Spotlight interview with N’diouga WADE (CNTS-Sénégal – National Confederation of Senegalese Workers)

“Faced with the tragedy of irregular migration, people must be informed and given alternative employment opportunities”

N’diouga Wade, President of the Senegalese liaison committee of the Mauritania-Senegal bilateral project for strengthening the capacity of trade-union groups to defend the rights of the migrant workforce , explains how the unions have established themselves as the ultimate actor in the management of work migrations. With a dual priority: to provide employment alternatives in a bid to fight illegal emigration and to protect migrants who have settled in Senegal by fostering the organization of the informal sector, in which the majority of these male and femal migrants are employed.

Within the framework of the Senegalese-Mauritanian trades-union partnership on migrants, what concrete grass-roots actions have you carried out?

Given the age-old links that unite our two peoples and the ongoing displacement of the populations within our two States – which are countries of departure and transit, as well as host countries –, it was necessary to set up a common trade-union policy to enable the concerns of working migrants to be dealt with appropriately. Implemented under the coordination of the CGTM-Mauritanie (General Confederation of Mauritanian Workers), which oversees the Nouakchott immigrants’ reception office, this joint ITUC-backed programme has enabled a centre to be set up on the Senegalese side, in Dakar. Furthermore, we have implemented a scheme to raise local awareness aimed at areas that are zones of transit and departure for the migrants. The human dramas involved in illegal emigration to Europe are harrowing; so many people have lost their lives during their attempts to make the crossing. We must make young people understand that Europe is not the Eldorado they imagine it is, and that people smugglers are criminals. We have set up regional liaison offices in Kaolack, M’Bour and Saint Louis, and a significant amount of data has already been gathered. In September last year, we organised a workshop on the protection of the rights of the migrant workforce, in St Louis, the capital of the northern region of Senegal, in conjunction with our Mauritanian colleagues in the CGTM. As a port town and point of departure for many migrants as well as being a frontier crossroads for the northern route between our two countries, St Louis occupies a key geographical position. The active engagement of the regional CNTS union in St Louis has also prompted us to make it a key site in our joint programme on migrants.

What actions have you carried out regarding the institutional actors?

The State wanted to make migration a “no-go topic” by maintaining a lack of clarity on the phenomenon through failing to provide reliable statistics. But thanks to our work in the field and our fruitful contacts with the ILO and the IOM, the unions will be recognized from now on as key actors in the management of labour migrations. It is our work in close proximity with the most relevant workers – those in the field – that gives us our legitimacy. In 2008, we organized a large seminar in Dakar, attended by representatives of the CGTM-Mauritanie, the five Senegalese ministers responsible for migration matters, and other Senegalese trade-union group members of the ITUC (CSA (Confederation of autonomous unions), CNTS/FC (Forces of Change), UNSAS (Senegalese national union of autonomous trade unions), and UDTS (Senegalese democratic union of workers), the ILO, the IOM, and migrants’ associations. The diversity of participants at this workshop illustrates the desire of our confederation to bring together all the actors responsible for migration issues at the national level. In 2008, the ILO officially handed the CNTS the responsibility for training migrants destined for Spain, particularly in risk prevention in the workplace. In particular, we provided group training for young people bound for the Spanish hospitality and elderly care sectors. For its part, the IOM actively involved us in several training workshops.

What are your demands regarding legislation?

We are engaged in a campaign of advocating ratification by Senegal of ILO Conventions 97 and 143 relating to the protection of migrant workers’ rights. These are basic tools. We are also engaged in the international trade-union campaign for a convention that will at last protect domestic workers, as many migrant women are subjected to appalling living and working conditions.
Why and how have you created your partnership with the migrants’ associations?
In 2008, we signed an agreement with the coalition for the fight against young people’s illegal emigration (CLCECJ), which covers over 25 young people’s associations. Following the massive departure of open wooden boats (or pirogues) for the Canaries in 2006, many young people were then repatriated from Spain. The conditions of this return were very tough. The Spanish provided the young people with work contracts, but their method of distribution was highly unfathomable, and very few of the young people concerned were able to actually benefit from it. We collaborate, for example, with the collective of those who have been repatriated from Spain (CORAES), and with the national association of repatriated people, survivors and affected families (ANRAF). These associations work towards the rehabilitation of young people and also assist the families (wives and mothers) who have lost their husbands or children at sea. But there is a shocking lack of resources. We want to strengthen our collaboration with these repatriated-migrants’ associations; this is essential if we want to be in touch with the difficulties in the field and to bring them to the attention of all the institutional actors and others responsible for these matters. The principal motivation of the young people who attempt illegal emigration is the lack of decent jobs. The majority of them are qualified and/or have carried out professional training. We need to challenge the government on the policy of reintegrating these young people into the jobs market, and also demand more transparency regarding access to professional training and employment.

Are you engaged in bilateral cooperation with trade-union partners from the North of the Mediterranean?

