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2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Burundi

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Burundi, 20 November 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52ca9e31.html [accessed 20 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 8,500,000
Capital: Bujumbura
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The right to strike is subject to too many restrictions, as many trade unionists have again found out to their cost.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association is guaranteed by the Constitution.

The Labour Code allows workers to form unions, except those in the army and police, while section 14 of the Labour Code excludes state employees and magistrates from the scope of the Code (see below). There are restrictions for workers under 18 years of age who can only join with permission from their guardians or parents, although the government has promised to amend this.

Severe restrictions in the civil service: The right to organise and the right to strike in the civil service are regulated by Law No. 1/015 of 29 November 2002. The national trade union centre COSYBU says that, until the promulgation of this law, the country's legislation was in line with the general principles of freedom of association and the right to strike. This law contains many violations of these. Notably, it bans solidarity strikes, permits requisition orders in the event of strike action, and says that for civil servants' unions to be recognised, they must be registered with the Civil Service Ministry – which is their employer.

Magistrates: Magistrates are governed by the regulations contained in Act 1/001 of February 2000, but this contains no express reference to magistrates' freedom of association.

Restrictions on elections of trade union leaders: Those wanting to stand for union office must have worked in the sector for more than a year. The government has promised it will review this.

Collective bargaining: The Labour Code recognises the right to collective bargaining. In the public sector, however, wages are excluded from bargaining, as they are set according to fixed scales (following consultation with the unions).

Restricted right to strike: Workers can go on strike, but only when, and if, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security says it is satisfied that they have exhausted all other peaceful means to resolve a dispute, effectively giving the Ministry the power to veto all strikes. The workers must then give their employer six days' notice.

Anti-union discrimination: The Labour Code does not provide any sanctions for dissuading anti-union discrimination.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: Following 12 years of civil war, the peace process was at a standstill. In November, the forming of a government of national unity provided some hope of a new political momentum. Civil servants waited in vain for the 34% wage rise announced on 1 May by the head of state.

Anti-union climate at the University of Burundi: The social conflict that started in October 2006, concerning the wage demands of non-teaching staff, continued into early 2007. A dozen "strike-breakers" were hired by the library. On 9 January, three members of the university employees' union, Syndicat des travailleurs de l'Université du Burundi (STUB), received threats from the Rector, who wanted them to return to work. Two days later, the Ministry of Education called for an end to the strike, threatening that anyone's disobedience would be treated as a resignation. The STUB's repeated requests for the establishment of an arbitration council, in accordance with the legal requirements in the event of a breakdown of negotiations, were not met. In the end, the STUB reluctantly asked its members to return to work in early February, without having achieved anything much and after lodging a complaint with the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association. The anti-union repression had reached a peak in mid-December 2006, when five leaders of the STUB had been arrested and imprisoned. They had not been released until five days later (on 18 December). According to the government, the arrests had been necessary in order to investigate some damage that had been done to university property.

Interference in the trade union activities of magistrates: The lack of any legal provisions guaranteeing their union rights has continued to prevent the registering of the magistrates' union, Syndicat des magistrats du Burundi (SYMABU), thereby reducing its potential activities. On two occasions, 13 September and 14 December, the police banned SYMABU from holding communication events (a press conference and a study day) that were to address the "independence of magistrates".

Four strikers arrested and imprisoned: On 4 December, the day after the start of a civil servants' strike in protest at the failure to honour a promised wage increase, three members of the national teachers union, Syndicat des travailleurs de l'enseignement du Burundi (STEB), were arrested and imprisoned in Mishiha on the orders of the Governor of the province of Cankuzo. On 5 December, another trade unionist was imprisoned in Ruyigi. On 5 December, the national union centres COSYBU and CSB decided to prolong the strike, which had initially been planned for three days, in protest against these arrests and the lack of any progress. After two nights in prison the four activists were released, but the strike went on until 14 December. The two confederations reported subsequent harassment by the authorities and the police. In the provinces of Kayanza and Kirundo, union activists were forced into hiding to escape their pursuers.

Government interference in trade union affairs: In recent years, the government has refused to recognise the results of trade union leadership elections and has also prevented the union confederation, COSYBU, from choosing who should represent Burundi's workers at the ILO.

There have been repeated allegations that the government will not permit trade union bodies to choose their own representatives to the country's tripartite National Labour Council, paralysing its work since 2000.

On several occasions, the government has declared strikes illegal on the grounds that they would damage the national economy and support enemies of the government. The ILO has repeatedly emphasised that economic concerns cannot justify restricting freedom of association in this way. Several trade union leaders have been imprisoned or suspended from their work in recent years following strike action. The teachers' union, Syndicat des Travailleurs de l'Enseignement du Burundi (STEB), is not allowed to hold any general meetings without first notifying the town hall, which is contrary to the principles of freedom of association.

Private sector anti-union: Many private sector employers systematically prevent the creation of trade unions, while the government fails to protect workers from anti-union employers.

Most workers in Burundi perform informal and unregulated work, and enjoy no trade union rights.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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