Morocco Teachers Protest Limits on Strikes

Morocco Teachers Protest Limits on Strikes

Teachers carried out protests throughout January against a government crackdown on their fundamental freedom to strike, with rallies at the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training in the capital, Rabat, and across the country. Teachers also are protesting the working conditions of contractual teachers and the Ministry of Education’s refusal to engage in social dialogue.

Morocco, CDT union calls for nationwide protests Feb 10, 2021, Solidarity Center

The CDT is calling for nationwide protests February 10 around education worker demands. Credit: CDT

Morocco’s constitution has protected the right to strike since 1962, but the government seeks to revise the country’s labor law by adding significant obstacles to the right to strike, in violation of Morocco’s international legal obligations. Unions are calling on the government to engage in real social dialogue to develop legislation consistent with international law.

“These abusive measures constitute a flagrant violation of the constitution, of the guarantee of the right to strike and of national laws, as well as against international conventions that consider the right to strike a fundamental part of freedom of association,” the Democratic Labor Confederation (CDT) wrote in a December letter to Educational International. The global federation, Education International, strongly supports the CDT and the National Union of Teachers (SNE) in their efforts to push back against the government’s moves to limit essential worker rights.

The government also barred a planned December 22 sit-in on at the Education Ministry headquarters in Rabat, citing exceptional circumstances and the law on health emergencies. Union members and leaders called the ban illegal and said security service used force to disperse them before they could reach the Ministry’s headquarters.

The January actions follow a series of rallies and sit-ins across Morocco last fall, including a national general strike on December 1 and 2, as teachers protested the government’s move to reduce their seniority and promotion opportunities and its replacement of full-time teachers with teachers on contract who are paid lower wages and have no job security.

Education Officials Refuse to Meet with Teachers

Morocco’s workers and their unions have been left out of discussions regarding management of the COVID-19 crisis and educational continuity, according to the SNE-CDT. The union says the ministry has not fully addressed health and safety conditions for teachers, education support staff and pupils.

Education ministry officials have frozen dialogue with teachers, last meeting with them in February 2019. One of the union’s fundamental demands is for the government “to open a serious and responsible dialogue on the outstanding demands from 2014 to today, and the respect of trade union freedoms and the right to strike.” Among the unresolved issues are improved wages, a voice for teachers in the education reform process, investment in public education, teacher training and more staffing to lower classroom size.

In early January, the CDT also spoke out against the ministry’s unilateral decision to cancel upcoming examinations for middle and high school students due to the pandemic, highlighting another example of how the education ministry fails to involve the representatives of teachers and other employees of the public school system in decision making.

More Teachers on Contract, with Few Rights

In early 2019, a government decree removed the option of workers with renewable two-year employment contracts to integrate into the public sector, a move that means contract teachers have no access to fair wages and social benefits like pensions, health care or job security. The CDT has sought to replace fixed-term contracts with permanent employment.

The number of fixed-term teaching contracts is increasing in Morocco and undermines the core notion of public service. The change grants the government a waiver on its obligations, according to a recent CDT field study on the future of work in the education sector, carried out in collaboration with the Solidarity Center.  “Some of the direct results of casualization, as identified through the study, include instability, precariousness, dissatisfaction and lack of confidence in the profession’s future,” the CDT notes.

The study also finds an increasing number of women in all levels of the education system, and the future of work in the education sector must address this shift, says Younes Firachin, a member of the National Office of the National Education Union. That requires unions “to fully grasp these transformations” to effectively reach them and address their concerns, he says.

Employees throughout the public education system, frustrated by the lack of attention to their terms and conditions of employment, increasingly are joining the protests. On January 27, many who provide assistance to young children in kindergarten and primary school rallied in Rabat.

The CDT also announced a series of nationwide protests set for February 10 to mobilize administrative and technical assistants to call for their recognition by the Ministry of Education and Morocco’s public school system.

Morocco Garment Workers Stand Strong against Union Busting

Morocco Garment Workers Stand Strong against Union Busting

Garment workers at the Miroglio Maroc factory are standing strong with 14 co-workers who they say were fired for speaking out against the lack of sufficient safety gear and other protective measures at the workplace during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Three workers were recently diagnosed with COVID-19, and the 14 fired workers alerted authorities to the unsafe working conditions at the plant, where up to 250 workers make ready-wear garments. The employer says he fired the workers, eight of whom are union members, for “defamation,” that is, allegedly attacking the reputation of the company.

