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Unionist nine-month jail ordeal expose workers’ rights violations in Madagascar

6 June, 2023After a presidential pardon, jailed unionist Sento Chang has been released after nine months in Madagascar’s Antanimora prison, one of the worst prisons in the world according to Human Rights Watch. Sento was jailed for posting the outcome of union negotiations on social media. Unions from Madagascar participating at the International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva, Switzerland, are challenging the sentencing and jailing, and calling upon the island nation’s government to stop repeatedly violating workers’ rights.

The rights are protected by Convention 87 on freedom of association and protection of the right to organize, and the national labour code. Madagascar’s violations of Convention 87 will be discussed at the ILC on 9 June.

The unions are bringing to the ILC the case of the unjust imprisonment of Sento, a trade union representative at the Alsico subsidiary, E-Toile SA in Antananarivo. Sento served the sentence from 29 August 2022 and was released on 30 May 2023 after a presidential pardon.

Sento was arrested and imprisoned for posting on social media the outcome of discussions with E-Toile management to improve working conditions at the garment factory where he worked as a machinist. Unions say the charges against Sento were trumped up: ranging from breaches of confidentiality, data protection, and violation of state property. The trial was unfair and concluded in a record 48-hours under a hostile judge who colluded with the E-Toile lawyer.

An appeal against the judgment was never heard and the judge ignored the fact that that the duties of the trade union representative were protected in the Madagascar labour code. For justice to prevail, the unions say they want a judicial review of the sentence and are arguing that the trial and sentencing offended sections of the law. They also want Sento to be reinstated at E-Toile SA.

During the period of the imprisonment, the unions took to the streets to protest the injustice and were supported by IndustriALL and ITUC Africa which wrote protest letters to E-Toile SA and Alsico management.

Rafenoarimanana Leontine Mbolanomena, the general secretary of USAM, which is in alliance with SVS as Randrana Sendikally said:

“On behalf of the alliance, Sento Chang and his family, we are deeply grateful to IndustriALL, ITUC Africa and other stakeholders, for the unfailing support they gave during the period of his imprisonment. However, despite his release from prison, our fight will continue until the Malagasy state acknowledges the violations it has committed and remedies them by making Sento's criminal record clean, and by taking steps to ensure that he gets his job back. So, during the ILC, particularly when the case of Madagascar's violation of Conventions 87 and 98 is raised, we ask for your continued support.”

Says Kemal Özkan , IndustriALL assistant general secretary:

“We support SVS on its unwavering commitment to workers and trade union rights in Madagascar as seen in this campaign for the release of Sento Chang and for the justice system to protect rather than be used to bash trade unions. Being a trade union representative is not a crime, and we strongly support calls for the expunging of the conviction and sentence.”