afrol News, 17 February - As the government of Djibouti prepares to introduce a new labour code, trade unions warn that labour rights, which already are limited, will be seriously undermined. "The new labour code will take us back 100 years," protests union leader Adan Mohamed Abdou.
Mr Adan is General Secretary of the Djibouti Union of Labour (UDT), the country's main independent trade union. In an interview with Samuel Grumiau of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), Mr Adan says the UDT is seriously concerned about the proposed introduction of a new labour code.
The new labour code has been drawn up and approved by Djibouti's Council of Ministers, pending its adoption by parliament. According to Mr Asan, the Labour Minister has been "working on it, alone, since 1999, refusing to consult with trade unions and employers."
- The employers have never felt threatened by this reform, perhaps because the Minister is himself an employer and past events have reassured them, the UDT leader adds. Trade unions, on the other hand, constantly have insisted on being a part of the process of defining the new labour code.
The labour code currently in force in Djibouti is from 1952, dating back to the French colonial era. "We are already over fifty years behind with this code," noted Mr Adan. However, the new labour code was now "calling into question all the fundamental rights" recognised by international labour agencies, including the right to freedom of association, collective bargaining and the right to organise.
According to the new code, the authorisation of the Interior Ministry, the Labour Ministry, the Labour Inspectorate, the Justice Minister and the Attorney General will be required to set up a trade union. The future of independent unions in Djibouti, such as the UDT, is therefore threatened, Mr Adan holds.
Furthermore, Djibouti's Attorney General is to get the power to dissolve a trade union, by means of a simple administrative decision, if requested to do so by these ministries. "It would mean taking Djibouti's labour legislation back 100 years, even though no improvements have ever been made to the 1952 code," Mr Adan holds.
The new labour code may be adopted this year. The UDT is however heading an awareness raising campaign and mobilising opposition through press releases, petitions, lobbying its contacts within parliament and so on. "We are also planning demonstrate against it," the trade union leader announces.
Mr Adan however fears that the authoritarian government of Djibouti may use physical violence against trade unionists when demonstrations are organised. "We were able to celebrate May Day in 2004 without any major incidents. The government didn't dare to confront us because we were ready to resist. But in 2003, all May Day celebrations were prohibited," he explains.
The UDT has had a tense relation with government since September 1995, when it staged a general strike to protest against the structural adjustments imposed by the IMF and World Bank, which according to Mr Adan "were resulting in huge wage cuts of around 40 percent." During the same period, hundreds of trade unionists were dismissed, including trade union leaders from the UDT and UGTD (Djibouti General Workers' Union).
- The trade union leaders, including myself, remain unemployed to this day, Mr Adan says. "Any company daring to employ us risks prosecution. So we have been living without a salary for almost ten years now. The state continues to harass us on a day-to-day basis as we carry out our trade union activities. The situation is unbearable. We are finding it very difficult to cope."
The plight of trade unions was made even worse in 1999 when the current Labour Minister, Mohamed Barkat Abdillahi, came to office and decided to stage a "coup" against the country's two independent unions by setting up two phantom unions, "clone" unions with the same initials as the authentic ones.
According to Mr Adan, Minister Barkat Abdillahi invites and pays for these "clones" to attend official meetings abroad, such as meetings with the Arab Labour Organisation or the International Labour Organisation (ILO), "introducing them as Djiboutian workers' representatives, when they are nothing of the kind." With the new labour code, Mr Adan fears, the Minister's war against UDT and UGTD will enter a new phase.
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