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close this bookTrade Unions in Conflict-Affected Countries: Experiences and Roles in Peace Negotiation, Social Healing, Reconstruction and Development (International Labour Organization, 1997, 30 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1. General overview of the Meeting and its outcome
View the document2. Background
View the document3. Objectives
View the document4. Participants
View the document5. Venue and time
View the document6. Proceedings at the Meeting
View the document7. Conclusions and follow-up action
Open this folder and view contentsAnnexes

6. Proceedings at the Meeting

First part of the Meeting

The Consultative Meeting, chaired by ACTRAV (Mr. Ali Ibrahim), began with a welcome address by the Director of ACTRAV Mr. Querenghi which was delivered by his deputy, Mr. Flechsenhar. References were made to war’s weakening of trade union organizations and the need for the process of nation-building peace, reconciliation and reconstruction during and in the aftermath of war to embrace all the relevant bodies such as the trade unions since the latter form one of the most important pillars of civic and democratic society. Some examples of initiatives undertaken by the trade unions in this area, which remained undocumented and unpublicized, were given. A number of unions, however, lack information and guidance on the roles they could play in the conflict-affected context. Other constraints included lack of a monitoring mechanism to keep track of workers in distress and a defined framework to assist them which made workers in the conflict context feel deserted. The work being done by the ILO’s Bureau for Workers’ Activities for the ILO Action Programme to produce guidelines to fill these gaps was briefly described. Furthermore, the delegates’ attention was drawn to an earlier joint ILO/Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) meeting, held in Dublin at the beginning of 1997, which was attended by union representatives from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Palestine, Northern Ireland and Mozambique. Finally, a number of questions were posed to guide the deliberations. The full text of the address appears as Annex II.

The coordinator of the ILO Action Programme on Skills and Entrepreneurship Training for Countries Emerging from Armed Conflict, Ms. Eugenia Date-Bah, provided an overview of: the Programme; its background; ILO’s comparative advantage and, therefore, important role which was to be fully realized in the conflict-affected context; and the identified critical need for implementation of the Programme’s follow-up to enable the conflict-affected States to benefit from the Programme’s insights and outcome - policy framework, guidelines for national capacity-building, training materials and courses, a compendium of relevant training and employment promotion initiatives and follow-up proposals. She provided a historical account of ILO’s role in post-conflict reconstruction starting from the Organization’s origins under the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 at the end of the First World War and also drew attention to some of the relevant issues discussed by the International Labour Conference in 1941 and 1944 during the Second World War. Particular reference was made to Recommendation No. 71 concerning employment organization in the transition from war to peace which was adopted by the International Labour Conference in 1944. This Recommendation had stressed, inter alia, that “the character and transition from war to peace necessitate special action to facilitate the reintegration and re-employment of the diverse groups” and that governments in dealing with this issue had to plan the various programmes in close cooperation with workers’ and employers’ organizations and to provide training, retraining and vocational guidance. She pointed to the need for re-examination of this Recommendation in the light of current changes in the nature, conduct and impact of modern warfare to strengthen action of the ILO’s tripartite constituents in the conflict-affected countries. Finally, it was noted that the ILO’s active and visible role in the post-conflict context, underpinned by its adoption of a concrete policy on the issue would contribute to enhance its relevance in the current world. The fall text of the address appears as Annex III of this report.

The Assistant Secretary-General of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), Ms. Patricia O’Donovan, shared with the delegates the discussions that had taken place in the joint ILO/ICTU workshop in Dublin. For more than 20 years, the trade unions in Northern Ireland had been struggling to survive in the context of the conflict in their society. They had felt a sense of isolation from not having the opportunity to interact with other trade unions in similar contexts to discuss their common problems and interests. The joint ILO/ICTU workshop served to open dialogue between these trade unions from the three conflict-affected countries. Issues considered included: the role of the trade unions in the conflict situation, especially outside the workplace; how the trade unions could continue to function and have internal democracy in the conflict context; the trade unions’ lack of institutional structures, resources and know-how to respond to the challenges emerging from conflict; the fact that the trade unions sometimes replicated the conflicts existing in the larger society within their structures by drawing their membership from one faction only and thereby not accepting diversity; how to bring trade unions from the different factions together to talk; and importance of considering women’s situation in the conflict context. The workshop made a number of requests to the ILO for assistance to the trade unions in the conflict-affected countries.

