Social Partners in Burundi - Stick Together in the Political Crisis

By Liberat Bigirimana, Callixte Nkuru, AEB, and Thierry Nshimirimana, COSYBU, managers Votresalaire.org/Burundi

Introduction

Since 1993, when Burundi ratified the 87th ILO-Convention Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, the freedom of association in Burundi is in general guaranteed. So far, 43 trades unions are gathered in two confederations and there is one employers’ organization which covers both private and parastatal companies from the informal and formal sector. The most representative professional organizations are the Burundi Employers’ Association (AEB) and the Burundi Trade Unions Confederation (COSYBU). That position entitles them to participate in tripartite negotiations in accordance with the labor law. However, the government attempted several times to create ‘yellow’ institutions of employers’ and workers, especially in the public sector. Despite the existence of those competing organizations and the government’s efforts to undermine the strength of the trade union, the relationships between the social partners is quite good. Also, tripartite consultations are well developed.

The Social Partners during 3 Months of Political Crisis

During the recent (2015) period of unrest in Burundi employers, workers, as well the public at large were suffering because social life in all its all dimensions was paralyzed. The cause of that prevailing paralysis is political, whereas employers and workers are not influential enough to change the political stalemate. The protest of trade union COSYBU against the high cost of living and the AEB-speech of 5th May 2015 in which the employers’ representative urged both government and opposition to negotiate for peacebuilding led to intimidation of COSYBU-members and the – temporary – suspension of their participation in the National Council of Labor. Yet, we do expect the country to overcome the present political crisis and that the ensuing stability will allow us to pursue our lobbying for the revision of labor laws to match current realities in the business environment.

The other tripartite bodies are participation of social partners in some public institutions’ or governing bodies, and the National Social Dialogue Committee (CNDS).

The presence of social partners in governing bodies of some public institutions has created and enhanced established relations between social partners. In such contexts it has happened in some cases that workers and employers formed a united front to prevent the government from harming their common interests. In the meantime the Minister of Labor continues to request support from employers on specific issues where they can offer expertise in the field of labor relations.

National Social Dialogue Charter

Next to that there exists the National Social Dialogue Committee (CNDS). This body was created after the agreement between the social partners in 2011 to prevent, sensibly reduce and settle labor related conflicts peacefully. That agreement was laid down in the National Social Dialogue Charter. The National Social Dialogue Committee is composed of 7 employers, 7 workers and 7 Government representatives. The mission of CNDS is to receive, analyze and settle peacefully national or sectoral labor related conflicts, before they are taken to courts or lead to violence. It was created to foil the persistence of conflicts and strikes, especially in the public sector. The positive impact of that body so far deserves special mention because of the number of major disputes already solved during its 2 years of existence.

The good collaboration between social partners in Burundi is also made easier by the attitude taken by the Minister of Labor, who is an expert of tripartism matters.

The Impact of WageIndicator

When we launched the WageIndicator project the public debate was dominated by the open conflict between the government and workers on the issue of salary harmonization in the public sector. Thus, any suggestion to hold meetings with salary as the main topic would have simply been seen as an incentive to revolt. However, because of the bipartite character of the project, i.e. fostering dialogue between social partners, we have somewhat later been allowed to organize debates with employers and workers that had a positive impact on professional relationships. This was made possible by the debate’s awareness raising focus, the effect of fair work on motivation of workers, and good relationships at the workplace. After these debates people could successfully be directed towards the WageIndicator website for further information about Minimum Wage and other labor issues.

The second phase of the project meant to target people from the informal sector through AEB, the employers association. This proved to be quite difficult, given the fact that most of those working in the informal sector didn’t go to school nor can they access the internet easily. Nevertheless, leaflets in the local language with information on core provisions which regulate labor relations and social security were provided, as well as information about trade unions for easy participation in collective bargaining to bring about better working conditions.

Despite the prevailing worrying political and security situation, AEB and COSYBU had worked out a draft for a Ministerial Ordinance. It was meant to establish a new Minimum Wage, replacing the outdated version. They could take this initiative, given their prominent position in the national labor market and in the field of institutionalized labor relations. That important document was scheduled for discussion in the National Labor Council’s session of June 2015. That session unfortunately did not take place due to insecurity, unrest and political instability.

Slump in Web Visits due to the Crisis

The website votresalaire.org/Burundi has been visited by a large number of visitors since its launch. The steady increase in numbers was however not spared by the crisis. Early 2015 there was a slight dip in numbers, due for a large part to the fact that most visitors use the internet when they are at work. And many people could not reach their work places for - at least - a couple of months. 


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