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2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Mauritania

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Mauritania, 6 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fd88938c.html [accessed 22 September 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: 3,460,000
Capital: Nouakchott

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Threats: 4
Arrests: 9
Dismissals: 4

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher

Introduction

The Confederation générale des travailleurs de Mauritanie (CGTM) paid a heavy price for its activism. It was the key target of government and employers' union-bashing throughout 2011. Its general secretary was denied a passport and was excluded from various social dialogue structures, and its members were discriminated against, assaulted, silenced or dismissed.

Background

Inspired by the revolutions in various Arab countries, young people took to the streets to voice their anger early in 2011. Several trade union centres came out in solidarity and strike action was stepped up. Young people and workers called for social and economic reforms in a country suspected of selling off its rich mining resources to foreign investors without in any way benefitting everyday life for the local population. Several human rights organisations denounced the authorities' refusal to recognise the well-entrenched phenomenon of slavery in the country. The national census aggravated racial tensions, raising fears among Mauritania's black population of even greater discrimination. A series of demonstrations were held in September. One of them led to clashes, in which a young man was shot dead.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association is strictly regulated despite some initial guarantees. Workers are free to form and join trade unions by virtue of the 2004 Labour Code. However, prior authorisation from the government is required to register a union. Only workers' representatives within companies are protected against anti-union discrimination, and reinstatement for arbitrary dismissals is not available.

Collective bargaining is severely circumscribed, since the Ministry for the Civil Service and Labour decides whether or not an organisation may engage in negotiations, and can even participate in the preparation of collective agreements. The head of government also decides how collective bargaining is organised at the national level.

Furthermore, although the right to strike is recognised, cumbersome procedures must be exhausted before a legal strike can be called. Civil service unions must give one month's notice prior to a strike, and all strikes can be declared illegal by the public authorities, without the possibility of appeal. The list of "essential services" is also bloated.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Bill restricting the right to strike: The government is set to pass a bill aimed at restricting civil servants' right to strike. The proposed legislation also stipulates that "the right to strike will be restricted to the most representative union in the occupational sector in question", which is not currently possible given the inability to hold union elections.

Obstacles to the election of workplace representatives:

The Confédération générale des travailleurs de Mauritanie (CGTM) denounced the blocking of union elections by public and parastatal institutions as well as many private companies. The CGTM also denounced interference by employers (such as the national water company Société nationale de l'eau or the Mauritanian Securities Services, etc.) promoting alternative lists of candidates affiliated to more malleable or corrupt trade union centres.

Every kind of ruse was used to prevent genuine union representation. For example, when the management at the food manufacturer Mauritanienne des produits alimentaires (MPA) realised that the CGTM was the only union to put forward a list of candidates, it wasted no time in presenting its own list, made up of company executives. On having its list rejected by the Labour Inspectorate, the company was then equally quick to launch a direct attack on two of the three CGTM candidates, firing one and pushing the other one to resign. At Agrineq (public maintenance works), the two CGTM workplace representatives (out of three in total) also faced persecution: one had his wages stopped for two months and the other found himself faced with a dismissal request, on grounds ultimately rejected by the labour inspectorate.

Representativeness undermined: The trade union movement became increasingly fragmented during 2011. The Intersyndicale, grouping major union centres, became a thing of the past, in the midst of political rivalry and power struggles exacerbated by the government. By placing all 19 trade union centres on an equal footing, in breach of the labour legislation establishing representativeness criteria, the authorities effectively discriminated against the main organisations, depriving them in some instances of representation on tripartite bodies. On 27 April, the Confédération nationale des travailleurs de Mauritanie (CNTM) and the Confédération générale des travailleurs de Mauritanie (CGTM) denounced the tripartite negotiations charade and demanded representation elections. Their demands were ignored, in spite of the 2008 agreement on the holding and funding of these elections. The two confederations also called for the establishment of genuine social dialogue through the creation of a permanent consultation structure.

Violations

Two union organisers arrested: On 25 April, the police used brute force to suppress a demonstration being held in Nouakchott by the February 25 youth movement, founded under the banner of the Arab Spring. Teargas was fired directly at the demonstrators. Around 20 young people were arrested. Among them were Mohamed Abdallahi Ould Tfeil, general secretary of the national telecoms union SYNATEL, affiliated to the CGTM, and Mohamed Ould Daha, president of the CNTM's national youth movement.

Government onslaught against CGTM general secretary: The general secretary of the Confédération générale des travailleurs de Mauritanie (CGTM) was ostracised by the authorities throughout 2011. Abdallahi Ould Mohamed, known as Nahah, was kept out of the workers' delegation to the International Labour Conference in Geneva. He was also excluded from several consultative bodies at national level. In November, the Labour Ministry refused to renew his service passport, giving no grounds for its refusal. A second attempt, made on this occasion to the Interior Ministry by the president of the national Economic and Social Council (CES), also failed. No explanation was given for the application being rejected.

