Photograph — Daily Maverick

Throughout 2015, a number of African countries were embroiled in various strike actions, lasting from days, to months. The strikes involved the usual suspects; labour unions, government workers, and so on, and as expected threatened to cripple the economies in which they happened. In some countries, the nature of the strikes were the same, such as in the case of the truckers’ strikes in Lagos, Nigeria, Ghana, and Burkina Faso. Morocco witnessed a rare case of a hunger strike embarked upon by Maati Monjib, a Moroccan professor who was protesting a travel ban placed on him.

As the year comes to an end, most of the strikes are either suspended or ended, while others are just beginning. Below, we take a look at some of the notable strike actions that took place across Africa in 2015.

Nehawu Parliament Strike, South Africa.

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The majority of the members of staff of Parliament in South Africa commonly known as Nehawu (National Education and Allied Workers’ Union) commenced a strike on November 6 which involved their discontent over the issue of performance bonuses and the recent introduction of re-vetting of staff by security.

Employees under the parliament demanded an improvement upon their working conditions, pensions, bonuses, and salaries, and claimed that the African National Congress (ANC) – their alliance partner – was cheating them.

Nehawu’s strike saw clashes between protesting workers and the police, legal interventions, and a form of moral support from the #feesmustfall protesters; students who marched to the Parliament gates around the same period demanding a reduction of their academic fees. Sithembiso Tembe, Chairperson of Nehawu stated that although the causes of both groups were different, they were linked in the sense that as parents, fees affected them as well.

After an initial suspension on November 17, the strike resumed days later following the failure of the parties involved to come to an agreement. The Nehawu strike eventually came to an end on December 2, with conditional agreements reached.

Anambra State judiciary strike, Nigeria.

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Last year, the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) ordered its members to commence a nationwide strike over the failure of courts to implement the financial autonomy granted to state judiciaries by the Federal High Court. On January 25, 2015, JUSUN partially suspended the ongoing strike, and by April most states in Nigeria had suspended their strike.

Anambra State judiciary, however, resumed industrial strike action in September, riding off the JUSUN strike. The mission of the Anambra State chapter of JUSUN was to implement the Consolidated Judiciary Staff Salary Structure (CONJUSS).

Their actions were condemned by workers in the state, as well as the Nigerian Bar Association and other affected individuals, who deemed their action to be detrimental to the judiciary and judicial process in the country.

Although the state chapter was given a seven-day ultimatum on December 15, the strike is yet to be over. The Peace and Justice Group under JUSUN in the state held a demonstration on December 23, calling for leaders of the union to end the strike.

Tongaat Hulett Sugar strike, Zimbabwe.

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Workers with Tongaat Hulett, the South African sugar company, recently ended their three-week strike on December 21, following a salary and wage dispute which saw 16,000 of their staff downing tools. President of the Zimbabwe Sugar Milling Workers Union (ZISMIWU), Freedom Mudungwe, revealed in November that Tongaat employees in South Africa, Zambia, and other neighbouring countries where Tongaat operates were paid twice the amount they received as salary. The workers advocated a 105 percent minimum wage increase to that effect.

Zimbabwe suffered a sugar shortage while the strike lasted, and sugar prices were equally hiked. In addition, sugar retailers were forced to ration the product. Analysts envisioned that the reduced sugar output in Zimbabwe at the time – which was also linked to poor growing conditions of sugar cane in the country – could account for dwindling supplies well into March of 2016.

One of the major factors that contributed to the end of the strike was the threat of a legal action against Tongaat by ZISMIWU and Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Public Services, Labour and Social Welfare. The allegations included failure to remit the monthly payment of the workers to the union, thereby flouting its constitution and the country’s Labour Act.

Presently, both Tongaat Hulett and its workers have reached a settlement of a $10 minimum wage increase which is subject to further negotiations.

General strike, Burkina Faso.

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Following the botched September 17 military coup in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso, trade and labour unions in the politically unstable country announced they were going on an indefinite general strike. The strike was declared amidst mass protests and demonstrations, most of which turned violent. The uproar was in response to coup leader, General Gilbert Diendere seizing the presidential office, by kidnapping interim President Michel Kafando and his Prime Minister, Yacouba Isaac Zida.