Yet the Moroccan Labor Union (UMT) says the owner also fired workers who took part in forming the factory union in April. The employer also sought to intimidate the 14 fired workers, all of whom worked at the factory between five and six years, by calling in a judicial commissioner, a move the UMT says violates Morocco’s labor law. Their union, the Union Office of Miroglio Marco, is affiliated to the Federation of Garment, Textile, and Leather Workers/UMT.

Factory union leaders say the employer refuses to pay the fired workers for May and June, and demanded they sign a statement saying they will not strike, a move prohibited by the country’s labor law. Further, union representatives say the general manager has verbally harassed women garment workers who requested safety and health protections.

Workers now are waiting for the results of their COVID tests, which the company was forced to undertake after the workers alerted authorities.

Employers worldwide are penalizing and even firing workers who demand their rights to safety measures to protect against COVID-19, and are using the pandemic to lay off workers, often targeting those seeking to form unions or exercise their rights on the job. But, together with their unions, workers are fighting back.

Clapping as they rallied outside the plant in Casablanca’s Albarnoussi industrial district in recent days, the workers chanted, “We do not want injustice, we do not want to strip women of their rights.”

“Long live the Moroccan labor union.”

Morocco Union Condemns Firing of Top Journalist, Labor Advocate

Morocco Union Condemns Firing of Top Journalist, Labor Advocate

The Union of Moroccan Workers (UMT) is condemning the recent firing of journalist and television host Youssef Belhaissi and attacks on other members of his union, including Aziz Fathi, a union office coordinator, who was demoted from editor-in-chief.

The company had barred Belhaissi, deputy secretary-general of the union representing media workers at Medi1 TV, from appearing on screen since late June, a move condemned by union and media advocates. The union is an affiliate of the National Federation of Press, Media and Communication/UMT.

Fathi, who has reported on the dangers of the novel coronavirus and engaged in public advocacy and awareness of the pandemic, also saw his computer destroyed, according to UMT. His colleague, Hicham Faouzi, UMT first general secretary, also was demoted without cause.

The actions follow weeks-long demands by employees at Medi1 TV, which broadcasts news, business and financial markets and sports, for stronger sanitary measures to protect against spread of the virus, and for COVID-19 testing. Employees say the company has refused to allow workers eligible for teleworking to do so.

UMT says the company first responded to the workers’ demands for safe conditions by unilaterally closing Medi1 TV’s Rabat office and scheduling the transfer of all staff to Tangier in August amid the pandemic.

“Trade union action is neither a crime nor a misdemeanor,” UMT says in a statement. “It is guaranteed in the kingdom’s constitution, and in all international and regional covenants and agreements ratified by Morocco, a commitment that Morocco has made to itself in international and regional forums.”

Employers Use COVID Crisis to Target Workers

Employers worldwide are penalizing and even firing workers who demand their rights to safety measures to protect against COVID-19, and are using the pandemic to lay off workers, often targeting those seeking for form unions or exercise their rights on the job.

The crisis also has accelerated moves in recent years to limit press freedom, part of a global attack on democracy that often involves targeting individual journalists, media workers and sometimes entire press enterprises.

Morocco’s freedom of press score has fallen every year since 2015, according to World Press Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which ranks Morocco 135th out of 180 countries in its 2019 annual report on freedom of press.

In December, police arrested journalist Omar Radi for a nine-month-old tweet criticizing a judge, the 11th journalist imprisoned in Morocco since 2011, more than twice as many as the previous decade, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Morocco Hospitality Workers Stand Strong in Pandemic

Morocco Hospitality Workers Stand Strong in Pandemic

Unions throughout Morocco are negotiating wage guarantees and other measures to safeguard the livelihoods of the tens of thousands of workers in the country’s hospitality industry—cooks, wait staff, hotel cleaners, tour operators—who have been furloughed or lost their jobs as travel and tourism shut down due to the COVID-19 crisis.

“Workers in the tourism sector have suffered from this pandemic, as the tourism season had just begun in a number of regions, and the infections led to mass cancellations even before the government of Morocco introduced containment measures at a national level,” says Naima Hilali, a staff member of the hotel union affiliated with the Union of Moroccan Workers (UMT) who works at Hotel Lulido in Casablanca. “The hospitality sector will face a massive challenge in recovering for many months or up to a year after the crisis.”

