Trade unions suspend 4-month strike

Peaceful Assembly

As previously reported on the Monitor, various Beninese trade unions organised a series of strikes in January to denounce a new law inhibiting the right to strike in certain public sectors. Emboldened by the Constitutional Court's ruling on 19th January - which declared the article 50 of the law to be unconstitutional - as lawmakers cannot forbid strikes, but only provide guidelines by which workers can exercise this right, the unions called for a general strike on issues related to work conditions. Deeming the strike illegal, the government reduced salaries during the strike period from January to February. On 2nd March, after a general assembly, Union nationale des magistrats du BĂ©nin (Unamab - National Union of Beninese Magistrates), declared that only administrative judges can decide on the legality of strikes, not the government writ large.

On 7th May 2018, teachers, magistrates and health workers ended their strike. The last three union confederations upholding the strike - ConfĂ©dĂ©ration syndicale des travailleurs du BĂ©nin (Trade Union Confederation of Workers in Benin), ConfĂ©dĂ©ration des organisations syndicales indĂ©pendante (Confederation of independent union organisations) and Union nationale des syndicats des travailleurs du BĂ©nin (National Union of Workers' Trade Unions) announced the suspension of the strike movement after holding general assemblies and "taking note of the objective situation of the state of the movement and the desire of the base to reorganize itself for the continuation of the struggle". The National Union of Magistrates of Benin decided on 4th May to resume its work on 7th May. This followed an earlier suspension of the strike by ConfĂ©dĂ©ration des syndicats autonomes (Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions), ConfĂ©dĂ©ration gĂ©nĂ©rale des travailleurs du BĂ©nin (General Confederation of Workers of Benin) and Centrale des syndicats unis du BĂ©nin (Journalists' Union). This followed a government announcement at the end of March that strikers' salaries would not be reduced. According to the unions, the suspension is more of a  momentary "tactical retreat", rather than an end to such labour-related actions. 

None of the trade unions' demands were met by the government. Although negotiations between government and trade unions has continued within the National Permanent Commission for Consultation and Collective Bargaining - the last round taking place on 17th May - the main stumbling blocks to reaching an agreement include the application of special status for teachers, the reevaluation of bonuses and benefits adopted by the government in 2015 by the former government, and the minimum wage. 

During a general assembly organised on 27th March, students of the three campuses of the University of Abomey-Calavi’s (Cotonou, Calavi and Porto-Novo) and the university centre of Adjarra decided to extend their strike from 72 to 168 hours starting from 9th April. The three main student union associations (FNEB, UNEB, UNSEB – AC) announced the extension in a letter addressed to the Minister of Higher Education on 4th April. As reported previously on the Monitor, protests and 72-hour strikes started at the university campus in Cotonou in February. The students denounced the restrictions on freedom of association on university campuses, the presence of security forces on campus and the increase in enrollment fees, among other issues. Previously in March, the rector’s office of the university announced that student union leaders deemed "actors, instigators of strikes with acts of violence, assault on the Abomey Calavi campus or in its immediate vicinity" would no longer be allowed to run for leadership positions within student unions. 

Expression

Benin dropped six places to 84th out of 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), published on 25th April 2018. RSF cited the closure of several privately-owned media outlets by the High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC), the national media regulator, as one of the reasons for the country's ranking. Although some outlets have resumed operation, Sikka TV - an opposition owned TV station - has remained closed, despite a court order to restore its signal in May 2017. In addition, the decriminalisation of press offences, as promised by President Talon during his campaign, has yet to be implemented.