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Benin hailed for progressive labour laws

afrol News, 10 June - Recently adopted legislation has relaxed restrictions on the right to strike in Benin, making the country one of Africa's most progressive in terms of labour rights. However, seafarers are still excluded from Benin's Labour Code.

The Beninese Labour Code recognises the right to form and join trade unions. However, unions must deposit their statutes with the Ministry of the Interior to obtain legal recognition, under penalty of a fine, according to the annual survey of violations of trade union rights, released today by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

While ICFTU describes the overall labour rights picture as positive in Benin, the confederation however regrets that seafarers are excluded from the Labour Code. The law stipulates that they are covered by the Merchant Marine Code, "which does not grant them the right to organise or to strike," the report remarks.

In Benin, the right to strike is recognised in both the public and private sectors. "While still falling short of international standards, the strike law approved in May 2001 did go some way to meeting trade unions concerns," the confederations states.

Another positive aspect of the new strike law, according to ICFTU, is that it no longer allows the government to prohibit any strike by claiming it threatens the economy or the national interest.

The law however does not remove the requirement to give advance notice before taking strike action, but does reduce it from five days to three. "It still imposes limitations by demanding the continuity of essential public services, and allows the government to requisition civil servants in the event of a strike," the report says.

In practical terms, labour rights were however more restricted by the government. Some government departments were preventing civil servants from going on strike by using the leeway given to them in law to draw up long lists of employees who may be requisitioned.

The ICFTU survey lists violations of trade union rights all over the world. In Africa, in general, the lack of state control mechanisms and democracy had become more acute and was "further undermining the fundamental rights of the continent's citizens," according to a press release by spokesman Louis Belanger.

The survey had listed 37 African countries, where it had found violations of labour rights. Benin was one of those, however only with a light critique compared to other African nations.

The survey details almost African 200 unionists who suffered physical violence in 2002, three of whom lost their lives. There were 125 victims in Zimbabwe alone, "which always tops the table of anti-union repression in Africa."

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