See also:
» 16.04.2010 - Mauritanian students protest Arabisation
» 14.11.2007 - Mauritanians await repatriation
» 05.03.2007 - Racism haunts Mauritania elections
» 02.12.2005 - "Slavery still casts shadow over Mauritania"
» 29.03.2005 - Mauritania ministers get 600 percent pay rise
» 15.02.2005 - Fate of Mauritania's stateless still disputed
» 30.11.2004 - Wages raised ahead of Mauritania oil boom
» 03.09.2004 - Little progress in fighting slavery, FGM in Mauritania

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Human rights | Labour

"Slavery and torture" for Mauritanian employees

afrol News, 12 June - According to a new report on labour rights violations, practices such as slavery and torture, are still used in poorly administered regions of Mauritania, despite the laws banning them. Mauritania remains one of Africa's worst countries for workers.

Although slavery was abolished by law in 1981, "there are still pockets where the attitude of master and servant prevails, making it difficult for trade unions to organise," according to the annual survey of violations of trade union rights, released on Tuesday by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

The confederation bases its survey on information received from the Générale des Travailleurs de Mauritanie (CGTM) and other local sources, including the anti-slavery non-governmental organisation SOS-Esclaves Mauritanie. The survey confirms other reports on continued slavery in Mauritania, which however are denied by the government.

The CGTM further had reported that workers are occasionally imprisoned and tortured simply because employers have denounced so-called wrongdoing at workplaces, according to the ICFTU survey.

It quotes the case of five employees of IBS - a biscuit company - who were arrested in their homes for having allegedly stolen biscuits, and subsequently "imprisoned and tortured for a week at the El Mina police station, between 31 May and 6 June 2002. They were released for lack of evidence, but they were nonetheless sacked with no compensation."

Mauritanian unions report that there is virtually no social dialogue in the country. Employers were said to be "very reluctant" to deal with them. Social dialogue generally only takes place when workers take industrial action.

- In many companies freedom of association is constantly short-circuited because employers interfere in union elections, ICFTU reports. "This occurs frequently in the private sector where union delegates are very vulnerable." In addition, there were reports of temporary arrests or detentions, particularly in sectors where there are disputes.

The enforcement of labour rights in Mauritania was complicated by the fact that labour inspectors have few means at their disposal and corruption is rife. Some have to cover regions that extend over 6000 km without a telephone or a vehicle. Even when a dispute breaks out, labour inspections are limited to voluntary conciliation. "When a union takes the matter to a higher level, the legal environment is such that court rulings are often contradictory and sometimes completely ignored by companies," the report says.

The report also sums up the most important labour conflicts in 2002. On 19 October, warehouse packers in the port town of Nouakchott had went on strike. Ten days later they were joined by dockers in the port, who started an unlimited strike on 29 October to demand an increase in payment rates per metric ton.

According to SOS-Esclaves Mauritanie, the government then got the local transport police to bring unemployed people from the capital city suburbs to the docks to break the strike by intimidating the trade unionists and strikers, although the strike had been organised in accordance with the relevant legal procedures.

The CGTM also reported "a number of mysterious disappearances and arrests" following the strike. The General Secretary of the Dockersville union and other trade unionists were reported to be harassed by the police. "Far from aiming to bring the conflicting sides together, the Minister of Labour appeared to have actively made the situation worse," ICFTU noted.

While labour practices were described as very repressive, on the legal side, however, Mauritania was much more progressive. Freedom of association and the right to strike are recognised in law, although subject to major restrictions. The draft new Labour Code is expected to retain some of these and add new ones.

Protection of trade union leaders is not explicitly provided for in the Labour Code, although it is conferred on workers' delegates within companies. The right to strike is recognised, but the current Labour Code permits strikes to be prohibited in the event of referral to compulsory arbitration. Civil service unions have to give one month’s notice before holding a strike.

The bill to reform the Labour Code was drafted in 1993. It was examined and adopted by the National Labour Council and is expected to be adopted by the government and parliament in 2003.

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