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
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.