Right to strike suppressed in security sector:

Police arrested Pape Sarr, the workplace representative at the Mauritano-Swiss security firm MSS, in Nouakchott, on 13 May. His union, the CGTM, denounced the employer and a police commissioner from the 4th district for colluding to break a planned strike. Pare Sarr was immediately released on being taken to the main police station. On 15 May, all the trade union representatives were arrested. This time they were taken to the 4th district police station, to be interrogated about a straightforward briefing note asking the workers to hand in their work gear before the strike. On 13 June, in Akjoujt, just days after signing a labour agreement, the MSS dismissed the four CGTM representatives and called on a group of thugs to disperse the workers who immediately gathered in front of their workplace to protest against these unfair dismissals. The management retracted the dismissals on 15 June following a conciliation meeting.

Another security sector firm, G4S, took reprisals against workers for simply calling on it to implement an agreement concluded between the company and trade unions on 10 July. Faced with silence from G4S, a strike was called, respecting the legally established notice period. Despite the legality of their action, seven strikers employed as surveillance officers at the same bank were penalised by the management, which, for example, ordered that their wages be docked.

Police brutality:

Discontent voiced throughout 2011 in the mining town of Zouerate, mainly by subcontracted workers, met with brutal repression.

On 25 April, a spontaneous march leaving from the CGTM offices led to the place des Prières, where security forces reportedly fired live ammunition and tear gas at the crowd. The tension between day workers, their representatives and local subcontracting firms reached a climax in July. On 4 July, the day after strike notice was filed, the local CGTM coordinator, Mohamedou Ould Nahah, was arrested under false pretences, and held for several hours. Police officers, attempting to break the strike initiated on 15 July, went to the union office used by subcontract workers in the town centre and impounded Mohamedou Ould Nahah's vehicle. The following day, the police used unrestrained force to break up a union meeting, hurling tear gas grenades into the premises, injuring several union members, and setting fire to the floor mats. Those injured were, moreover, denied medical attention, as staff at health centres in Zouerate had received orders from the authorities not to provide the strikers with medical care.

On 17 July, the police staged another raid on the union offices, destroying the sign placed above the entrance and attacking the workers. Five unionists were arrested. Three of them were maltreated, being forced to remain face-down on the floor for several hours. That evening, the CGTM coordinator was called in for questioning and his car was impounded once again. The local authorities reiterated the verbal notification given to the CGTM coordinator that the union rally being planned by the confederation to mark its general secretary's visit to the town would not be permitted.

In November, the Labour Minister met with the various local unions during a visit to the town, except the CGTM. No explanation was given for her refusal to meet the confederation's local leaders.

Three women workers dismissed for making demands: On 26 July, the Mauritanian post company MAURIPOST dismissed Moulkheiry Mint Sid Moustapha, known as Def Ould Babana, one of the country's leading women trade unionists, a member of the CGTM executive and vice president of the confederation's National Women's Movement, in retaliation for taking strike action. Some days earlier, on 17 July, the paint and solvents manufacturer Société mauritanienne pour le commerce et l'industrie (SMCI) sacked two women workers, Habi Bâ and Hawa Diaw, for having dared to ask for protective masks before sweeping a room full of chemical products. Habi Bâ had lost a finger tip in an industrial accident a few months earlier. The company had refused to cover her medical expenses. The two women were not declared and were working twelve hours a day for a salary of 22,000 ouguiyas (58 euros).

Unionised teacher relocated: In October, the education authorities in the Gorgol region ordered the transfer of Mountagha Wagne, a unionised teacher, within hours of him starting a new job. He was replaced by a contract teacher. The teacher and his union, the Syndicat national de l'enseignement secondaire (SNES), believe this measure was taken to punish a union member and dissuade teachers from holding any protests in the future. During the previous school year, the education authority placed all kinds of pressure on teachers to stop them from striking.

Exploitation and repression of temporary workers employed at Somelec: At the end of April, police violently dispersed demonstrations held outside the presidential palace in Nouakchott by temporary workers from the national electricity company SOMELEC. According to the CGTM, police officers kicked and clubbed demonstrators and tore up their banners. One of the workers, Moulaye Ahmed Ould Soule, explained that he had been working at SOMELEC since 2007 without a contract, with no social security and no official wage, being paid no more than a meagre fixed amount at the end of the month. The CGTM qualifies such working conditions as a form of modern day slavery and has been tirelessly campaigning for the regularisation of temporary and subcontracted workers.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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