2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Congo, Democratic Republic of

Population: 66,000,000
Capital: Kinshasa
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Trade union members, human rights activists and workers were harassed, dismissed, arrested and sometimes tortured for denouncing trade union rights violations and bad working conditions. Several teachers' unions' meetings were banned. In addition, lengthy procedures often prevent trade unions to exercise the right to strike.

Trade union rights in law

The 2006 Constitution guarantees the right to form and join trade unions without prior authorisation. Furthermore, in the private sector, unions negotiate with the government and employers in the National Employment Council, but in the public sector, the government sets wages by decree. Staff of decentralised entities (towns, territories and sectors) do not enjoy the right to bargain collectively.

Although the right to strike is recognised, unions must have prior consent and adhere to lengthy compulsory arbitration and appeal procedures. Employers are nevertheless prohibited by law from retaliating against strikers.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: Armed operations in several regions of the country led to further massacres and population displacements. In addition to serious humanitarian problems (epidemics, malnutrition, catastrophic health indicators, etc.) the country faces the seemingly insoluble problem of its socio-economic development despite its potential wealth.

Unions virtually excluded in the private sector: The absence of bona fide trade unions is the rule in the private sector. Most trade unions have no active members and have usually been created by employers to dupe the workers and discourage any attempts at organising, notably in the mining of natural resources. Human rights associations have reported many cases of Labour Code violations in enterprises where the trade union movement is unable to develop, such as the China Railway Engineering Corporation (CREC) which, under the terms of a bilateral agreement between China and Congo, is building or restoring roads and railways. The African Association for the Defence of Human Rights (ASADHO) has highlighted the powerlessness and fear of the labour inspectors who dare not take action against these investors who are so clearly favoured by the authorities. The General Industrial Company (SGI) in Kasangulu has also been singled out for the deplorable working conditions there. On 29 September Golden Misabiko, the president of the Katanga branch of ASADHO, was given a one year suspended sentence for reporting abuses of power and negligence by the local authorities in the uranium mines.

Discrimination against local government workers: The staff of decentralised administrations (towns, regions and sectors) are not unionised and do not enjoy the right to bargain or establish a union. They are on the lowest rung of the state administration ladder and, in practice, constitute a sub-category of public servants.

Refusal to negotiate in the public sector: As an employer, the State has often refused to negotiate with the trade unions. The public sector workers' union has complained of manoeuvres by the Civil Service Ministry to block reforms. The State has ignored resolutions by the Permanent Social Dialogue Framework, a structure set up in 2008. Complaints and appeals by the union have been in vain. In September, for example, the Congo Labour Centre (CCT) lodged a complaint against the government with the ILO because following a serious case of interference by the director of Congo Customs dating back to 2005 (the dismissal of trade union activists and the appointment of a new staff delegate), the director concerned has never been called on to answer the charges.

Two months arbitrary imprisonment for trade union activists: On 19 January, Pépé Nginamau Malaba, president of the Congolese Labour Centre (CCT), was arrested by five agents of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) as he was about to submit a memorandum to the Prime Minister's Office, reporting on corruption at the Ministry of Economy and Trade where he was employed. Two other trade union leaders, Richard Kambale Ndayango and Israël Kanumbaya Yambasa, who co-signed the document, were also arrested. They were held in secret for nearly a month and were ill-treated. After two refusals in February, the three trade unionists were released on 23 March after payment of 150 dollars bail each. The examining magistrate refused to examine the complaint submitted by Pépé Nginamau Malaba citing acts of torture.

Striking railway worker imprisoned and tortured: On 16 March, Mulumba Kapepula was arrested in Lumbumbashi by five agents from the National Intelligence Agency (ANR). A little earlier in the day, during a demonstration by striking workers from the National Railway Company of Congo (SNCC), he had addressed the crowd to deplore the lack of respect shown to railway workers by the Head of State (36 months' salary arrears) in comparison with the ample rewards handed out to the members of the national football team after they won the African Nations Cup. Mulumba Kapepula was taken to the provincial headquarters of the ANR where he was savagely tortured (electrocution, beaten with fists and feet on the face and stomach, fingers squeezed by pliers, whipping). He was charged with offences against the Head of State and finally acquitted on 5 June for lack of evidence.

Harassment and interference at SYNECAT: On 20 April, Jean-Bosco Puna was questioned by police after he was elected general secretary of the National Union of Catholic Schools (SYNECAT). The trade union leader, like many education union activists, had often been harassed by the authorities. He was suspended from work for a year for demanding more resources for education. In September the SYNECAT reported that its general secretary had not been paid for a very long time and that it was awaiting the payment of 19 months' salary arrears. The SYNECAT has also complained of interference by the authorities, who have supported a dissident wing.

Nine demonstrators from public insurance company arrested: On 3 August a demonstration by employees of the National Insurance Company (SONAS) in Kinshasa was repressed by police at the request of management. Nine demonstrators including five women were arrested. The women were released that evening and the men the following morning. The workers were protesting at the bad management of the director of this public company. A few days before the demonstration he had decided to cancel a 50% pay rise agreed with the unions five months earlier. On 7 August, the authorities suspended the director.

Several teachers' unions' meetings banned in Kinshasa: On 4 September, a meeting of members of the Education Unions' Synergy, which groups together the principal unions in the sector, was banned and broken up by police. On 5 and 22 December, two more teachers' unions' meetings were also banned.

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