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The Gambia accused of "core labour rights violations"

afrol News, 4 February - A new report by trade unions accused Gambian authorities of violating core labour rights. The Gambian Labour Act is reported to restrict workers far more than international standards allow. The report could harm The Gambia's position in an upcoming review of its trade policy.

The report on core labour standards in The Gambia was today launched by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (IFCTU) and is produced to coincide with the trade policy review of Gambia at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). It forcefully criticises The Gambia's lack of compliance with the eight ILO conventions known as "Core Labour Standards".

The report notes legal restrictions on the right to organise and, furthermore, that civil servants cannot exercise this right. The Labour Act, the report found, imposes general restrictions on the right to strike, and civil service employees are completely denied the right to strike.

More than half the Gambian workforce is employed in the informal economy, depriving workers of necessary protections and making existing legislation hard to enforce. "The government must act urgently to extend adequate regulation to this unprotected and usually exploited workforce," the ICFTU report concluded.

With regard to discrimination, the report notes that there is a lack of employment opportunities for women, whose employment is generally restricted to occupations such as selling food or subsistence farming. Women are subject to discrimination in education and employment. The female literacy rate is extremely low at 32.8 percent.

- Child labour is prevalent in Gambia, the study found. Some 49,000 children between 10 and 14 years were reported to be economically active in 2000, representing 33.83 percent of this age group.

There are not enough secondary schools and enrolment of girls in school is low, particularly in rural areas. Many children in rural areas assist their families in farming activities and there is no protection from exploitation for children on family farms.

Furthermore, The Gambia is a country of origin and destination for trafficked women and children, including those exposed to sexual exploitation. There are reports of child sexual exploitation in the tourism sector.

The ICFTU today called upon the government of The Gambia to "apply the core labour conventions it has ratified. Legislation must be brought into line with ILO Conventions," the trade unionists said, "the right to organise, collective bargaining and to strike must be extended to civil servants."

- Restrictions on the right to strike for private sector workers need to be removed, the federation added. "The government must take active measures to improve access of women to education and training opportunities. It is paramount that further progress is made to effectively eliminate child labour and to improve access to education, in particular for girls."

The international trade union movement finally demanded that the Gambian government "takes urgent and comprehensive measures to stamp out forced commercial sexual exploitation and the trafficking of women and children."

The ICFTU reports for the WTO on several occasions have demonstrated their importance, as the trade organisation has incorporated them in their assessment of labour standards in a given country. WTO demands that at least core labour rights are respected so that labour right violations do not become a trade advantage for export producing nations.

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