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Aerospace – a booming sector in the MENA region

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25 February, 2016The aerospace sector is booming in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and especially in Tunisia and Morocco. Although a relatively new sector, it already employs thousands of workers in both countries. Forecasts predict that the aerospace industry will continue to expand, given the geographical locations of the two countries, labour supply and government policies in attracting more investment to the sector.

Kemal Özkan, assistant general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union, says:

“It is clear that the economic aspect is prevalent in a new and expanding sector. So it is imperative that the workers’ voices are strengthened and heard at the industry level in both Tunisia and Morocco. IndustriALL will continue to work with its affiliates in both countries to enhance their positions in industry level bargaining. “

Aerospace – a strategic industry in Morocco

On 18 November 2015, around 20 union leaders from different companies representing aerospace workers from both Moroccan trade union national centres UMT and CDT met in Casablanca for an IndustriALL workshop.

Meeting for the first time, union leaders shared their main challenges and perspectives on the need to strengthen union power in the fast growing sector, given the lack of industry level bargaining.

While employers are organized into the Moroccan Aerospace Industries Association(GIMAS), workers experience little union sectorial work and training. 

According to the participants and GIMAS, the aerospace sector took off in 2000 when it was considered one of Morocco’s new strategic industries. Today, there are more than 100 aerospace companies in Morocco, including EADS, Safran, Boeing, Labinal, SNECMA, Arcolle Maroc, Stelia Maroc, Bombardier, Intertronic, Zodiac, with many of them located in Casablanca. According to GIMAS, there are 8,000 qualified workers in the industry, but union leaders say the real figure is much higher.

Participants identified the following as key challenges:

  • Dismissal of union leaders
  • The need for more union awareness amongst workers
  • Lack of serious negotiations by employers on union demands
  • Employers’ pressure aimed at preventing workers from founding their unions 
  • Widespread use of agency workers and different forms of precarious work
  • Halting collective negotiatons in different companies
  • Making false accusations against trade unionists
  • Discrimination on wages and promotions
  • Poor health and safety measures
  • Workers believe that GIMAS blacklists union activists, tarnishing their reputations and damaging their future potential jobs in the sector.

Strengthening workers’ voices in Tunisia

The aerospace industry in Tunisia is booming, with about 65 companies operating in Tunisia, including Mecany, Stelia, Sabena, Technics, Zodiac aerospace and Aerolia. Together they employ around 7,500, but according to union leaders, there are more workers in the sector.

On 30 November 2015, around 22 participants from the aerospace companies and the leadership of IndustriALL affiliate Fédération Générale de la Métallurgie et de l'Electronique - FGME-UGTT participated in a workshop on building union power in the aerospace sector in Tunisia.

Focusing on the challenges for the workers in the industry, participants mapped the key companies and drew up guidelines for their joint work. As in the case of Morocco, unionists from different aerospace companies met each other for the first time in their first joint activity. For many participants, this was a new experience of union work.

Many of the challenges faced by workers are similar to the ones in Morocco. But in Tunisia’s metal sector, unions have either sectorial or framework agreements at an industry level, while unions in the aerospace sector have so far no direct bargaining with the employers’ organization, the Tunisian Aerospace Industries Association, GITAS.

Participants at both workshops in Tunisia and Morocco concluded by laying down the key priorities for creating a strong negotiating partner for workers that can discuss workers’ demands at industry level, and negotiate with the governments and employers’ organizations. This included joint work with IndustriALL on strengthening aerospace unions’ capacities on organizing, education and sectorial union work.

Following the action plan, on 10 and 11 February 2016, IndustriALL and FGME-UGTT conducted a workshop on raising the organizing skills of aerospace workers.

Tahar Berberi, member of IndustriALL’s executive committee and general secretary of FGME-UGTT says: “We are insistent on implementing the action plan aimed at improving the working conditions in the sector. Capacity building and organizing have a genuine effect on developing the union work in the aerospace sector in Tunisia.”

Houcine Abassi, general secretary of UGTT opened the workshop and said, “It is now important to build union capacities in the aerospace sector in Tunisia. This sector employs large numbers of youth and women and developing their union skills is necessary”.