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African unions confront precarious work

29 January, 2014Meeting in Togo, affiliates from 13 African countries evaluated their successes and challenges in 2013 and strategized how they will continue to make progress against precarious work in 2014.

The IndustriALL Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Precarious Work Conference, which took place at the ITUC training centre in  Lomé, Togo on 27-28 January, enabled affiliates to identify regional objectives, strategies and priorities on precarious work leading to 2016 as well as strategies and actions for 2014, within the framework of IndustriALL’s global goals and strategies.

Participating unions painted an all too familiar picture of precarious work spreading throughout the region. In the mining and manufacturing industries it is being driven particularly by multinational companies to reduce wages and conditions and to exclude trade unions. Global employment agencies continue to pressure governments to allow them to extend their operations and replace permanent employment with temporary agency work.

Precarious workers in the region are generally excluded from social security provisions and health and safety protections and are subject to lower salaries and conditions than permanent workers. In Mauritius it is a government strategy to replace local workers with migrant workers on wages that fall way below the poverty level.

Affiliates from the DRC, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Ghana, Cameroon, Mauritius, Nigeria, Niger, Togo, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal and Guinea described what their unions have been doing to confront precarious work. Hostility of employers and workers’ fear continue to be major barriers to organizing. Nevertheless, many were able to point to successes in organizing precarious workers, converting their status from precarious to permanent, and signing collective agreements that have same conditions for permanent and contract workers. For example, SUTIDS in Senegal has amended its statutes to make it easier to recruit precarious workers and as a result has gained 450 new members.

Unions have also been pursuing legislative changes to protect precarious workers and reduce the incidence of precarious work. In Mauritius, the union has achieved amendments to the labour law that stipulate that all contract workers with 6 months service qualify for leave provisions, all contract jobs of more than 2 years must be converted to permanent and all workers, including contract workers, must receive and end-of-year bonus (13 month salary). In Senegal, legislation that regulates agency work has been passed.

Raising awareness among workers and the general public of the consequences of precarious work continues to be an important strategy for all unions. Affiliates in Ghana and Senegal have successfully used media campaigns to this end.

The meeting formed part of the IndustriALL precarious work project for sub-Saharan Africa which is supported by IndustriALL affiliates in Finland and Belgium. This project is now entering a new phase. In 2013 the unions collected data in order to establish a baseline of the number, distribution and situation of precarious workers which will enable them to measure progress and to better target their actions. In each country affiliates are now working together to develop an agreed action plan that will be implemented by all affiliates, working together.