Second part of the Meeting

The representative of the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions stressed the importance of the topic being treated at the Meeting and the need for the ILO to provide more time for a detailed discussion of it. The Arab region had experienced several conflicts. In Lebanon for example the conflict had lasted 14 years during which the trade unions had managed to play a role. Furthermore, other trade unions and the ILO had shown solidarity to them. In Somalia, on the other hand, the civil conflict had completely scattered the trade unions. Not much solidarity and support had been demonstrated to them by other unions. He called on ACTRAV to develop technical assistance interventions to make the trade unions aware of their role, together with other bodies of civil society, in the conflict-affected society. Such assistance could cover, for example, training in peace negotiations.

The representative of the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores of Colombia welcomed the ILO initiative on countries emerging from armed conflict and the convening of the Consultative Meeting owing to the relevance of the issue to his country’s trade unions. He referred to the Colombian trade unions’ report to the International Labour Conference which had drawn attention to the violations of freedom of association in the context of “endemic violence” in the country. Both the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations and the Committee on Freedom of Association had recently noted the “alarming violent situation confronting Colombia, which in general makes it impossible for the normal living conditions of the population to be maintained and prevents the full exercise of trade union activities”. A large number of the population (about 900,000) had been displaced, between 2,000 and 3,000 trade union leaders and other unionists had been among those assassinated and others had been tortured and arbitrarily detained. Some trade union buildings had been destroyed. Some unionists had fled the country and were in exile. He stressed the need for trade unions to be independent of government to be able to play an effective role to promote peace. Some of the trade unions in his country had, for instance, criticized the assassinations and other atrocities committed against the population. He identified a number of elements that needed to be considered in the decision-making process concerning peace. They included social investment including employment promotion; involvement of the trade unions and the entry of the State into dialogue with the other social actors; peace culture; displacement and other impacts of conflict on women and children. He perceived the critical role of the ILO in the conflict-affected context which should be reflected in the Organization’s current and future work.

The representative of the National Organization of Trade Unions in Uganda pointed to some of the impacts of conflict on the trade unions and the other population groups in his country. These included threats and forced exile of trade union leaders especially those with views divergent from the rebel fighters; abduction and forcing of children to become child soldiers; and the plight of teachers who had to deal with children including traumatized ones returning from war. He observed that the trade unions could play the following roles in the conflict-affected context: provide counselling to children involved in war for instance (and for this some of the trade unionists could be trained in counselling to facilitate this role); advocate good governance and democracy; provide training in income-generating activities to women to enable them to feed their families; contribute through training to the revival of agriculture in the rebel-held parts of the country which had been adversely affected by the conflict. He referred to a project proposal which the Action Programme’s associate expert, based at the ILO multidisciplinary team in Addis Ababa, had recently assisted the Ugandan National Organization of Trade Unions to prepare a project proposal to seek ILO’s technical assistance for the conflict-affected groups.

The representative of the Mozambique Workers’ Organization (OTM) gave examples of the roles played by his country’s unions in the aftermath of the war. They included education on democracy, elections and how people should exercise their civic duty as voters. They also concerned themselves with impact (including retrenchment of workers) of the structural adjustment programmes introduced by the Government. Attention was drawn to the technical help provided to Mozambique by the ILO, the Italian trade unions and others, for example, in the field of vocational training and reintegration of ex-combatants and former refugees returning home.

The representative of the Federacion Nacional de Sindicatos de Trabajadores de Estado de Guatemala, indicated that armed conflict always led to social imbalance and social injustice, such as against workers. In the past, union leaders in his country were considered as part of the guerrilla fighters and were, therefore, harassed and persecuted. Furthermore, some employers tended not to apply national and international labour standards during armed conflict. The unions therefore had to fight for this. He observed that the new and young trade union leaders, who had emerged after the war in Guatemala, needed training on how to run a trade union and to fulfil the unions’ role as a social partner.

