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ILO, US to Help East Africa Strengthen Labor Relations

By Nasilimika Sanga, Tomric Agency (Dar es Salaam), 11 May 2001

Dar Es Salaam - A unique US$3.5 million worth technical cooperation program aimed at Strengthening Labor Relations in East Africa (SLAREA) was launched here yesterday at a ceremony also attended by officials from United States Department of Labor and the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The major objectives of the two-year SLAREA project were to strengthen freedom of association, collective bargaining and strengthen labor relations between the government, employers and employees. Funded by the United States Department of Labor, the project is implemented by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda in consultation with the ILO.

Launching the project, the Tanzania's Vice President, Dr. Omar Ali Juma said East African countries should strengthen labor relations in order to cope up with on-going economic reforms and increasing liberalization and globalization. He said the EA countries were going through a political transition coupled with increased democratization and respect for fundamental human rights.

"These positive developments are still fragile and need strengthening and consolidation on all fronts, including the world of labor," He said in a speech read by the Minister of Labor, Youth development and Sports, Prof. Juma Kapuya. Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania had requested the ILO to assist in the review and reform of their labor laws and institutions to align them with the requirements of a modern market and private sector driven economy.

Dr Omar urged more than 100 participants including ministers of labor, permanent secretaries and representatives of employers, workers and International Labor Organization to address major industrial relations problems in East Africa. He named them as presence of outdated labor laws, which are inconsistent with ILO Conventions including Conventions No. 87 and No. 98 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining. Others are inadequate governmental, institutional and human capacity in the prevention and settlement of labor disputes and conflicts, which disrupt industrial peace and production and damage development prospects.

The Executive Director of the Social Dialogue Sector of ILO, Geneva, Sally Paxton, named the medium-term goals of the project as to bring labor laws in conformity with the principles of freedom of association and collective bargaining as set in the conventions No. 87 and 98. Others are to improve the mechanisms of prevention and settlement of labor disputes and to strengthen workers' employers' organizations. "In the long-term, we want to create an enabling environment for workers and employers to freely join organizations of their own choosing and to be free to bargain collectively and without discrimination," she said.

Mr. Ali Ibrahim, Director of the ILO Area Office for East Africa said the project was important because was the first of its kind in the sub-region and prevailing socio-economic environment needed such a program. "Considering the socio-economic-changes taking place, as a result of globalization and economic liberalization, the theme of the Tripartite Summit is relevant because of linkages it provides between economic imperatives and the human rights issue," he said.

Explaining, he said globalization has not only created new opportunities for material development, but has also made the global economy more closely integrated than ever before. "It has, however, somewhat weakened the ability of the individual states to manage poverty reduction," he said, adding that the declining influence of the state in economic area proved new opportunities and growing influence to investors in the management of the national economy.

"Therefore the inadequacy of social criteria at the global level to redress the negative impact of globalization on the lives of the poor and the vulnerable, if care is not taken, effect workers' rights and deprive the workforce of its fundamental rights such as elimination of both forced and child labor," he observed. He said mechanisms of collective bargaining and other frameworks of social dialogue can only be genuine, effective and recognized if all partners have the complete freedom to act.

Closed today the meeting also called Tripartite Summit was attended by over 90 high-level participants from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, labor-related institutions, and senior representatives of the EAC, ILO delegation and officials representing US Department of Labor. The project is part of a commitment to promote the Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its follow-up adopted by the ILO 1998.

A primary objective of the program is to align labor laws in East Africa with the principles of freedom of association and collective bargaining. The project will require technical assistance with the on-going review of the content of draft labor laws, revised legislation and the dissemination of provisions of the revised law to key stakeholders in the society at large.

Copyright 2001 Tomric Agency. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).