Social Dialogue and Freedom of Association

Founding Congress of the Arab Trade Unions Confederation: Statement by Anna Biondi, Deputy Director of ACTRAV

Statement | Amman, Jordan | 01 October 2014
Dear Brothers, sisters and comrades,
Alrefaq Al aezaa, sabah El kheir!
Luwghaty el Arabia, tantahy hona

It is an honor for me to be here with you today at the opening session of this historic juncture of the Arab TU movement. I am very pleased to convey to your congress and to all the brothers and sisters, and comrades attending it, after the video message of the ILO Director General, also the fraternal greetings and best wishes for a successful Congress from the director of ACTRAV, Maria Helena Andre’, who was unable to travel to Amman due to previous engagements, as well as my own and all the ACTRAV colleagues present and away . As brother Abassi did, allow me to mention Walid Hamdan, who retired yesterday after so many years of work, but also Mohamed Trabelsi, Mustapha Said, Abid Briki, Beatriz Vacotto and Giacomo Barbieri who are present.

I am proud to be present at a founding congress that will have at the core of its objectives and principles the building of genuine trade unions capable of promoting workers’ rights, participating actively in defending their interests, and impacting public policies and decisions particularly those pertaining to the social and economic welfare of workers.

Your congress comes, as I mentioned earlier, at a critical point of time when the free Arab trade union movement in the region is struggling to be at the center scene of progress after being, for decades, often sidelined and excluded. I am sure that the path you have taken to establish this Confederation has not been an easy one. However, the struggle and steadfastness of your workers throughout your region has made it a reality. Your organization gives workers in the Arab region a space of hope despite the continued practices of intimidation, legal restrictions and persecution.

The birth of the ATUC is a reflection of the workers aspiration in your part of the world for building free, equitable, inclusive and democratic societies in the region. It is also the embodiment of the sacrifices of all workers who have paid and continue to pay the highest price to promote civil liberties, human and trade union rights (in particular freedom of association and other core labour standards), transparency, decent work, genuine governance and social justice. It is an affirmation that people will be proactive in strengthening democratic societies and governments and to put at bay dictatorships, military regimes, extremism and fundamentalism.

This Congress has all the potentials to be a clear and loud message to all women and men of the region and beyond. The ATUC is the culmination of a workers’ movement that finds its roots in the fight against colonialism and the continuing fight for liberation, emancipation, equality, freedom, human rights, human dignity and participation.
Certainly the establishment of the ATUC on the principles and values of the international free and democratic union movement is not an end by itself but a commitment to strengthen the path towards stable results, in so doing its action is key not only at the national and regional levels but also through being part and parcel of international workers solidarity. You have set your mission to restore confidence and faith in independent and militant trade unionism after years of disillusion and distrust and you commit to reject a model of trade unionism tainted by corruption, lack of independence, and lack of representativeness, in so doing setting a new example that radically cuts with the past and breaks away from archaic and undemocratic structures. The principles of inclusion, gender parity, internal democracy, transparency, and independence, which are the substantial pre-requisites on which the free and independent labour movement can thrive, but also which set the scene for the whole civil society. I salute your efforts not to leave any workers behind, irrespective of their nationality, sex, origin, color, race, faith, and no matter where they work in the public or the private sector, national or migrant, formal or informal, rural or urban, older and younger workers without any sort of discrimination or segregation.

Brothers, sisters and comrades,

The historical juncture brings along also the historical responsibility towards achieving the aspirations of workers in the region for Decent Work and lasting peace based on social justice, as the Director General clearly stated in his video message. It is a quest that cannot but start with their right to associate freely and bargain collectively. Workers have the right to fully use all possible tools, and approaches and exercise all democratic means, including the right to strike, and a great effort needs to be made in order to promote bona fide collective bargaining as well as the shaping of the seeds of Framework agreements across countries with major companies (agreements that can also help SMEs to get fundamental rights) and happy to see ATUC and GUFs collaboration in creating coordinated action in the major sectors of employment.