Backed by the UMT, workers say they will not take unpaid “holidays” during furloughs and are demanding a three-month wage guarantee until June. Unions also are negotiating three-months’ wages for temporary and seasonal workers and are assisting laid-of workers employed by subcontracting agencies in getting necessary documents to qualify for a $200 monthly support payment from Morocco’s social security fund. Some subcontractors have not submitted documents needed for workers to benefit from the fund, created for private-sector workers who lose their jobs due to the coronavirus.

“The very strict requirements of collecting unemployment benefits means that many workers will not benefit from the allowances,” says Mohamed Aji, union general secretary at Hotel Farah.

Unions Advance Safety Guidelines for Workers

Unions also are negotiating with employers to ensure safety measures are in place for workers still on the job and are reaching out to workers with information on protecting themselves against the coronavirus.

“UMT shop stewards have taken measures to sensitize workers on the necessary precautions and health measures developed by the Ministry of Health,” says Zakaria Himer, general secretary of the union at Hotel Sofitel. “Other measures include adopting work rotation to reduce the number of workers at the workplace, and giving priority to people with immunity diseases.”

Travel and tourism contributed some seven percent of Morocco’s GDP in 2018, and the likely long-term closure of hotels, restaurants and tour operating companies across the country mean workers will need considerable support for many months.

“The government is making a significant effort through establishing the fund, but this solution does not respond adequately to the massive needs of workers,” says Hilali. “This requires a social and legal strategy to support the workers and employers in the sector. So, we demand the state and public officials to intervene to rescue the sector and its workers.”

From Haiti to Kenya, Unions Take Action on COVID-19

From Haiti to Kenya, Unions Take Action on COVID-19

Just as the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the massive global economic and social inequality around the world, with workers in the informal economy and supply chains, and  migrant workers—many of whom are women—especially marginalized, so, too, does it offer the potential to build more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change and the many other global challenges.

Around the world, unions and worker associations are taking the lead in championing worker rights and in doing so, demonstrating a path forward through collective action to achieve shared prosperity and sustainability. As the novel coronavirus spreads, unions are demanding safe and healthy conditions for workers who must remain on the job, and that they be compensated during forced worksite closures. The following is a small sample of union actions around the globe, reported in large part from Solidarity Center staff in close contact with union partners.

Haiti, workers washing hands outside garment factory, worker rights, unions, Solidarity Center
A communal wash bucket is one of the few options for workers in Haiti to sanitize their hands to prevent spread of COVID-19. Credit: /Reginald Lafontant

In Haiti, where garment factories were among facilities closed to prevent spread of the virus, workers were asked to return to pick up paychecks (for the days worked prior to the closures) in staggered stages so as to prevent crowding and potential contagion. It is standard practice for workers in Haiti’s garment industry to receive their wages in person, in the form of a cash, because most earn too little to maintain a bank account for check deposits, and paychecks are immediately consumed on basic goods.

Despite a government order to distribute pay to groups of 10 workers at a time, one factory employer simultaneously convened all 2,000 workers to collect their wages, despite the danger. In addition, some factories now are reopening to make masks, in large part for export to the United States, a move that puts at risk workers, their communities and the country’s already fragile healthcare system.

Although some factories have announced measures to protect workers’ health and safety at the factory, they do not adequately address risks workers face going to work as they walk through congested areas and travel up to an hour on crowded tap-taps (covered trucks serving as public transportation). Solidarity Center union partners will play a critical role in monitoring the enforcement of these measures and advocating for additional safeguards.

Four Haitian garment-sector unions, all Solidarity Center partners, issued a joint proposal to President Jovenel Moïse calling on the government and employers to respect International Labor Organization (ILO) protocols on COVID-19 in the world of work. The coalition also called on the government and employers to adhere to Haitian labor code stipulating workers receive pay when the government closes workplaces, and urged government and employers to pay workers the equivalent of the daily wages they earned on average in the three months prior to factory closures. The coalition also recommends the government provide support to informal workers, cease collecting income tax and reallocate funds from the country’s cancelled Carnival event to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. The unions include Centrale Nationale des Ouvriers Haïtiens (CNOHA), Confederation des Travailleurs Haïtiens (CTH), Confédération des Travailleurs- euses des Secteurs Public et Privé (CTSP) and ESPM-Batay Ouvriye.

Palestine, COVID-19, union members checking workers at Israeli checkpoints, PGFTU, Solidarity Center
Union members in Palestine check workers’ health as they return from jobs in Israel. Credit: PGFTU

Palestine General Federation of Trade Union members are fanning out to 12 checkpoints along the Israel-Palestine border to address the health needs of the tens of thousands of workers returning  home to the West Bank and Gaza as their worksites shut down in Israel, a large-scale movement that is exacerbating the spread of COVID-19.

