Presentation on theme: "Leadership Training Workshop with EI in collaboration with GTU on the theme : Women & trade unions. 23 – 25 July 2014."— Presentation transcript:
Leadership Training Workshop with EI in collaboration with GTU on the theme : Women & trade unions. 23 – 25 July 2014
1.General information on trade unions 2.Women and trade unions 3.Women’s involvement in union activities 4.Increasing women’s participation in trade union’s activity A presentation by Mr. Y. Fokeerbux
Trade union in Mauritius dates back to the colonial period. It started in the year 1930. The workers under the leadership of Dr Maurice Curé, Emmanuel Anquetil, Guy Rozemont started organising to defend their rights. The workers were very much determined to fight the colonialist against the inhuman treatment. Some people even paid for their lives at that period.
The first Labour Day was organised on 1 st May 1938 by Curé, Anquetil and Sahadeo who held a public meeting which gathered a huge crowd of around 35 000 workers at Champs de Mars.
The first strike in Mauritius was staged by Dock workers on 1 st September 1938 organised by Anquetil. Some 350 dockers were jailed. 12 dockers were prosecuted. Industrial relations had worsened to such a point that a State of Emergency was proclaimed.
On 7 th September 1938 Anquetil was exiled to Rodrigues along with his 15 year old son, John. He returned from exile on 30 th November 1938 and he continued the workers’ struggle.
In July 1938, the Government appointed six labour inspectors for the first time. They were :: 1. Mr. J.N.Roy 2. Mr. G. Ramgoolam 3. Mr. G. Mayer 4. Mr. K. Hazareesingh 5. Mr. R. de Robillard 6. Mr. S.C. Ahmed
Industrial unrest had spread to the agricultural sector as well in the same year. Sugar cane workers had started to protest against their harsh and unbearable working conditions and pay. Strikes and demonstration marches in the agricultural sector were spearheaded by H. Ramnarain and Jugdambi. The first Minimum Wage Board was set up in 1939. But unfortunately, most of its recommendations were rejected by the workers. There was no Tribunal or Industrial Court as we have today. Consequently, the industrial issues could not be pursued further for redress to the satisfaction of workers. Therefore, strikes and demonstrations march became very regular all over the island.
A historical demonstration of workers is that of Belle Vue Harel which ended in police firing, bloodshed and death on 27 September, 1947 where Mrs Anjaley Coopen, a pregnant women worker along with three other male workers died.
Anjaley Coopen, the Mauritian symbol of matyrdom in the history of labour struggle
The three other victims were Mr. Kistnasamy Mooneesamy, Mr. Moonsamy Moonien and Mr. Marday Panapen. Mrs Anjalay Coopen, Kistnasamy Mooneesamy and Mr. Moonsamy Moonien died during the shooting while Mr. Marday Panapen died nine days after at the Jeetoo Hospital.
In the history of labour struggle, this event is remembered as the ‘Belle Vue Harel massacre ‘ which took place on 27th September 1943. These four sugar cane workers were killed and became the martyrs of the Mauritian working class movement.
Anjalay Coopen, an important historical figure of early modern Mauritius, has become a tangible and iconic symbol of the Mauritian people’s struggle for their human rights against British colonial tyranny and sugar planters in the 1940s.
Collective bargaining was not possible in the 1940s as Industrial Associations were organised on a regional basis. Following the ‘Belle Vue Harel massacre,’ Mr. H. Ramnarain went on a hunger strike in Goodlands which lasted for twenty two days.
Following that hunger strike, a Commission of Enquiry was set up presided by M. Sydney Moody and one of the recommendation of that commission was to request for an expert who would guide the Trade Union movement.
It was on 22 March 1945, when Mr. Kenneth Baker arrived to advise the government, that Trade unions came into existence. He also advised government on issues pertaining to Labour Associations.