I insist on collective bargaining as a tool for creating dialogue and trust between workers’ and employers’ organizations and to shape a real tripartite dialogue on socio-economic development including with governments: on wage and working condition policies, strengthening of labour inspectorates, occupational safety and health, creation or enlargement of social protection policies through means coming from fair taxation and stable, quality jobs. Workers’ organizations need also to foster their knowledge and use of the ILO supervisory mechanisms and its jurisprudence in order to gain advancements at national level. I am also proud to point out innovative examples, such as the first training for trade inion lawyers in Arab countries, jointly organized by ITUC and ACTRAV last November here in Amman on the use of International Labour Standards before national tribunals.

I am confident that the newly established Arab Trade Union Confederation will live up the challenges of ensuring freedom of association and collective bargaining for all workers in the region from the Maghreb to the Gulf countries with no exceptions and in line with the universality of ILO standards.

I am aware that you are working in a region that displays one of the highest if not the worst in terms of violations of workers’ rights: inequality still persists, open discrimination against women workers have not faded; child labour is still far from being eradicated; trafficking and forced labour are still endured by migrant workers, including migrant domestic workers.

As an Italian national , I cannot but express the acute sorrow for the thousands of migrants who are finding their burial place in the beautiful Mediterranean sea; a sea that is at the origin of civilization, and where now instead the North South divide is worse than ever: a tragedy on which we need to hold our governments accountable and on which unions need to fight jointly!

The renewed attention to forced labour is important, as it was the adoption of the Protocol to C.29 last June: the ILO sent a strong message in this domain. Let’s then join forces now, clearly and strongly, for example in denouncing the Kafala system that embodies grave violations and exploitation. Brothers, sisters, and comrades, in the same way that slavery cannot be reformed, the Kafala system cannot be embellished: they both need to be abolished once and for all!

Citing outstanding problems in your region does not mean to minimize the many achievements that were made throughout the history of the trade union movement in the Arab world. If we look back, particularly in the last couple of years, we were all encouraged by the successes of the workers in Tunisia in laying the foundations of new historical social contract. The sacrifices of workers in many countries, such as Egypt and Bahrain, in their struggle for democracy and social justice are not to be forgotten, as well as, the building of a trade union front in Morocco in a united effort for a fair and equitable society are to be highly applauded. The strengthening of independent unions in many countries is nothing but the sign of the will of workers to build representative structures; for example, the workers in the Gulf countries, who continue to be denied the right to organize and bargain collectively and where especially women face enormous discrimination , to enjoy their rights and freedoms.

Of course I will not forget Palestine and the struggle of the Palestinian workers. Your newly established organization will also be a great support for Palestinian workers to fight for their right to self-determination and to end the unjust and overdue Israeli occupation to establish a long-lasting and just peace based on the relevant UN resolutions. We are certain that your new organization will be the protecting shield for all workers in the Arab Region whatever the obstacles are.

The ILO has always stood firm in the struggle against injustices, inequality and social exclusion and ACTRAV will continue to provide technical assistance and support to you and your members in your endeavor to promote the right to organize and collective bargaining for all workers without any discrimination. You know that this will require also a review of the trade unions’ organizing methods, but this is why your debate at founding Congress is so important and opening new and important avenues for the region and worldwide, building a just society based on human rights, labour standards, equality and democratic values.

Comrades’ brothers, and sisters,

I want you to be assured that ACTRAV will be on the side of the Arab democratic trade union movement in promoting the kind of societies that are democratic, free, just, and equal. Societies that hold governments and employers accountable, where labour courts are fair and workers are not denied rights, which flourish on diversity, freedom of expression and inclusiveness. ACTRAV as an organic part of the ILO is committed to continue supporting the genuine, independent, representative and democratic trade union movement in its work towards social justice; to affirm tripartism and rights based on ILO standards.

Long live the Arab trade union movement; long live the international trade union movement; long live solidarity and rights at work!