The representative from the Confederacion de Trabajadores de Costa Rica who is also a member of the coordinating body for Central America drew attention to the fact that many trade unions were liquidated in the Central American region during the various armed conflicts that had been waged there. The wars had also contributed to high levels of migration. For example, in Costa Rica alone there were as many as 300,000 migrants from the neighbouring countries. He referred to the ILO’s work in the region and emphasized the need to include the countries of the region in the current Action Programme’s activities.

The representative of the Congres Djiboutien du Travail pointed to the suffering of workers and their unions during war. Many workers in Djibouti were, for instance, forced to join the army to fight between 1991-93. When they were discharged there was no job for them. Furthermore, the Government during war always used the war as a reason to reject workers’ demands and to reduce or not pay wages. The unions were considered as subversive. He also referred to other impacts of the conflict in Djibouti, including disruption of education, adoption of a structural adjustment programme to deal with the adverse economic conditions emanating from the conflict, the large numbers (about 20,000) of demobilized soldiers most of whom had moved to the capital city and needed to be reintegrated. He appealed to the ILO to take greater interest in the post-conflict situation of Djibouti and to assist with the reintegration of the demobilized soldiers into civilian life.

The representative of the Union Syndicats des Travailleurs de Central Afrique informed the gathering about the armed mutiny and the ongoing conflict in his country. Although there had not been an open war, a number of major installations had been occupied by the army which prevented many workers from being able to go to work. There had been job losses. It was difficult for the unions to take a political stand. Various mediation efforts were under way to resolve the problem but without much hope of success. He appealed for ILO’s contribution to this effort and called on the ILO to collaborate with the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in this area. In addition to the country’s internal conflict, there were also thousands of refugees from Zaire and the other conflict-affected neighbouring countries which had created an additional burden. Furthermore, there was the problem of armed banditry. In such a situation, it was difficult to talk about job creation. He specifically called for an ILO fact-finding and needs’ assessment mission to the country to identify what should be done.

The representative of the Union Nacional de Empleados (UNE-FNT) of Nicaragua demonstrated that during the conflict in Nicaragua, the workers took on many tasks such as joining the militia to fight in addition to a number of civilian activities. They were, therefore, able to acquire a number of experiences on how to survive in a conflict situation. Many trade unionists were also killed. After the conflict, attempts were made by the unions to confront the ideological differences and other divisions within their structures with a view to develop a strong unified body. The workers had recently (from 14 April 1997) organized a protest week to, inter alia, emphasize the need for the unions’ involvement in the country’s social negotiation process. He urged the ILO to support the unions in this post-conflict country through training.

The representative of the Sierra Leone Labour Congress stressed the need to examine the root causes of conflict, many of which are economic. In Sierra Leone, for example, they included unemployment, poverty, social injustice in addition to dictatorial political regimes. Among the effects of the conflict were destruction of workplaces, increase in unemployment, separation of families and displacement of large numbers of people with a number of them now living in special camps, and loss of union membership and income. The unions had a major role to play in relation to the above problems. They had decided to advocate for democracy but because the Government tended to view them with suspicion, the unions had to work with other bodies that were more acceptable to the Government such as women’s associations, students’ groups, religious bodies and other civic and nongovernmental organizations. For example, they had together with these bodies formed a National Coordinating Committee for Peace (NCCP). They had organized a workshop on conflict resolution with International Alert. Lack of resources constituted a major constraint for trade union action in the conflict and post-conflict context. With resources, the trade unions could assist the displaced workers currently living in camps. There was a need to examine union structures in the conflict-affected context. He identified many roles that could be played by the ILO in relation to conflict and post-conflict contexts: provide training to trade union leaders in conflict education and resolution; emergency assistance directed to the trade unions; advocate against arms (i.e. for disarmament); emphasize education on democracy; and assist with reintegration programmes for demobilized combatants. He pointed out that the ILO should not only be preoccupied with assisting stable and peaceful countries but also those that were conflict-affected.

The representative of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia highlighted the impact of war on the trade unions in Chechenya, many of which had been destroyed. After the signing of the peace agreement, the Russian trade unions were assisting the workers in Chechenya to re-establish the labour movement, to recreate unions for teachers and construction workers and to help with the physical and educational rebuilding of the country. Both the social partnerships and the social fabric had to be recreated. The ILO should include Chechenya in its work under the Action Programme.