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Empowering women in Tunisia: a workshop on health and safety

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24 May, 2024On 9-11 May, IndustriALL organized a workshop on occupational health and safety for the Tunisian women’s network. It is a step towards empowering Tunisian women in the textile, base metal and petrochemical sectors, equipping them with the knowledge and skills needed to advocate for their rights and safety in their respective industries.

A significant concern is the mismatch between occupational diseases and the state-recognised list of such diseases, leaving many workers without adequate protection or recognition.

Mounia Ramili underscored the emergence of new occupational diseases not recognized by the official sickness insurance fund and the need to update their list, particularly to safeguard women workers, ensuring ailments are duly classified and treated.

Rawda Cannon stressed the importance of continuous training to keep pace with evolving occupational health and safety standards. She advocated for enhanced training programmes for women trade unionists, enabling them to effectively manage and respond to crises.

Mounia Ben Abbas highlighted the dire conditions faced by workers exposed to chemicals without adequate protection, leading to work-related diseases that remain unclassified as occupational. This lack of recognition forces workers to endure unsafe working conditions without proper rest or protection.

Lubna Al-Sudairy addressed the necessity of ongoing worker education. Women in industrial sectors, who, despite suffering from occupational diseases, are often pressured by employers to maintain productivity, facing exploitation and blackmail.

Nabila Barhoumi pointed out the non-recognition of certain occupational diseases, such as cardiovascular conditions. She called for comprehensive worker education on health risks and the amendment of labour laws to include detailed occupational health and safety manuals.

Mounira Al-Harabi advocated for the expansion of the recognised list of occupational diseases to include ailments affecting the neck, shoulders, and hands. She said that many women who complain of symptoms in the hand or wrist hide the symptoms as shoulder and neck pain to avoid their conditions being dismissed.

Amal Trabelsi critiqued the current legislative system as being unjust to women and workers. She argued that transferring a worker to a more suitable job post-disease often leads to further exploitation, underscoring the need for legal reforms to protect vulnerable workers.

Yamina Mbarki, coordinator of the IndustriALL Tunisian women’s network, called for a stronger role of unions in ensuring decent work conditions, particularly focusing on occupational health and safety for women in industrial sectors.

The workshop is part of the IndustriALL MENA union leadership academy, aimed to empower participants on trade union issues, like collective bargaining, social protection, just transition, living wages, organizing, precarious work, communications and the involvement of women and youth. Supported by FNV Mondiaal, this initiative is a commitment to increase trade union competencies among women in the region.