Iman abu Salah, a member of PGFTU’s organizing team at Bartaa’h barrier near Jenin city in the West Bank, told Solidarity Center staff that three organizers are stationed in two shifts, connecting with between 100 and 200 workers per shift. Union members assist returning workers in completing detailed forms to ensure accurate reporting of health issues, and the unions share their reports with emergency health committees in each district. PGFTU members also are providing workers with information on protecting against the virus, as well as with union contact details in their city or village. Unions and health teams joined together to provide sterilized buses to take workers directly to their home city, village or refugee camp.

In Myanmar, as around the world, garment workers are especially hard hit by the #COVID-19 crisis as global retailers cancel orders, with factory employers laying off workers without pay, firing union supporters and forcing nonunion workers to remain on the job without safety protections, according to union leaders. Garment workers and their unions are mobilizing to demand that factories close for their safety and are seeking full pay for time off during the closures. Unions are pushing for employers to sign agreements that factories will recognize the union when they reopen and maintain all previous wages and benefits.

Unions representing garment workers in Lesotho, where more than 45,000 workers make jeans, T-shirts and other goods for export, are calling on the government to provide full wages to furloughed workers during the 21-day government-imposed lockdown to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus. The unions are also demanding that those required to work be provided with free transport in compliance with social distancing guidelines.

Workers have “sacrificed their lives for the country with meager wages and are continuing to keep the economy going as essential workers during this time,” according to the statement by the United Textile Employees, National Clothing, Textile and Allied Workers’ Union and the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho. They “not only contribute to the GDP, but support numerous families, unemployed relatives and poverty-stricken families with their wages.”

The Albanian telecommunications union won a four-hour work day for those not teleworking, as well as company-provided masks, while in Kyrgyzstan, the union federation is urging the government to include remote work standards in the labor code. Unions in Albania, Kyrgyzstan and Montenegro have released statements calling on governments to improve social, economic and public health policy to protect both their membership and society.

In Thailand, Solidarity Center’s union and migrant worker partners are communicating with workers via social media, as unions set up an online Labor Clinic to create and post videos on worker rights and benefits during layoffs and plant closures, and are providing instructions for applying for unemployment and social welfare benefits. Unions are hosting live Facebook forums enabling workers to send in real-time questions and comments. Unions in the aviation sector are calling on the government to protect full-time permanent and subcontracted workers, and provide health and safety measures in line with international labor standards at all workplaces. Migrant worker organizations also are reaching out to migrant workers in Burmese with information on preventing and identifying COVID-19 symptoms and with information on locations to access health care.

The Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU) supported the launch of a regional isolation center for workers, and unions throughout Ethiopia are driving anti-stigmatization conversations that seek to encourage workers to report cases of infection and are negotiating with the government to ensure workers are protected on the job during the pandemic.

The Central Organization of Trade Unions-Kenya (COTU-K) distributed protective gear to workers, such as masks, gloves, soap and hand sanitizer before shops were closed, and has met with the Kenyan government to lobby for support for informal workers, who comprise some 80 percent of the workforce. Additional Solidarity Center partners—the Amalgamated Union of Kenya Metal Workers (AUKMW), the Kenya Union of Commercial, Food and Allied Workers (KUCFAW) and the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (KUDHEIHA)—are advocating for measures to protect cashiers and other workers exposed to the public.

Indonesia factory-level unions are negotiating masks and other safety protections for workers, and while they are achieving success, a shortage in personal protective equipment is hindering efforts. For example, 60,000 workers, members os National Industrial Workers Union Federation (SPN–NIWUF), a Solidarity Center partner, successfully negotiated with their employer to receive masks, but the company is unable to procure such a large supply.  The company recently agreed to allocate some production line to produce the masks to protect workers. Indonesian unions are urging the government to provide support for informal workers, who comprise more than 60 percent of the working population in Indonesia and Timor-Leste.

Led by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), unions in South Africa established labor law helplines for their members to address employers’ increased abused of worker rights during the crisis.

In Morocco, where hotels have been turned into hospital facilities, the Federation Nationale des Hotels, Restaurants et Tourisme (FNHRT) is assisting hotel workers in collecting unemployment benefits and maintaining contact with workers across the sectors who have lost their jobs. The FNHRT is affiliated to the Union of Moroccan Workers (UMT).

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