Guinea - ITUC calls for vigilance
INTERNATIONAL TRADE UNION CONFEDERATION (ITUC)
Guinea - ITUC calls for vigilance and sends international trade union mission
Brussels, 30 January 2007 (ICFTU Online): The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) welcomed this Sunday evening's agreement between the government and the trade unions of Guinea, enabling the calling off of the general strike that started on 10 January. The ITUC is now advising vigilance with respect to the application of the agreement and has confirmed that it will be sending a high-level international trade union mission to Guinea this week. The first members of the mission, which will last until 2 February, will be arriving this evening in Conakry.
In addition to the agreement in principle, reached on Friday, that a Prime Minister and Head of Government would be nominated - an essential demand of the unions - the agreement signed last night includes several economic and social components. These include a reduction in the prices of rice and fuel, a one-year block on exporting of essential products, an increase in retirement pensions and an enhancement of teachers' terms and conditions. An agreement was also reached on "strict respect of the principle of separation of powers", the independence of the central bank (BCRG) and the continuation of legal action "against all predators" who had damaged the "national economy". The last clause specifically names the "boss of bosses", Mamadou Sylla, and Fodé Soumah, the ex-minister and Deputy Governor of the BCRG, whose release from prison by President Lansana Conté himself in December 2006 had inflamed the situation.
The agreement also calls for the release of all people still held following the general strike and demonstrations. According to trade union sources, 13 people were still being held yesterday evening in Conakry and many others could still be imprisoned outside the capital. The document signed yesterday by the government, the social partners and the president of the Parliament, acting as mediator, also forbids any repression against the strikers and provides for the establishment of a committee of enquiry to "seek out and punish the perpetrators of exactions".
Whilst recommending vigilance as to the application of this agreement, Guy Ryder, the ITUC General Secretary, welcomed a process that he termed "a historic success for the Guinean unions, and a genuine, unprecedented victory for the whole of the African and global trade union movement". "The agreement that was reached must be rigorously implemented and respected, given the awful price paid by the workers of Guinea in obtaining it", added Ryder. Based on the constantly rising figures, the repression of the general strike and the associated demonstrations resulted in 59 deaths, including 49 on Monday 22 January alone, together with numerous injuries.
Evaluating that repression, its consequences and the resulting needs for assistance will be one of the main tasks of the high-level trade union mission that will be staying in Conakry from 30th January to 1st February. It will be headed by the ITUC General Secretary, will include the top trade union leaders from the African region, and will receive high-level technical support from the International Labour Office (the executive arm of the ILO, the specialised UN body based in Geneva). (Please see the full list of members of the mission below).
In addition to meeting the highest-ranked ministers, the leaders of the country's social, economic and human rights institutions and the religious leaders who were involved in resolving the crisis, the mission's objectives include expressing solidarity with and lending political support to the Guinean unions affiliated to the ITUC.
In recent days international trade union solidarity with Guinea has been demonstrated in many countries. ITUC affiliated organisations from Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, the Netherlands and France, amongst others, sent messages of support. During the meeting of the Council of Ministers of the African Union (AU), in Addis-Ababa on Friday 26 January, a top official of the ITUC handed a copy of the African trade union statement on Guinea to Alpha Conaré, President of the AU Commission and to Ambassador Said Djinnit, the Ambassador of the AU Commission on Peace and Security - that declaration had been signed in Nairobi on Tuesday 23 January at the World Social Forum (see ITUC press release of 23/01/2007 http://www.ituc-csi.org/spip.php?article613).
In Geneva, the day before, Juan Somavia, Director-General of the ILO, had sent the President of Guinea Lansana Conté an extremely strongly-worded letter expressing his "grave concern" at the "exceptionally serious" events of 22 January. And on the same day, the ITUC in Brussels had contacted the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the European Union (EU), asking them to prepare to impose severe measures on Guinea should the negotiations that had started between the unions and the government prove fruitless. In a letter to the EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Guy Ryder asked Mr Louis Michel to consider, should the negotiations fail, suspending aid to Guinea, freezing individuals' assets in the EU, and denying a visa to President Conté and his partners or cronies in the private sector and to the top officials in his government. The EU had decided last December, in the face of what it regarded as notable progress on democratisation and reforms, to restore its aid to the country, which had been suspended since 2004. According to specialists on Guinea, the EU was also preparing to release 117 million euros in the next few months under the 9th European Development Fund.
In addition to Guy Ryder, General Secretary of the ITUC, the ITUC mission in Guinea will include Mody Guiro and Andrew Kailembo, the President and General Secretary, respectively, of the African Regional Organisation (AFRO), Adrien Akouété, the General Secretary of the "Organisation démocratique syndicale des Travailleurs africains" (ODSTA) and Laurent Ouedrago, ODSA Vice-President. It will be supported by Johanna Walgrave, acting Executive Director (Social Dialogue) at the ILO and by Ibrahim Zakari, specialist in Workers' Activities at the ILO (Geneva), together with Janek Kuczkiewicz, Director of Human and Trade Union Rights at the ITUC and Oumar Dicko (AFRO).