Wednesday, June 09, 2010

For a One Big Union

From the ITUC 2010 annual survey of violations of trade union rights.

Trade unions in Africa suffer from a general lack of respect for their organisations and their activities, both from employers and the authorities. This seriously hampers the free enjoyment of trade union rights. Demonstrations and strikes are often dispersed by the police, who often resort to violence. Sometimes trade union leaders are targeted directly, as shown by the assassination attempts on three union leaders in Burundi and Chad.

Violent repression of striking workers marked the year in South Africa. On several occasions, police and security guards fired at striking workers, most of whom were protesting about pay issues. During the year, a total of 16 workers were reported as having been injured.

Teachers in both Algeria and Kenya organised mass rallies connected to their struggle for better working conditions. In both countries, activists were injured in clashes with the police and many were arrested, and in Kenya, the Teachers’ Service Commission (TSC) subsequently ordered 90,000 teachers in senior and managerial positions to leave the teachers’ unions.

In Egypt, the Real Estate Tax Authority Union officially became the first independent union in over 50 years to be established in the country. However, since its inception, the union has suffered from interference in its internal affairs, with its members being intimidated, harassed and even assaulted, whilst the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, which is the only legally recognised national trade union centre and has close ties to the ruling party, has tried to pressure the authorities into withdrawing the recognition of the union.

Zimbabwe’s abysmal record of violence and repression of trade unions and their members caused the ILO to send a Commission of Inquiry to the country in February. During the year, trade unionists continued to be harassed by the police and supporters of Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, whilst mass dismissals of striking workers took place, numerous unionists were arrested, several workers were severely beaten by the police while others were shot, and one union leader’s home was raided.

Trade unions are the butt of constant harassment and repression in Swaziland, where the State of Emergency has been in force for over 35 years. Arrests of union leaders and beatings of protesters are not uncommon.

Violations of human and trade union rights are also a matter of serious concern in Sudan. The law only allows one trade union federation, which is controlled by the government and engages more in disciplining workers than protecting their interests. Unionists who operate outside the official union live under constant fear, and 2009 saw no improvement of the situation.

The demands of workers and their representatives are frequently ignored or rejected by employers or the authorities throughout Africa. Furthermore, even where a collective bargaining agreement has been concluded, it is often not honoured. This problem applies in particular to countries like Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania. The authorities also discriminate against independent or representative unions. In Benin, for instance, the government has favoured “patriotic” trade unions and associations and has refused to consult with the representative organisations. Unions have been unduly denied registration in Algeria, Swaziland and the Central African Republic, whilst in Equatorial Guinea the refusal has been systematic.The right to strike is frequently infringed in practice. Workers regularly suffer from retaliation for having participated in strikes, which are often broken up by the police. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, the authorities took repressive measures against thousands of striking dock workers, leaving 60 people injured, several of them seriously. Strikers were also assaulted in other countries including Ghana, Morocco, Nigeria and Tanzania. Nearly 700 workers were arrested during the year for participating in legitimate trade union activities, mainly in Algeria and South Africa.

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