20 September, 2023On 15 September, the Appeals Court in Antananarivo dismissed an application by Sento Chang for the nullification of his conviction and sentence over posting about union activities on social media. SVS, an IndustriALL affiliate, is determined to contest the unjust court judgement.
Sento, an SVS trade union representative at Etoile SA, was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment and fined 400 000 ariary ($89) for a social media post which provided feedback on a meeting with management at Etoile SA, a garment manufacturer and subsidiary of the ALSICO Group. This meeting discussed unpaid overtime, sick leave, workers’ concern over poor food quality in the factory canteen, and the outcome of union elections.
Sento, who was sentenced in August 2022, served eight months at Antanimora, one of the worst prisons in the world, before receiving a presidential clemency of three months. On his release he hoped to be reinstated to enable him to look after his family who suffered during his absence. But after losing the appeal his dreams of going back to work are shattered.
“I have limited options. I have to look for temporary and odd jobs. It will be very difficult to find a formal job with a criminal record. Self-employment in the informal economy seems to be one of the limited options that I have now,”
Despite ALSICO’s claims to support social dialogue, SVS says the company lawyers were determined to ensure that the appeal was thrown out, but the union will fight this.
SVS vigorously campaigned for Sento’s release. The union, IndustriALL and the ITUC submitted statements against the conviction at the International Labour Conference (ILC) where the report of the Committee on the Application of Standards said the government of Madagascar was violating International Labour Organization Convention 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize).
The committee report recommended urgent redress by the government of Madagascar through the following actions:
“Immediately and unconditionally quash the conviction of Mr Zotiakobanjinina Fanja Marcel Sento; refrain from using the criminal law to target trade unionists; amend all provisions of the criminal code hindering the right to freedom of association of workers and employers.”
Atle Høie, IndustriALL general secretary said:
“We support SVS in its sustained fight for workers’ rights in Madagascar. It is deceit for the ALSICO Group to talk about corporate responsibility while persecuting trade union leaders. IndustriALL concurs with the ILC that the conviction and sentence must be quashed.”
In rejoinders with ALSICO, which were facilitated by the Business and Human Rights Resource centre, IndustriALL wrote:
“This injustice is intended to intimidate and instil fear into trade union representatives with the intention of discouraging them from defending workers’ rights that are protected by the Constitution of Madagascar and the Labour Code.”