Population: 8,900,000
Capital: Bujumbura
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The Head of State made direct threats to the trade unions, whom he accused of being "in the pocket" of the political parties. Intimidation and harassment against the trade unions persist and are getting worse. It was a bad year for trade union rights.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of Association: The Labour Code allows workers to form unions, except those in the army and police, state employees and magistrates. 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 this law contains many violations of the freedom of association and the right to strike. 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.

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 2008

Background: Violence and insecurity were rife throughout the year. The rebel forces, the army and the ruling party militias were responsible for numerous abuses. The authorities exploited the political tensions to harass the trade unions, civil society organisations and opposition parties.

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. Throughout the year SYMABU protested at the authorities' refusal to implement the collective agreements negotiated in 2003 on improving magistrates working conditions. In 2007 the police went as far as banning public meetings by the union.

Union leader in prison: On 15 September, the police arrested and imprisoned Juvénal Rududura, vice-president of the judiciary lay workers union SYPEMJ, for making "false statements", after denouncing corruption at the Ministry of Labour. The union went on strike in May to demand the implementation of collective agreements signed in March. At the end of 2008, Juvénal Rududura was still being held without trial.

Government interference in trade union affairs: On 23 May, in a message to the nation, the Head of State, Pierre Nkurunziza, accused the trade unions of frequently being in the pockets of the political parties and striking against the authorities. He threatened them directly, stating that he would punish such behaviour to make an example of them.

In recent years, the government has declared several strikes illegal on the grounds that they would damage the national economy. 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. Education International (EI) reports that 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. On 22 February the education unions organised a demonstration in Bujumbura to protest at the wave of violence against teachers. Eulalie Nibizi, President of the STEB, denounced acts of intimidation by some local authorities who were pressuring unions into denying the violence. On 25 September, the COSYBU reported that the harassment and intimidation of trade union leaders had intensified.

Agreements not put into practice: Civil service, education and health unions repeatedly expressed their frustration over pay. Trade union representatives denounced serious shortcomings, injustices and irregularities in the way in which the pay rises promised in 2007 had been applied.

Doctors and nursing staff went on strike three times during the year to protest at the non-implementation of agreements signed in 2004 which principally concerned salaries. The government has always blocked the unions' demands, on the grounds that they could only consider such demands after the country's external debt had been paid off. In mid-December however, it promised to take the pay demands into account in its next budgetary review, in June 2009.

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, making trade union organising more difficult.

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