Mozambique: Assembly Grants Trade Union Rights to State Workers

Maputo — The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Wednesday passed a government bill establishing trade union rights for workers in the public administration,

Deputies from the ruling Frelimo Party and from the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), voted in favour of the bill, but the parliamentary group of the former rebel movement Renamo abstained en bloc.

The problem was that Renamo too had submitted a bill on the same subject, but had included provisions on the right to strike in the public service.

While the government submitted its bill to the Assembly about a year ago, the Renamo bill is much more recent, and plagiarises the government document. Almost all the articles in the Renamo bill are identical, word for word, with the government bill. The only substantive difference is that it adds a section on the right to strike.

The government, however, believed that union rights in the public administration and the right to strike are separate issues which belong in two different pieces of legislation.

The Assembly's Constitutional and Legal Affairs Commission argued that the right to strike in the public sector should be included as amendments to the “General Statute of State Functionaries and Agents”, which is the document governing labour relations in the public administration.

The Commission even drafted a set of such amendments, covering who is empowered to call strikes in the public service, the advance warning that must be given, the right to picket peacefully, the minimum services that must be maintained, and a ban on public sector employers resorting to scab labour to break strikes.

But Renamo would not be moved. It wanted its bill and nothing else. The government bill did not include a section on strikes and so could not be supported. “Trade unionism without the right to strike means nothing”, declared Renamo deputy Jose Palaco.

Frelimo and the MDM, however, believed that it was not opportune to throw both issues into the same law. The government bill, providing the legal framework for trade unions to operate in the public administration, took logical priority. Only after the establishment of trade unions and professional associations could one establish a legal regime for the right to strike, they argued.

Furthermore, the Renamo bill did not provide an estimate of its budgetary impact, which is a legal obligation for all bills. Renamo simply copied the Ministry of Finance estimate for the costs of the government bill. Renamo was thus claiming that its clauses on the right to strike would have no budgetary impact at all, which Frelimo found hard to swallow.

Introducing the bill, the Minister of the Public Service, Vitoria Diogo, said it was intended to ensure the independence and autonomy of trade unions from the state, political parties and religious bodies. It establishes dialogue with the employers as the main mechanism by which unions in the public sector should defend the interests of their members.

Not everyone in the public service will enjoy trade union rights - excluded from the bill are the defence and security services, prison workers, the fire brigade, judges and prosecutors, the tax administration, and staff who work in the president's office.

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