afrol.com, 20 March - Arrests, imprisonment, brutality and rigged union elections... the findings of the joint ILO-ICFTU delegation that visited Djibouti on 9-13 March at the invitation of the Djiboutian Labour Union (UDT) make for sorry reading.
In light of the Djibouti government's refusal to apply a number of recommendations by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on trade union freedoms and to enter into talks with the various members of the civil trade union movement, the African regional association (AFRO) of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) had decided to reassess the precarious situation of Djibouti trade unionists.
The Djibouti government had refused to discuss with the local trade union UDT, a ICFTU member, thus provoking an international reaction and investigations by AFRO. A new AFRO report on the general trade union situation in the country unearths "fresh evidence of trade union repression in a country that is already suffering from serious socio-economic problems," according to a ICFTU release.
Since the general strike called in 1995 in response to the International Monetary Fund's Structural Adjustment Programmes, the Djibouti government has been running an active anti-union repression campaign described by the report as "savage". Despite an ICFTU complaint, followed by an ILO mission and subsequent recommendations, the government had still not made any move to improve the union situation, the trade unionists report.
Moreover, at the July 1999 congress organized in association with the Djibouti authorities, "rigged elections saw corrupt agents of the state rise to positions of power in the leading trade union federations, with the result that the trade unionists' work was made even more difficult," ICFTU assesses.
In the wake of the elections, the UDT's offices were seized by these new "union leaders" and leased out to traders. The visiting delegation also heard how civil servants have not been paid since August 2000, while pensions have gone unpaid for over 10 months. Moreover, the report notes that the child labour situation has worsened in recent years.
Despite the ILO recommendations and the ICFTU's complaints, the local authorities are hiding behind the notion of "national sovereignty" to avoid meeting the demands of the international trade union movement. The ILO is however a UN agency, and the ILO conventions on labour are considered international legislation. Labour rights are also part of the UN Human Rights Charter, to which Djibouti is a signatory.
In view of the Djibouti government's "deplorable attitude", AFRO have made an apeal, calling on "trade union organizations and their members in Africa to continue to bring pressure to bear on Djibouti."
AFRO also called on the ILO to "insist on compliance with its recommendations as well as Conventions 87 and 98 on the freedom to form and join trade unions and the right to collective bargaining," and further on "all institutions dealing with Djibouti to apply similar pressure to the government, prompting it to respect the rule of law and the freedom of association.".