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Supporting union growth in MENA

22 November, 2013Union revolution continues in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. IndustriALL supports the growth of free and independent unions and their struggle for workers’ rights and social justice.

As part of its priorities, IndustriALL Global Union continues to strongly support the work and actions of our affiliates in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA). Our focus countries are Egypt, Iraq, Tunisia and Morocco.

In Egypt, president Mohammed Morsi was removed by the army in July, following massive demonstrations where independent unions were visibly present. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government had decided to take over the ETUF confederation, not least because of the huge property amassed by the organization during decades, enjoying special protection of the earlier regimes. Over 60 year-old union leaders were replaced with government favourites.

After this second revolution, upheaval continues also in the union movement. Disappointingly, even the new government has interfered with trade union democracy and appointed new leaders within the ETUF. The situation remains messy.

In the meanwhile, IndustriALL supports independent unions in Egypt through training on organizing and building stronger unions. We have held a number of seminars for metal, energy, textile and garment workers in 2013. In October we hosted a conference on Trade Union Rights and Industrial Relations in Multinational Companies (MNC). In the presence of the Minister of Manpower, parliamentarians and academics, the 100 delegates adopted a series of recommendations on labour laws, minimum living wages, precarious work and violations of fundamental rights at numerous MNCs.

In Iraq, IndustriALL and the  ITUC have launched a campaign to reform the labour laws as a matter of urgency. The current legislation is a remnant of Saddam Hussein's oppressive regime, preventing trade unions from carrying out organizing, collective bargaining and strikes. In July, IndustriALL’s six affiliates in Iraq came together to create a new National Council to consolidate their forces and fight for better laws that would guarantee the fundamental rights of workers.

In Tunisia and Morocco, our affiliates have created National Councils in a step towards increased unity building and coordination of international actions. The focus is on developing networking in MNCs that are present in the countries, organizing, precarious work, and the protection of women workers.

Tunisia is the country were the Arab Spring started in a revolution in January 2011. IndustriALL affiliates in the metal, petrochemical, textile and garment industries are all part of the UGTT, overwhelmingly the largest trade union confederation and a respected party in ongoing political negotiations. Despite recent difficulties, Tunisia is leading the way in building a democratic society through consultation and social dialogue.

Problems remain in the MENA region. Trade unions are illegal in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. And there are other good reasons than the scorching heat for not holding the football World Cup 2022 in Qatar.

IndustriALL’s goal is to help trade unions to become central pillars of the new, hopefully democratic societies in the Middle East and North Africa. We are making progress, but it will be a complicated journey.

Jyrki Raina

General Secretary