauritius, many workers in the garment sector are migrants, earning less than US$130 per month. National minimum wage increases are made at the discretion of the Minister and have not been updated for most industries for many years, IndustriAll says, adding that unions are campaigning for the minimum wage to be set at the level of a living wage.

In Ethiopia, massive growth is expected in the textile and garment sector where there is no minimum wage and wages are around US$35-50.

In Madagascar the minimum wage is US$53 whereas the living wage is estimated at US$400 and 80% of the population live below the poverty line. Unions here say they face a massive challenge in negotiating to raise wages when they lack resources and capacity.