1945 would always remain a memorable year in the history of Trade Unionism. On 04 January 1945, Mr. E. Anquetil registered the “Engineering and Technical Workers Union” having as membership the artisans and non- agricultural workers all around the island.
He also set up the first Workers Federation: “Mauritius Trade Union Congress” comprising of all Unions that existed at that time in 1946. It was in the same year that Anquetil sought and obtained affiliation to the “World Trade Union International”
Employees of the Civil Service also formed Trade Unions.(1945) · Government Railways’ Workers Union · Government Printing Trade Operatives Association · Mauritius Government Servants’ Association · Government Teachers’ Union.
The 01 May 1950 was proclaimed as a Public Holiday, following a motion tabled at the Legislative Assembly on 29 April, 1949.
During the same period, a unity among Trade Unionists developed. There was an amalgamation of the “North and Central Rivière du Rempart Labourers Industrial Association” and “ Mauritius Agricultural Labourers Union” into “Mauritius Agricultural Labourers Association” (MALA), which in turn changed its name into “ Plantation Workers Union” in 1959.
In July 1963, the “Mauritius Trade Union Congress” and the “Confederation of Free Trade Union” merged to form one confederation: Mauritius Labour Congress.
On the Civil Service side, with four Unions in 1945, a claim for a “Central Whitley Council” was made and its first meeting was held on 23 March 1949.
Under the impulsion of Guy Rozemont, many Trade Unions were created namely: · Electrical and Telephone Workers’ Union · Government General Clerical Association · Government Manual Workers’ Union · Government Nursing Association, and others.
Mr. Eddy Norton, the then General Secretary of the “Government Servants’ and Other Employees Association” was instrumental to the creation of the “Federation of Civil Service Unions”. The FCSU obtained its registration on 12 March 1957.
In1969, in the wake of a new political party, the MMM ( Mouvement Militant Mauricien), the Trade Union Movement took a new turn. New trade unions were formed which were associated of their political ideology.
Stoppage of work became a regular feature. The national economy was worsening. The government had recourse to a new law: The Public Order Act was proclaimed in 1970.
Under the initiative of trade unions, with the impulse of the MMM, workers of the bus industry went on a general strike which lasted more than 15 days. A State of Emergency was thus imposed. Trade union leaders were arrested and some Trade Unions of General Workers Federation, of MMM obedience were suspended.
On 18 December 1973, the Parliament voted the famous IRA (Industrial Relations Act). The IRA became effective as from 07 February, 1974. Under this law, the Registrar of Associations was empowered to investigate in internal matters of the Unions and their finances. Repressions against Trade Union leaders were so rigid that many of them faced trials, and imprisonment.
A new law, the Employees Relations Act (E. Re. A), replacing the Industrial Relations Act became in force in September 2008. It is also pitiful to note that for multiple reasons, the number of Trade Unions has continued to increase. We have more than 325 Trade Unions, around 22 Federations and 9 Confederations. Paradoxically, the number of Union members is getting low. Less than 20% of the total workforce is unionised.
However, since its inception in 1945, the GTU has defied this statistical reality by attracting a solid enrolment and retention of its membership. Almost all the government primary school teachers are members of the Government Teachers Union.
The educational statistics reveal that more than 75 % of the teaching force of the primary schools are females. The majority of them are GTU members. This evidences that the GTU caters for its members irrespective of gender.
The history of labour movements and trade unions across the world, particularly in America and the European countries is older than that of Mauritius. After the World War, trade union movements got much momentum following the belief of socialism.
However, the participation of women in trade unions remained low although there was an increase in women enrolment. This was due to the different pattern of work choice of women. Women preferred the ‘white blouse jobs’ and difficult works were for men only.
During the last century, women's participation in the labour force was limited by traditional cultural, educational, and legal practices. Women's work outside of home and marriage was restricted to a handful of occupations such as domestic service, factory work, farm work, teaching and health care.
Following the expansion of the work market, more and more women started joining the labour force. However, women’s representation in trade unions still remain under- represented.
