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Facing the challenges to sustainable industrial policy

4 November, 2014Since the Arab Spring in 2010, trade unions in Tunisia have worked with the government and political parties to maintain stabililty and to avoid the violence experienced in neighboring countries. Yet unions have not played a strong role in policy-making, labour legislation is not enforced and it does not serve the workers' interests. 

At a workshop in Tunis on 30 - 31 October,  IndustriALL Global Union affiliates from Morocco and Tunisia discussed how they can better influence industrial policy making in their countries. Affiliates from France and Germany shared their experiences in mobilizing on industrial policy issues.

Unionisation is growing in Tunisia, but there are still many rights violations in the private sector. The unions have been continuously engaging with government and the political parties but there is no clear sustainable industrial policy. Many multinational companies (MNC) are present in Tunisia and employment is the primary concern.

In Morocco, there is employment in factories connected to MNCs, particularly in the garment and electronics industries, but working conditions are poor and there is not strong government control over conditions. Most companies breach environmental legislation.

Participants agreed that unions need to engage with governments and employers to have more control over the development of the industries where their members work. Unions from France and Germany gave examples of how they have been able to work with their members on these issues. Campaigning starts with training members on the issues, developing union policy positions and proposals through discussion and mobilizing support for the proposals. Working at local level to save threatened plants through mobilizing members, working with the local community and making alternative proposals has been particularly successful.

In Germany, several offshore wind companies have relocated to Bremerhaven where shipbuilding collapsed, taking with it several thousand skilled jobs. Now employment is increasing to service the developing industry. In France, a new owner took over a Marseille shipyard after a strike lasting more than 500 days. The workers had argued that the business was viable and should not shut down and now the order book is full for 3 years. Further examples of union action include German union cooperation with chemical industry employers that is delivering reduced energy consumption while increasing production and a mass mobilization of 20,000 workers in Paris that achieved a national tripartite body dealing with the future of industry.

Participants concluded that unions have the right to be part of the decision-making for the industries their members work in. There is an urgent need for unions to build their capacity to be able to engage with governments and employers to influence the future direction of industry. This will require unions to develop their own perspective and proposals and involving their members. Unions will need to engage politically to achieve their aims and working with civil society is essential.

A key demand from the unions is for tripartite sectoral social dialogue that will enable their members to help shape the future direction of their industries.