Burkina Faso: Informal economy at the centre of solidarity

Maternity protection in the informal economy

It’s 5.30 a.m. in Loumbila, a small village on the outskirts of Ouagadougou; Salissa gets up with the sun.
There’s the children to dress… the breakfast to prepare… it’s a scene from everyday life in rural Burkina Faso.

(Salissa) Every morning I help the children dress and then go into the garden.

Salissa is a market gardener,… and a young mother.
Her second child is 4 weeks old.
Just 10 days after giving birth, she was already back at work, doing 10 hours of gardening a day. She has no alternative if she wants to feed her family.

(Salissa ) – My thighs ache, but I have no choice.

In Burkina Faso, 80% of the active population works in the informal economy. Like all the other mums in informal work, Salissa has no right to maternity leave – a luxury enjoyed by the rare few women with social security coverage.
This situation could, however, see a change, with the unionisation of the informal economy.

(Sawadogo) The union will look into how we can help her. She said she went back to work in order to feed the family. We will see how we can help her to get some rest after the birth.

Hélène Sawadogo is the head of the national union of fruit, vegetable and associated workers, SYNATRAFLA, which came into being in 2005.
Its formation is the direct result of a project carried out by the various trade union centres in the country.
Financed by the International Labour Organisation and the Danish International Development Agency, Danida, the project has succeeded in creating 5 sectoral trade unions within 6 years.
Market gardeners, welders, hairdressers, seamstresses, motorbike mechanics, …all of them now have a union structure to defend their rights and represent their interests.
As Soumaila Linguani, the PRASEI coordinator, explains :

(Linguani)- These 5 branch organisations covering the informal economy have set up a national body called the National Council of the Informal Economy. That council brings together the leaders of the unions representing the informal economy and representatives of the national union centres, together with representatives of the government, via the Employment and Labour Ministry, and employers’ representatives from the National Employers’ Council.

Recruiting new members … Awareness raising is crucial. More than 500 men and women have been trained in trade union work. Their role is to explain to workers why they should join a union and, above all, to listen to their demands: less police raids, less taxes and more social protection.

(Sawadogo)- It all takes a lot of effort. Since these people cannot read or write it is hard to get them to understand things and convince them. So we have to visit them several times, repeat things again and again and make it clear that what we are offering is in their interests. You can only get their support by appealing to their interests.

Hélène sees each new member as a victory. Against the background of poverty, paying monthly membership dues of 1000 CFA Francs is a gesture that signifies an escape from anonymity, a return to dignity, the gaining of rights…

By paying these union dues, Salissa will also have access to MUPRESSI, the provident social fund created as part of the project… Thanks to the fund, members will have access to micro-credits and genuine social protection.
For her 3rd child, Salissa will at last be able to benefit fully from her right to maternity leave.

(Filming and production for the ITUC : Pierre Martinot
Video and Website post production work: Benoit Collienne)

More information on trade union organising in the informal economy in Burkina Faso and the struggle to secure relevant social protection measures, particularly in the area of maternity protection, is included in the new (12-page) Union View