The regional conference of IndustriALL Global Union in the Middle East and North Africa took place on 4-5 April 2013 in Beirut, Lebanon. 50 delegates from Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Yemen and Iraq were joined by representatives of partner organizations from France, Turkey and Australia.
The majority of delegates highlighted problems with trade union rights in their countries. Hassan Juma’a Awad, head of IndustriALL affiliate the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) informed the conference of his upcoming trial, where he is accused of organizing a strike and demonstration in February. Workers of the South Oil Company (SOC) took action after the management had rejected calls for negotiations on unpaid wages and benefits, precarious work and putting an end to corruption.
MENA union leaders expressed their full support to Hassan Juma’a and urged the Iraqi authorities to stop the persecution of Juma’a and other unionists. International solidarity action is underway ahead of the court session which has been postponed till 15 April.
The regional conference supported IndustriALL’s decision to revitalize the campaign to reform Iraqi labour laws from the Saddam Hussein era. The laws ban unions in the public sector and violate the right to organize, collective bargaining and industrial action.
Concerns were expressed about developments in Egypt. In addition to a new constitution that treats unionists like criminals, President Morsi in November 2012 signed a decree which allows the labour minister to hand-pick replacements to over 60-year-old union leaders. As a result, at least two out of four leaders of IndustriALL affiliates in Egypt have been replaced.
This intervention raised a lively debate about the requirements on independence from employer and government influence in IndustriALL’s statutes. The unions have been asked to explain and document the developments, before the matter is brought to IndustriALL’s global Executive Committee at the end of May.
At the same time, IndustriALL will carry out a mapping and training round of activists with the new independent unions in Egypt.
Some positive development in Tunisia was reported by Tahar Berberi, leader of the metalworkers’ union and member of IndustriALL’s Executive Committee. The tripartite social pact signed in January demonstrates the willingness of the government, unions and employers to contribute to building a democratic society through constructive social dialogue.
Guests from Turkey, France and Australia made inputs on organizing techniques, global framework agreements and union networks in multinational companies (MNC). A number of MNCs are already operating in the region, especially in Maghreb countries, where IndustriALL will support networking with its European affiliates.