We work mainly with our partners in Spain, France and Italy. With the democratic French confederation of employment, CFDT-France (French democratic labour confederation), we have concluded an agreement on the support and care of migrants on French soil. With Spain (CCOO (workers’ commission) and UGT (general workers’ union)), the cooperation is particularly dynamic. Initially, the Senegalese government did not involve us at all in the bilateral agreements between Spain and Senegal, geared mainly towards the security approach, mostly via the European border-security programme, FRONTEX. It was the Spanish unions that allowed us to take part in the process. The idea is to work together, at departure and arrival, for the protection, education and organization of migrants facing very difficult conditions in the destination countries. Spanish union officials came to explain in person the explosion of unemployment in Spain following the credit crunch, and we were able to create an awareness programme in every region. We demand more transparency and democracy in the selection of male and female candidates for emigration. The major problems from the start are the mismatch between experience and the employment offered, ignorance of the language – which poses problems with social and professional integration –, and lack of information on working conditions, salaries, accommodation, medical cover, and administrative hassles, which arouse intense frustrations on arrival. We also raise the question of the policy of assisting with reintegration on returning for those migrants who only have temporary contracts within the framework of circular migration. In practical terms, from the time they arrive at the Spanish airport, the Senegalese women workers who come to carry out temporary contracts are taken care of by union officials. Thanks to the workers’ commission, CCOO-Andalucia, we carried out site visits to farms, to check the living and working conditions of our compatriots in the fields.
We also have a project with UGTT-Tunisie (Tunisian general labour union) and the CGTM-Mauritanie, as well as the Moroccan CDT (democratic labour confederation) and FDT (democratic federation of labour), for the opening of liaison offices and organizing migration-information seminars.

You emphasize the importance of guaranteeing the portability of social contributions, especially with Italy?

This is a major worry for the Senegalese who have emigrated abroad, particularly for those who are too old to continue to carry out heavy labour, especially in the construction industry. But they are trapped; they can’t come back because of the problem of retrieving their social security contributions. There is an agreement on this issue with France, but in the Netherlands the lack of a bilateral agreement means those who come back lose 50% of their retirement pension. With regards to Italy, on the basis of the cooperation established with the trade-union group CISL, a letter of intent was signed in 2008 with the Italian CISL and the Senegalese minister of the exterior, aimed at signing a convention on social security. This is mainly a matter of ensuring that the Senegalese in Italy benefit from family allowances and invalidity pensions both in Italy and Senegal, and can receive their retirement pensions once back in their country of origin, and that families of deceased migrants should benefit from pension reversion. However this process has stalled. Spain has also asked for an agreement, but that is holding up proceedings on the Senegalese side. There are no fewer than five Senegalese ministers in charge of the Senegalese abroad. There is no coordination; everyone is vying for the biggest slice of the cake, which is slowing things down.

What is the situation for migrants who have settled in Senegal?

In Dakar, when you take the motorway to go to work in the morning, you see rows of young Guineans selling fruit at the roadside. You come back to the same place at 8 o’clock at night and they are still there! These are marginalized people; nobody cares about them. Now we want to work more on taking care of migrants who have settled in Senegal. In cooperation with the Mauritanian CGTM and support from the ITUC, we want to go out and find them, and organise them.

These migrants living in Senegal survive in the informal economy: how would you approach them?

Everyone talks about the informal sector, but launching a long-term unionisation strategy, that’s a tough challenge. Often, there are problems with establishing loyalty and with the lack of human resources for supervising these particularly vulnerable male and female casual workers. Within the scope of union cooperation with various European partners, our approach centred initially on awareness raising and training sessions. With the CGSLB – the Belgian affiliate of the ITUC –, we have implemented a project centred on the training and organisation of the informal sector. For example, bicycle taxi drivers in the town of Kaolack are now well organised.
We now want to go further, by offering them services that are useful to them. With the backing of CCOO (Spain), mutual savings and credit societies are going to be set up in all the regions in Senegal – this is a union first. Covering the whole country, this network will amount to creating a new national bank. It isn’t only a matter of putting structures into place; we are also going to provide the training to make these structures work.
The women’s CNTS committee is very active regarding the informal sector (1). Fish scalers and those working for wholesale fish merchants, domestic servants, bus-station operatives, dry cleaners, laundry maids... 11,000 women from the informal sector have already joined. Female street sellers, who suffer particularly from police harassment, are members of the international Streetnet network, which fosters a very rich trade in experiences.
The women’s and young people’s committees are at the sharp end of this campaign to unionise the informal sector. This is essential for the future of the union movement.

So, protecting the informal sector and protecting migrants are two priorities that are linked?

Unionisation of the informal sector is a key factor in the protection of the rights of migrants who have settled in Senegal. We are pleased with the proceedings of the ITUC-backed Senegalese-Mauritanian bilateral project. Our Secretary-General, Mody Guiro, is personally very committed to this priority in favour of the migrants, and there is still a major task ahead in terms of visibility and protecting their rights.

Interview by Natacha David

(1) See the interview with Fatou Bintou Yaffa (CNTS-Sénégal), “Training is a priority objective for improving the situation of domestic workers”

- See the interview with Moulkheiry Sidiel Moustapha (CGTM- Mauritanie), “Combating silence and impunity in order to help migrant domestic workers”

- For further information on the ITUC-backed experiment in Malaysia, see the interview with G.Rajasekaran (MTUC) “Helping migrant workers is helping Malaysian workers”

- For further information on the ITUC-backed experiment in Costa Rica, see the Union View “Helping migrants to organise themselves”