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The ITUC is demanding an end to the detention and suspension of workers in Djibouti, in the education and railway sectors, following the arrest and imprisonment of six teachers and the suspension of 37 railway workers.

Six teachers, members of the country’s teachers’ union, have been detained over the past month, following their arrest on unfounded accusations of disclosing the contents of a 2019 baccalaureate examination. Despite a provisional court order for their release, they are being kept in detention. Another teacher was sentenced to three months in prison on defamation charges after she expressed support for her colleagues on social media. That sentence has been suspended, due to the fact that she is eight months pregnant.

The railway workers, employed by the China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC), have been suspended for several weeks after protesting against low wages, insecure jobs and poor working conditions including a lack of drinking water, toilets and accommodation. The Chinese state-owned company has refused to abide by Djibouti’s labour code and has not responded to a request from national trade union centre UDT to discuss and resolve the problems. China is channeling hundreds of millions of dollars of investments into Djibouti, including the construction of one of the world’s largest ports, a new airport and a military base. Djibouti already hosts US and Japanese military bases.

“Djibouti has a very poor track record on workers’ rights, with workers who seek trade union representation often subject to rights violations, as well as ongoing repression against the leaders of the trade union centres UDT and UGTD. The ITUC calls on the government to immediately release the detained teachers and drop the fabricated charges against them. It must also ensure that the railway workers are reinstated and compensated, and that the Chinese conglomerate that employs them pays fair wages and provides decent working conditions. China, and indeed any country investing, also needs to ensure that labour and other human rights, as well as environmental standards, are upheld,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

A briefing on the situation in Djibouti was given to international and regional trade union representatives at a conference jointly organised by the ITUC, ITUC-Africa and the Horn of Africa Confederation of Trade Unions (HACTU) last week in Addis Ababa, on the role of trade unions in peace-building and democracy.

“Denial of fundamental workers’ rights represents a serious threat to democracy and peace. Ensuring that these rights are respected is all the more important in an area such as the Horn of Africa, which has been riven by conflict over the years,” said Burrow.