Defending the right to strike, signing up more members, promoting participatory democracy, forming a women’s committee, and building solidarity among the unions are some of the commitments agreed upon at a recent meeting in Cotonou, Benin.
IndustriALL Global Union affiliates, FENOTHAC and FESYNEME, who organize in the garment and textile, and energy and mining sectors respectively, met in Cotonou as part of a programme by IndustriALL to build union strength in the country.
They agreed that the right to strike must be defended in all sectors, and that the unions will campaign against the government’s intention to ban the right to strike in oil and gas and electricity, which it says are essential services. Further, workers’ participation in union activities should be increased, a national council formed, joint activities carried out, and communications improved.
The garment and textile sector has been in decline with most former factory workers now employed in the informal sector, where more than 90 per cent of the workers in Benin eke out a living. So, most of the FENOTHAC members are in the small-scale traditional tailoring sector. On the other hand, mining is picking up and exports for gems and precious stones have begun.
Most petroleum and energy workers work in the distribution of petroleum products and electricity, and work for the state-owned SONACOP which employs 995 workers. However, 700 of the workers are employed under precarious conditions of low pay and no benefits. Permanent workers earn 300,000 CFA ($532) as compared to contract workers who earn 44,000 CFA ($78).
Charles Kumbi, IndustriALL project officer for Sub Saharan Africa, who was at the meeting said:
“We welcome collaboration amongst affiliates because it builds union strength, and also support union joint actions aimed at improving working conditions and ending precarious work.”
Benin is amongst the top cotton producers in Africa, with the crop’s exports contributing up to 40 per cent of foreign exchange receipts, and 12 per cent of GDP. Additionally, 60 per cent of the national fabric is made from the local cotton. With over 300,000 cotton producers supporting over two million people, cotton has the potential to reduce the high levels of poverty. For instance, if the cotton-to-clothes supply chain is promoted through government policies this can lead to investments in textile and garment factories with potential to create thousands of jobs and spur industrialization.
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