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Unions intensify demands for release of Madagascar trade unionist

23 March, 2023IndustriALL Global Union and its affiliates in Madagascar are intensifying their campaign for release of unfairly jailed trade unionist, Sento Chang, and the for expunging his sentence. 

They say the arrest and sentencing violate human and trade union rights which are protected by the island’s constitution and labour code. It also violates international labour standards, especially trade union rights to freedom of association.

Sento, a garment worker, and workers’ representative at E-toile, Antananarivo was arrested for writing a social media post. The post was a report to workers on the outcome of meetings with management. According to Sento the posts, which management asked him to delete, were on discussions on improving poor food quality at the factory, workers’ training on the role of the labour inspectorate, according to the labour code, and workers’ rights to holidays, off-days, and sick leave. 

Sento, a shop steward from IndustriALL affiliate Syndalisme et Vie des Societies (SVS), was imprisoned on 28 August 2022 for 12 months and fined 400 000 Ariary (US$92). He is expected to be released by the end of May 2023. 

“At the end of 2022, the President of Madagascar pronounced a presidential pardon to prisoners. Comrade Sento is amongst these beneficiaries, with a three-month sentence reduction. This reduces the sentence from 12 months to nine, but the Malagasy government remains quiet. Even the request for provisional release and appeal of the judgment, filed by our lawyer remains unanswered,”

says SVS general secretary, Barson Rakotomanga. 

IndustriALL affiliates from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eswatini, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, and Zambia have written letters to Malagasy government in solidarity with SVS. 

Textile and garment workers said employers in the sector are notorious for blacklisting dismissed workers to ensure that they will not be employed in the sector. The employers are also known to give awful references preventing other employers from hiring dismissed workers. Workers said having a criminal record is worse because it will be used as a tool to victimise Sento when he is released. 

The ILO Report of the Committee of Experts on Conventions and Recommendations 2023 requests the government to respond on the arrest and sentencing of Sento. The Committee requests the government to provide its comments on these serious allegations. 

In a letter to ALSICO, who E-toile supplies, IndustriALL general secretary, Atle Høie writes:

“We denounce and protest the serious trade union rights violations in the country as evidenced by this imprisonment and would like to urge ALSICO, E-toile SA and the government of Madagascar to take action that will culminate in the immediate release of Brother Sento Chang. We would like to emphasize to the government and E-toile SA the importance of promoting a culture of social dialogue as a strategy to create harmonious labour relations instead of resorting to intimidation, harassment, and imprisonment.”