Data on women’s representation in education unions, including data from previous EI (Education International) surveys, consistently shows that women constitute the majority of the teaching force and the union membership, but they are underrepresented in the union leadership.
Although the periods of growth in women's trade union membership usually coincided with overall union expansion, the unions themselves cannot claim the sole credit for organising women workers. That task fell to women themselves. The Women's Trade Union League (formerly the Women's Protective and Provident League founded in 1874) became more militant and abandoned some of the policies of its predecessors. The secretary of the League, Clementina Black, moved the first successful equal pay resolution at the 1888 Trades Union Congress (TUC). The League supported strikes and encouraged women to join existing trade unions.
Yet, it should be pointed out that women have made strides of achievement against discrimination and equal pay for equal work. This has been possible due to women’s militancy through the Women Trade Union League which was integrated in the TUC in 1921.
A study by the International Labour Organisation (ILO 2008) reveals that women make up a majority of teachers unions membership: Almost two third of the unions that responded the survey have between 50 to 80 % female members. The global average is 60 % female members.
African teacher unions have the lowest percentage of female members (average 40%). Three quarters of African unions have fewer than 50% female members. - Caribbean teacher unions have the highest percentage of female members (average 76%). Almost all Caribbean unions have over 70% female members. In the other regions, the average of female members lies between 55 and 70%, but there is a great variety within the regions (minimum: 3%; maximum: 93%). In Mauritius, being given that the teaching profession is becoming highly feminized, GTU has almost around 75 % of female members.
While women represent the majority of union members in most regions, they are underrepresented in the union leadership. The higher the decision-making body, the lower is the percentage of women.
When it comes to leadership positions in EI’s member organisations, the data shows that women are strongly underrepresented in the front line (24% presidents, 34% general secretaries) and better represented in the second row (48% vice-presidents, 42% deputy general secretaries), but even there, the percentage of women is under 50% and far lower than their proportion in the membership. There are regional differences: - In Africa and North America, the proportion of female members is well reflected in presidents and vice-presidents, but women are underrepresented in general secretaries and deputy general secretaries. - In the Caribbean, women are strongly underrepresented in general secretaries. The other positions more or less reflect the proportion of women in the union membership. - In Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific, women are underrepresented in all high positions. In Europe that especially concerns general secretaries; in Latin America and Asia-Pacific especially presidents.
Factors that prevent women to participate in union activities: 1.Lack of understanding about the benefits of union membership 2. Lack of time due to family responsibilities 3.The union is not sensitive to the specific needs of female workers 4.Cost of trade union subscriptions 5. Male domination of trade union activities 6. Fear of reprisals from the employer for having joined a trade union 7.Discouragement or hostile reactions from colleagues 8. Discouragement or hostile reactions from their spouses or families
Many unions across the world have mechanisms for gender equality. The GTU also has a mechanism although it is not statutory. It must be further enhanced. Since the 80s, GTU has a Women’s wing which celebrates the International Women’s Day (8 th March). The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November) must also become a current annual feature. There is no discrimination for women’s representation as School Delegates and participate in Delegates’ Meeting.
RECOMMENDATIONS 1. GTU must seriously think about gender equality and women’s representation in the front line of leadership positions. 2.The number of women at the Committee level must be increased. 3. Co-opted seats must be allocated to women. 4.Regular trainings must be organised for women members. 5. Women members have shown that they can rock the streets. They must take initiatives to protest against cases of discrimination against women in any work sector. 6. Organise exhibition on women’s struggle. 7. Encouraged to voice their opinions through articles on gender equality in trade union in the union’s newspaper and magazines. 8. Organise health education for women. 9. Women Wing should work in cooperation with international organisations. 10. Women members must be encouraged to prepare research papers on gender issues and protection of women at work.
References 1.Ashok Ramnarain: A brief history of trade unions in Mauritius 2.L’Express 3.ILO research paper 2008