Africa

As the citizens of North Africa have proved, the people of Africa know that no government can last forever, however totalitarian. Not even in Sudan, Eritrea or Equatorial Guinea, three countries where the despots will not tolerate any trade union or opposition force, or in Djibouti or Swaziland, regular black spots where trade union activists and ordinary workers do not flinch from facing up to fiercely anti-union authorities. The situation in this last country is still very disturbing. A succession of arbitrary arrests, threats and beatings is aimed at reducing the activists to silence. Trade unionists and political opponents in Africa’s last feudal monarchy are regularly arrested and beaten, and are banned from holding demonstrations. Extra-judicial executions by the forces of order, lynchings, police torture, assault and the excessive use of violence against detainees, police impunity, arbitrary arrests and prolonged preventive detention, restrictions on the freedoms of (...)

As the citizens of North Africa have proved, the people of Africa know that no government can last forever, however totalitarian. Not even in Sudan, Eritrea or Equatorial Guinea, three countries where the despots will not tolerate any trade union or opposition force, or in Djibouti or Swaziland, regular black spots where trade union activists and ordinary workers do not flinch from facing up to fiercely anti-union authorities.

The situation in this last country is still very disturbing. A succession of arbitrary arrests, threats and beatings is aimed at reducing the activists to silence. Trade unionists and political opponents in Africa’s last feudal monarchy are regularly arrested and beaten, and are banned from holding demonstrations. Extra-judicial executions by the forces of order, lynchings, police torture, assault and the excessive use of violence against detainees, police impunity, arbitrary arrests and prolonged preventive detention, restrictions on the freedoms of assembly, association and movement, bans on political activity and the persecution of political activists, discrimination and violence against women, the harassment of trade union leaders and restrictions on workers’ rights: all are on the agenda in Swaziland. The King personally appoints the judiciary, thereby severely limiting the independence even of the judicial authorities, while minimum wages are not sufficient to guarantee a decent standard of living for workers and their families.

Nor are the ILO International Labour Organization A tripartite United Nations (UN) agency established in 1919 to promote working and living conditions. The main international body charged with developing and overseeing international labour standards.

See tripartism, ITUC Guide to international trade union rights
’s fundamental labour standards respected in Zimbabwe, where members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) still face police violence, encouraged by their head of state. The authorities regularly resort to arrests, detentions, acts of violence, torture, intimidation and harassment to curb trade union activity and deter workers from joining union organisations.
Freedom of association freedom of association The right to form and join the trade union of one’s choosing as well as the right of unions to operate freely and carry out their activities without undue interference.

See Guide to the ITUC international trade union rights framework
, collective bargaining collective bargaining The process of negotiating mutually acceptable terms and conditions of employment as well as regulating industrial relations between one or more workers’ representatives, trade unions, or trade union centres on the one hand and an employer, a group of employers or one or more employers’ organisations on the other.

See collective bargaining agreement
and the right to strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
are all challenged and many union activists are the victims of violent anti-union campaigns. The authorities use the law (the famous POSA) to criminalise trade union activity, despite the recommendations of an International Labour Organisation (ILO International Labour Organization A tripartite United Nations (UN) agency established in 1919 to promote working and living conditions. The main international body charged with developing and overseeing international labour standards.

See tripartism, ITUC Guide to international trade union rights
) Commission of Inquiry. The acts of violence and torture targeted at trade union members and leaders committed by members of the security forces during national demonstrations organised by the trade unions are all part of a coordinated effort to suppress the trade unions.

The Ethiopian government has also been consistently anti-union for years, particularly towards teachers and their organisation. In Cameroon too, the authorities have resorted to judicial harassment of trade union leaders, consistently ignored trade union centres they deemed too dissident, and refused to recognise union organisations they see as too independent.

The great majority of Africa’s working population still makes its living in the informal sector, with all that that implies in terms of bad working conditions, while outsourcing outsourcing See contracting-out and temporary employment have spread quickly across the continent, making it extremely difficult to organise workers. The efforts by trade unions to overcome these obstacles, notably in the export processing zones of Togo and Madagascar, are to be applauded.

Although the right to strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
is recognised in national legislation across the continent, it is rarely respected. Employers have no hesitation in ordering the unfair mass dismissal of striking workers, as was the case in 2011 in Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and Botswana, most often in the civil service, the export processing zones and mining industry. The repression of strikes and protest action resulted in countless arrests and police violence.

Trade union leaders received death threats in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Death threats were also made in Malawi, where several laws came into force to silence the press, restrict the possibility of appeal against the acts of government agencies and personnel, and limit civil liberties. The indiscriminate violence meted out by the authorities during the protests that followed these measures led to the deaths of 18 people.

In a climate of ethnic and political rivalry, the headquarters of the national trade union centre trade union centre A central organisation at the national, regional or district level consisting of affiliated trade unions. Often denotes a national federation or confederation. in Conakry in Guinea were attacked and several people were injured. Several trade unionists were arrested on a partisan basis during the post-electoral violence in Côte d’Ivoire, and the General Secretary of the national trade union centre trade union centre A central organisation at the national, regional or district level consisting of affiliated trade unions. Often denotes a national federation or confederation. “Dignité” was sent to prison. Many trade unionists were also persecuted during fraught elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria. In Senegal, two workers’ rallies were violently repressed.

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Africa old challenges and renewed struggles for change

Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, General Secretary of the ITUC-Africa Africa has grabbed the attention of the world as citizens’ actions highlight more than ever before the need for change and social justice. Particularly in North Africa, where the struggles have been most dramatic, the voices and actions of young persons and women have been the loudest and clearest as they have emerged as strong actors for change. Key demands have focused on the fundamental issues of the rights of people to live and work in dignity and full freedom. The growing unemployment situation on the continent together with the dwindling and poor public services delivery have been aggravated by the global financial and economic crises and has resulted in more hardship and suffering for the people. Working people express their disappointment at the extent to which efforts at genuine development in Africa have been frustrated largely by insincere and weak leadership. Working people and the poor are vehemently opposed to (...)

Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, General Secretary of the ITUC-Africa

Africa has grabbed the attention of the world as citizens’ actions highlight more than ever before the need for change and social justice. Particularly in North Africa, where the struggles have been most dramatic, the voices and actions of young persons and women have been the loudest and clearest as they have emerged as strong actors for change. Key demands have focused on the fundamental issues of the rights of people to live and work in dignity and full freedom.

The growing unemployment situation on the continent together with the dwindling and poor public services delivery have been aggravated by the global financial and economic crises and has resulted in more hardship and suffering for the people. Working people express their disappointment at the extent to which efforts at genuine development in Africa have been frustrated largely by insincere and weak leadership. Working people and the poor are vehemently opposed to market prescriptions that want the people and the poor to pay the price for bailing out their economies through cuts in social spending that intensify poverty.

Meanwhile, there is confidence in democracy as a vehicle to deliver the change that will move communities and their peoples forward to progress and improved wellbeing. This belief has defined the renewed struggles that have been witnessed across the continent.

However, the struggles have come with varying challenges and reactions from governments, employers and other forces interested in maintaining the status quo. For instance, increased paranoia in some African government circles has led to the deployment of force to crush legitimate and peaceful protests. This has led to deaths and injuries as police and security forces have shot and maimed defenceless protesters in Malawi, South Africa, Nigeria, Burkina Faso or Senegal.

African trade unions and their members as well as other human rights defenders like journalists have also come under increasingly harsh verbal, psychological and physical attacks. In some cases as in Ethiopia, Central African Republic, Rwanda, some of these attacks have been made through the enactment of legislative provisions that bar many workers from forming and joining trade unions of their choice.

Again, the right to collective bargaining collective bargaining The process of negotiating mutually acceptable terms and conditions of employment as well as regulating industrial relations between one or more workers’ representatives, trade unions, or trade union centres on the one hand and an employer, a group of employers or one or more employers’ organisations on the other.

See collective bargaining agreement
continues to be denied, suppressed and attacked as witnessed in Kenya, Togo and Guinea. In this context, the extension of the definition of essential services essential services Services the interruption of which would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population. Can include the hospital sector, electricity and water supply services, and air traffic control. Strikes can be restricted or even prohibited in essential services.

See Guide to the ITUC international trade union rights framework
to cover non-essential ones has also been one of the anti-union strategies of the state that trade unions are contending with in Ghana, Nigeria, Botswana, Uganda, to recall a few.

Weak accountability and the denial and delay of justice in cases where trade union rights and other human rights have been breached are contributing to the deepening of impunity. Scores of people killed by security forces during the protest actions have gone largely uninvestigated and the culprits not prosecuted. Of growing concern also is the safety of journalists and media personnel whose contributions are critical for the survival of democracy and the pursuit of the development aspirations of the African people.

In spite of these challenges, Africa’s working people continue to take actions to defend, protect and promote their trade union and other human rights!

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