- The governments of Benin, Burkina Faso and Mali are accused of not respecting "core labour standards" in a new report released today. In particular the discrimination of women, forced labour, trafficking, child labour and union rights are emphasised as the three countries are having their trade policies reviewed.
The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), represents 152 million workers world-wide, today published a new report on core labour standards in Benin, Burkina Faso and Mali, exposing the problems facing workers and trade unions in these countries. The report is launched to coincide with the WTO Trade Policy Review this week.
According to the IFCTU, which has collected information about labour standards in these West African countries with the assistance of national trade unions, there are "frequent violations of basic workers' rights" in Benin, Burkina Faso and Mali. These include the right to organise and the right to collective bargaining.
Legal restrictions exist on the right to strike, and civil servants are exposed to serious limitations on their right to strike. "For example, there are excessive restrictions on the notice period required before strikes can take place," Barbara Kwateng of IFCTU says.
The majority of the workforce in the three countries is employed in the informal economy, mainly in subsistence agriculture, and "none of the governments does enough to ensure respect for workers concerned," Ms Kwateng emphasises. In particular the position of women in the national labour markets was highlighted in the report.
Women in Benin, Burkina Faso and Mali are generally employed in low-wage and low-skilled jobs. In all three countries, many women can be found working in the informal economy, especially in the subsistence-farming sector.
On the subject of discrimination and equal payment, the ICFTU report highlights substantial wage gaps, for example 30 percent in the public sector and 15 percent in the private sector in Mali. The female literacy rate is very low in all three countries, lying at 12 percent in Mali, 9 percent in Burkina Faso and 18 percent in Benin.
- Child labour is prevalent in all three countries, and enforcement of legislation is often limited to the formal wage economy, the IFCTU report concludes. Most children were said to work in the informal economy, mainly in agriculture - on family farms and plantations - and also as vendors and domestic servants.
Statistics from the Ministry of Labour of Burkina Faso estimated that, in the year 2000, 50 percent of children were employed in some form of activity. School enrolment is low in the three countries - in particular enrolment of girls - and few children go on to secondary school, the report found.
- Although Benin, Burkina Faso and Mali have ratified the core Conventions on Forced Labour, the practice does exist, Ms Kwateng denounces. "Many women and children are trafficked for forced prostitution, forced labour on plantations and domestic work," she adds.
Moreover, many Beninese, Burkinabe and Malian children are reported to be sold to neighbouring countries - like Togo and Côte d'Ivoire - and forced to work on plantations or in domestic work under harsh and dangerous conditions while receiving very low pay, if any at all.
The report also notes the vital importance of cotton exports for the three West African countries, both in terms of development and poverty reduction as well as for their social and political stability, and calls for an elimination of cotton subsidies by the US and the European Union.
In conclusion, the ICFTU calls upon the governments of Benin, Burkina Faso and Mali to apply the core labour conventions they have ratified and to bring their legislation into line with them. "Furthermore, the governments must take effective measures to increase participation of women in the formal wage economy including in positions of authority, and to increase the training of women," Ms Kwateng says.
The trade union grouping finally underlined the governments' "obligation to eliminate child labour, while at the same time increasing school enrolment and access to education." The three governments were urged to take measures to abolish forced labour and make progress in eliminating the trafficking of women and children.
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