Although the unions lifted the strike in some parts of Burkina Faso, the action largely affected businesses, lives, and government activities. Within days of the strike, banks were shut down, and a fuel and gas scarcity commenced. The General Workers Confederation, Burkina Faso’s foremost union, had earlier in April over the reduction of fuel prices.

On Monday, December 14, the Union Action Unit (UAS) speaking through Bassolma Bazie, who is both the spokesman of the unit and Secretary of the General Confederation of Workers of Burkina Faso (CGT-B), announced that the strike has been suspended but not lifted. He further clarified that UAS remained dissatisfied with the disposition of the transitional authorities to their concerns.

UNICOF bank strikes, Ghana.

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Although both intended strikes initiated by the Union of Industry Commerce and Finance (UNICOF) did not actually take off, the tension that surrounded them since the first case was hinted at in July, until December 22 when the second was put on hold, makes the country a natural inclusion to this list.

Between June and July, the union was at loggerheads with Standard Chartered Bank after the bank moved to lay-off over 60 workers in its employ. This move was termed as indiscriminate by UNICOF which served its notice for an intended sit-down strike on July 12, and it was demanded that the laid off workers be compensated. However, Standard Chartered maintained its stance on the dismissals, backed up by the decision of the National Labour Commission on the matter, and the strike was legally dismissed.

UNICOF once again found itself serving a notice to NLC on December 16 over a similar issue, albeit with a different bank. The Agricultural Development Bank (ADB) laid-off 14 members of its management staff as well as other members of its operational staff in November, as part of its bid to restructure and realign its positions and policies. UNICOF’s letter stated that it would commence a sit-down strike on December 23 to express their displeasure at the development.

On December 22, NLC directed UNICOF to put a hold on their proposed action. The issue is still ongoing.

Trade union strike, Morrocco.

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Trade unions in Morocco announced on November 11 that they would be embarking on a general strike starting December 10. The unions which also represent the Morocco’s labour force demanded better working conditions, pay increase, and a revision of the country’s tax system. They also advocated for the resumption of a social dialogue with the government, which had been missing since 2013.

On December 9, the Democratic Labour Confederation (CDT), the Moroccan Labour Union (UMT), the General Union of Workers of Morocco (UGTM), and the Democratic Labour Federation (FDT), the four major unions in the country, enjoined all workers nationwide to participate in the strike which commenced the following day. The strike witnessed a successful level of participation, as thousands of employees took to the streets to protest the Moroccan government’s unilateral decisions over them.

Salary payment strikes, Sudan.

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Between September and December, Sudan witnessed four sets of strikes in different regions across its health, educations, and governmental sectors over the payment salaries. In September, about 120 employees of the African-Union United Nations Mission in El Geneina, West Darfur surrounded the mission’s headquarters, demanding their salaries for the previous month.

In November, six patients lost their lives at the Nyala hospital in the capital of South Darfur because the doctors refused to attend to them. The victims were brought in at night, and the doctors shut the doors against them in lieu of their protest. December witnessed a 48-hour strike in Central Darfur to the government’s delay in paying workers their salaries.

Teachers unions strike, Kenya.

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According to the Daily Nation, education in Kenya has taken a bad hit this year. On September 18, both public and private schools in Kenya were shut down following the commencement of the teachers strike over the increment of salaries in August which saw almost 300,000 teachers absent in classes. The absence of the teachers raised fears amongst parents and the Ministry of Education concerning the safety of the children under minimal supervision.

The strike which involved two separate teachers unions, Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) and Kenya Union of Post-Primary Teachers (KUPPET), continued even after courts called for the teachers to suspend the strike for 90 days and allow for dialogue between the affected parties. Akello Misori, the Secretary General of KUPPET stated on September 28 that they were in it for the long haul and the strike was definitely legal.

However, on October 3, the strike was suspended with respect to the 90-day court order and teachers returned to the classrooms. Even though the government refused to meet the demanded 50 – 60 percent wage increase, most of the teachers expressed happiness at returning to work, as they regretted leaving the academics of their students to suffer.

The five-week teachers strike in Kenya also revealed loopholes in national budget allocation, bringing President Uhuru Kenyatta’s financial expenditures under scrutiny after he refused to meet the wage increase percentage.

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