Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Industrial Relations: Life in Guinea returns to normal following strike

Traders return to Madina market in Conakry as a nine-day strike ends

Shops opened, public transport resumed and markets were bustling in the Guinean capital on Monday after the government made significant concessions to trade unions, ending a crippling nine-day strike that was marked by violence.

The leading Confederation of Guinean Workers (CNTG) and the Union Syndicate of Guinean Workers (USTG) called off the strike late Friday after the government agreed to salary rises of up to 25 percent for public sector workers, and small increases in transport and rent allowances.

The biggest victory belonged to teachers. The government agreed to permanently absorb some 12,000 contract instructors, who have lengthy salary arrears, into the civil service.

Unions had been pressing for sharp reductions in prices for rice and fuel. The government agreed to lower the price of a 50-kilogramme bag of rice by 25,000 Guinean francs, or US $5, to 85,000 Guinean francs, or US $17. The government refused to budge on set prices for fuel, but agreed to let unions hereafter participate in meetings to raise or lower fuel costs.

"What we have achieved in the negotiations is not entirely what we wanted, but this is to show the Guinean people and the world at large that we are a trade union organisation and not a political party," said Ibrahima Fofana, USTG secretary general. "We instituted our action in the name of workers, and we are calling it off in their name as well."

The unions managed to galvanise the public to protest government policy where the country's divided opposition parties have largely failed.

Observers said there was a general sense in Conakry that the government would oblige by its agreements with the unions. Failure to follow through on concessions after a week-long strike earlier this year helped trigger the latest work stoppage.

"The government this time will respect its commitment and is willing to implement all we've agreed here in a bid to coexist in a peaceful atmosphere," said government spokesman and Interior Minister Moussa Solano.

President Lansana Conte must sign decrees for the agreements to become effective.

Students protesting government policy clashed with security forces on Monday after teachers joined the strike, preventing final exams from being held. The government later postponed the exams indefinitely. It was not immediately clear when they would resume.

Rioting broke out in Conakry and other towns on Monday and Tuesday.

Police said that 11 people were killed in the two days of violence, including two students. The regional African Meeting for the Defence of Human Rights (RADDHO) said 21 people were killed, dozens were wounded and several others arrested. Local Guinean press reports said some 20 people were killed, including several students.

Guineans were happy to be able to return to work and go about their normal activities on Monday.

"The agreement is good. We only hope all will be implemented in time for our children to go back to school," said Marie Camara, a trader at Madina market.

Reproduced with the kind permission of IRIN
IRIN 2006
Photo: Copyright
Alhassan Sillah/IRIN
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies