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Labour | Human rights

Gabonese unionists still discriminated against

afrol News, 12 June - Trade unionists in both the public and private sectors are systematically discriminated against in Gabon, a new report discloses, although their rights are officially recognised. "They are regularly harassed or simply dismissed."

Although trade union rights are recognised by the law for the great majority of national workers, migrant workers are not encouraged to form trade unions, according to the annual survey of violations of trade union rights, released on Tuesday by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

- Several hundred municipal workers, including trade unionists, on strike were threatened with dismissal in Gabon last year, ICFTU says. A private employer even introduced a dismissal procedure aimed at employees who wanted to set up a trade union, without waiting for the labour inspectorate opinion.

This discrimination against organised labour goes on despite a relatively up-to-date labour legislation. According to Gabonese law, all workers have the right freely to form and become members of the trade union of their choice. Although trade unions must be registered to obtain official recognition, they can freely join international bodies and participate in their activities.

The ICFTU survey also lists events in 2002 that were considered violations of internationally accepted basic trade union rights. The confederation's spokesman Louis Belanger said he was "saddened to see Gabon feature in the survey for the first time in 2003," due to events in 2002.

The hardship had already begun in November 2001, when the trade unions Synafonte and Solidarity had called a municipal workers' strike in the capital, Libreville. They were to protest against the Mayor's non-payment of social security contributions to the CNSS (Caisse Nationale de Sécurité Sociale) as well as the non-payment of family allowances and retirement pensions.

- In January 2002, 525 municipal workers, including trade unionists, were threatened with dismissal, the survey notes. "Two trade unionists had their salaries suspended, whilst six others were suspended from their posts and demoted. The head of human resources was also forced to resign for having declared the municipal workers' strike legal and for refusing to dismiss the strikers without prior labour inspectorate authorisation."

On 24 January, Gabonese President Omar Bongo appointed a mediator and a protocol agreement was signed by the parties. However, the protocol had not been implemented by October 2002.

In another event, when workers at the Placages d'Okoumé du Gabon (POGAB) factory began to organise a trade union, they came up against strong opposition from the director, Jean-Marc Ferron. He was reported to have "threatened them with dismissal if they went ahead with their plans." The redundancy programme started in December before the labour inspectorate had issued its opinion.

The survey noted that these events were in contrast to the rights provided Gabonese workers by national legislation. Workers in the public sector in theory can join a trade union and have the right to strike, although this is limited in the event of a threat to public safety.

The Labour Code prohibits the government from intervening directly against strikers who adhere to the arbitration and notification procedures. The law does not expressly prohibit discrimination against trade unions. However, the courts can sentence employers that are found guilty to compensate employees that are the victims of such actions.

Due to the control President Bongo's regime is exercising in all parts of the Gabonese society, there are however "no free trade zones in Gabon," according to ICFTU. The confederation should know - it represents 158 million workers in 231 affiliated organisations in 150 countries and territories around the world.

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