Seventeen workers who were suspended from their jobs in November 2013 at a cement plant in Oggaz, Algeria, have started a hunger strike to campaign for their rights.
In late 2013, the French Lafarge cement group took over the cement factory in Oggaz, in Western Algeria, and the company immediately set about restructuring and downsizing the operation. Workers attempted to resolve the matter through collective negotiation but were not successful. Then, despite record productivity, when the company unilaterally decided to reduce the bonus payments, the workers designated six workers to represent their grievances to management and staged a protest action. These six workers were immediately suspended. A collective work stoppage ensued, and company management retaliated by suspending an additional 11 workers.
The provisions of the cement workers collective agreement covering the application of the disciplinary process for suspended workers have been ignored. Despite repeated assurances, public authorities have so far refused to engage and resolve the matter.
The Lafarge cement workers reached out to the autonomous union SNAPAP for support, and their case has been documented by the Algerian press. On March 9, 2014, the 17 suspended workers started a hunger strike to bring attention to their illegal suspension and the gross violation of their human rights. “We are calling on the solidarity of workers everywhere and especially the global union federations IndustriALL and Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) to denounce both the silence and the indifference of the Algerian authorities in this matter” said Salim Mechri, a member of SNAPAP’s Executive Bureau.
Five workers fired from their jobs last month at a call center in Casablanca, Morocco, are receiving strong support from their co-workers and their global union movement. (Read more from Labour News Network.)
When the five operators reported to work February 13, they were met by a court bailiff and informed they had been fired. The action came days after the workers formed a union with the Moroccan Labor Union (Union Maroccaine du Travai, UMT), one of the country’s oldest trade unions. (You can support the five fired workers by signing a petition launched in partnership with the Union Marocaine du Travail (UMT) and UNI Global Union.)
Per Moroccan law, the workers had first notified government officials that they had formed a union and then notified their employer after receiving administrative recognition. Although freedom of association is a fundamental human right guaranteed by Morocco’s Labor Code and the country’s constitution, the workers now must take their case to court.
“The situation is catastrophic. This sector is not regulated by social dialogue. There is a lack of collective agreements and bargaining rights,” said Mohamed El Ouafi, executive board member of the UMT, and national coordinator of Call Center Workers. He told the Moroccan news publication, La Libération, that most employees live their lives in constant fear of being dismissed for lack of social protection.
Co-workers of those fired held a sit-in at the Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs and have waged multiple rallies in support of the men. The AFL-CIO sent a letter to Moroccan Prime Minister Abdel-Ilah Benkirane urging the government to uphold the country’s constitutional guarantees of labor rights.
The French-owned Total Call operation offers educated and skilled working women and men much-needed jobs—but as the AFL-CIO wrote, the government must send “a firm message to employers that respect for the law is mandatory.”
Find out more about the five workers and the Moroccan call center campaig
Workers in Mexico launched a hunger strike for justice at PKC autoparts plants. Credit: Javier Zuniga/Los Mineros
Eleven workers from PKC wire harness plants in Mexico launched a hunger strike yesterday. They were among 122 workers fired by the Finnish autoparts company in mid-December for what they say is retaliation for seeking to form a union. They plan to continue the hunger strike until they are reinstated and their right to trade union freedom is recognized.
The fired workers include 18 members of the executive committee of Local 307 of the National Mineworkers Union (Los Mineros). The union believes the action was in retaliation for their pro-union vote at a rigged representation election in October.
According to Los Mineros, “workers were called individually to the human resources office and told to sign a ‘voluntary’ resignation letter. Officials of the Federal Labor Board were present and encouraged the workers to sign.” The union says workers were told that “the company has decided it no longer needs your services.” Further, the dismissals were distributed across PKC’s five plants and not concentrated in a particular production line, a fact Los Mineros says shows the dismissals cannot be linked to the loss of a client order, which is often given as a reason for mass dismissals.
Ten workers at the plants, located in Ciudad Acuña, did not sign the resignation letters and with the union’s support, have filed legal demands for reinstatement with the Federal Labor Board.
The Border Workers Committee (Comité Fronterizo de Obreras, CFO) and Los Mineros, long-term partners in educating and assisting workers who wish to form independent unions, are working together on the organizing campaign, which has gained global support
Shortly after the company rejected Los Mineros’s request for collective bargaining in 2011, PKC announced that it had signed a contract with a corporate-backed “union,” CTM, to “protect” the company from other union interests. After successful appeals by Los Mineros, the Mexican government authorized the union election, and in October 2012, the union won 2,311 votes.
All Los Mineros’s election observers were among those fired in December. International support—which includes IndustriALL, the metal workers unions in Finland and Sweden, the United Steelworkers (USW), the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the AFL-CIO—has exposed PKC’s efforts to impose a protection union and rig the election and a major Finnish television network ran an exposé on the company’s operations shortly before the corporation’s annual shareholder meeting.
After more than three weeks on a hunger strike to protest government repression of the independent trade union movement, six women and two men from Algeria’s National Federation of Justice Workers are increasingly frail and face grave, possibly permanent, health threats. A ninth worker suspended his hunger strike. ACT NOW!
One of the women strikers, Leila Aberkane, is hospitalized in critical condition. Having lost consciousness and suffering neurological and skin conditions, she was rushed to the emergency room on May 25. Doctors also have had to resuscitate three other women strikers—Nadia Derouiche, Zahia Boutaoui, and Fouzia Bouziani. The health of all is rapidly deteriorating.
“These courageous women and men are using the ultimate means of action available to them by going on a hunger strike so as to make their voices heard,” said Nassira Ghozlane, secretary-general of the National Independent Union of Public Administration Personnel (SNAPAP). “They have reached a stage of severe physical deterioration and can hardly speak.”
The hunger strike has its roots in the decision by justice workers to reject a union created by the Ministry of Justice and to obtain representation by the National Federation of Justice Workers, affiliated with SNAPAP. When Justice Ministry officials rejected the workers’ choice, the federation staged a general strike in April, which was subsequently repressed by security forces.
Women workers, who are at the forefront of the growing movement for democratic rights in the workplace and society, comprise the majority of courthouse workers and are facing the brunt of the crackdown. They have been subjected to violence, arrests, suspension, and harassment over recent months. On April 24, more than 150 women were wounded at a peaceful demonstration. In addition, the government replaced more than 500 court clerks with other court employees in violation of Algerian law and International Labor Organization conventions.
The workers’ demands are:
End repression against and harassment of trade unionists
Revise the special statutes governing judicial officials
Extension of benefits
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is calling for an end to the repression.
“We are very concerned that the health of the hunger strikers is deteriorating rapidly,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow. “We ask the Algerian government to step back from its policy of confrontation, accept that these workers have the right to form and join their own trade union, and negotiate a comprehensive solution to the complaints they have raised. First and foremost, any justice ministry should itself operate on the basis of justice, in accordance with international law.”
Ghozlane is appealing for solidarity from fellow women workers.
“As the Secretary-General of SNAPAP, member of the National Bureau of Women’s Committee, and representative of the group in support of the hunger strikers, I appeal to all organizations, all women’s committees, and all women activists to take tangible action in solidarity with the hunger strikers,” she said in a prepared statement.
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