Stop the repression of Somalia’s independent trade unions

Author
Published date
24 May 2018
The General Secretary of the Federation of Somali Trade Unions (FESTU) and Secretary General of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) writes about the challenges trade unions face in Somalia
Photgraph of Omar Faruk Osman, Secretary General of FESTU
Omar Faruk Osman is General Secretary of the Federation of Somali Trade Unions and Secretary General of the National Union of Somali Journalists

Today the Federation of Somali Trade Unions (FESTU) publishes a new report: ‘Organising and Resisting: Somali Trade Unions Advancing Human and Workers’ Rights’.

The repression of trade unions in Somalia is multi-layered and entrenched.

Members of Somali trade unions are commonly threatened, pressured or even offered lucrative jobs to entice them to leave their union.

The government also sponsors the unconcealed takeover of unions by organising non-unionised people to hold elections without following the bylaws of the concerned union.

Trade unionists are constantly harassed, vilified and demonised in a bid to discredit and endanger them with the ultimate goal of validating their persecution.

In practice, no free trade union can exist in the country without the blessing of a government ministry. Otherwise, the union will be rendered an unlawful organisation.

Government ministries also restrict unions administratively through the registration and provision of official documents, which need the political blessings of the relevant ministry.

Human rights violations are documented in ILO reports on freedom of associations on Somalia and reported by UN human rights experts.

In the face of these violations, Somali workers and their trade unions, under the realm of the Federation of Somali Trade Unions (FESTU), have paid a very dear price for defending the non-negotiable right for free and independent trade unions to exist.

UK involvement

The UK has a strong diplomatic presence in Mogadishu, with the FCO establishing an Embassy there. The UK is also the penholder of Somalia affairs at the UN’s Security Council and UN Human Rights Council.

According to information published by the Independent Commission on Aid Impact (2017), the UK was the second largest donor to Somalia in 2015 – providing £122m to support efforts to build a viable political settlement and a functioning state.

And of course, our countries have strong historical ties through the a large Somali community in Britain.

Photograph of Omar Faruk Osman and colleagues
All we want is freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly

Trade unions are not the enemy

Our trade union movement is not the enemy of the government and we totally reject the insinuation that we are “government rejectionists”.

All we want is our rightful space and our constitutionally and internationally guaranteed rights of freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly.

We want the leaders of Somalia to stop government officials from trying to steal the names and identities of trade unions from their rightful members and leaders to give to government puppets.

The Somali government must stop writing letters crafted with the intention of delegitimising, discrediting and destabilising trade unions and aimed at robbing them of their identity.

The government does not exist to rob its own people, so attempting to rob working people of their voice and the democratic institutions that represent them must end now.

Photograph of Omar Faruk Osman with colleagues
We are more determined than ever to fight for free and independent trade unions

International solidarity

Those in public office can call us anything and spread malicious information all they want.

But no matter how much harassment we face, no matter how scared our members are, no matter how much our leadership is defamed and restricted, we are more determined than ever to fight to the last drop of our blood for free trade unions and for our right to run them without being under anyone’s thumb.

Above all, this is a blessed fight for social justice in our motherland.

Our comrades at the British TUC and its affiliate, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), have a historic relationship with Somali trade unions.

This started back in the days when our journalist union, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), was formed, when there was a campaign to support Somali journalists from oppression by warlords and Islamic courts.

We remain very thankful for the TUC’s strongminded and continued solidarity with FESTU and NUSOJ.