Bissau-Guinean civil workers campaign for the payment of their wages and an end to politically motivated detentions, 2003

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Time Period:  
February 10,
March 28,
Location and Goals
Location Description: 
All throughout Guinea-Bissau
The payment of overdue wages by the Bissau-Guinean government, the resignation of President Kumba Iala, and the release of several opposition figures, especially radio journalists.

Between early February and late March of 2003 labor unions representing civil servants protested against the Bissau-Guinean government for its failure to pay its workers and for the arrest of several prominent opposition figures that criticized the government.

On February 10, 2003, leaders of the National Union of Workers in Guinea-Bissau (UNTG) and the General Confederation of Independent Unions proclaimed a seven day general strike that would take place the following week after a protest march in downtown Bissau by 250 human rights activists and labor leaders. Protestors at the march demanded the resignation of President Kumba Iala, and union leaders aimed to force the government of Guinea-Bissau to pay workers, some of whom had not been paid in a year. The stated goals of the strike also spoke out against the arbitrary detention of political opposition to Iala, including five members of a private radio station arrested by police after they spoke out against the government.

Over the next week, activists staged sporadic protests throughout the country in protest of Iala’s rule, politically motivated detentions, and the government’s refusal to pay its workers. The Union for Change, the Guinea-Bissau Resistance Party, and the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde formed a united coalition against President Iala in the upcoming elections and held a rally on the 15th. The Bissau-Guinean Bar Association formally issued a complaint to the government following a series of illegal arrests and restricted access between those detained and lawyers and family members. Zinha Vaz, a Member of Parliament from the RGB-Bafata Movement and João Vaz Mane, the deputy President of the Bissau-Guinean Human Rights League were some of those arrested. João Vaz Mane had criticized President Iala over the radio, but was released on the 19th after three weeks in captivity. The Human Rights League and the UNTG co-authored a statement to the international community detailing the government’s ignorance of human rights, union rights, free press, and individual freedom from unfair arrest. At this point in the campaign, many diverse groups joined the protests and created a loose coalition of opposition political parties, labor unions, and human rights groups with common goals.

On Monday the 24th, a strike called by the UNTG and the General Confederation of Independent Unions ended the same day it had started after negotiations between unions and the government proved satisfactory for both sides. The government promised to begin paying the striking civil servants, and also said it would give workers free medical care and food subsidies.

Following the February 24 strike, the activist scene went quiet for almost a month. The activists had achieved their most pressing demands, and were therefore satisfied. However, because of the government’s slow response to the protesters demands, the workers began another strike on March 17. Civil servants still had not received their wages or bags of rice, despite the government’s earlier promise. Protesters were also angry about the expulsion of journalist Ensa Seidi from National Radio, and stated the incident as one of their main grievances. More than ninety percent of public servants participated in the strike, including ten separate ministries.

On the 27th, leaders called off the strike. Government officials met with representatives from the UNGT, the General Confederation of Independent Unions, and representatives from the Catholic and Muslim communities. The government promised to finally pay the due wages of its civil servants beginning the next day and also said that they would issue two bags of rice to each government worker.

The campaign achieved moderate success. It did not force the resignation of President Iala, but it did make the government pay overdue wages and pass out bags of rice to civil servants. While it did not stop all politically motivated detentions, it put pressure on the government through messages to the international community that resulted in the release of several detainees.

Research Notes
"Guinea Bissau; Joint Opposition Front Formed." UN Integrated Regional Information Networks 18 Feb. 2003. Lexis Nexis. Web.

"Guinea Bissau; Strike Ends Following Agreement." UN Integrated Regional Information Networks 26 Feb. 2003. Lexis Nexis. Web.

"Guinea-Bissau Labor Leaders Call General Strike." Xinhua 10 Feb. 2003. Lexis Nexis. Web.

Guinea-Bissau: Large Number of Public Servants on Strike. RDP Africa. Lisbon, Portugal, 18 Mar. 2003. Lexis Nexis. BBC, 19 Mar. 2003. Web. Transcript.

Guinea-Bissau: Opposition, Workers' Union to Hold Joint Protest. RDP Africa. Lisbon, Portugal, 18 Feb. 2003. Lexis Nexis. BBC, 19 Feb. 2003. Web. Transcript.

Guinea-Bissau Releases Rights Deputy President after Three-week Detention. RDP Africa. Lisbon, Portugal, 19 Feb. 2003. Lexis Nexis. BBC, 20 Feb. 2003. Web. Transcript.

Guinea-Bissau: Unions Call off Strike as Government Agrees to Pay Wages. Radio France Internationale. Paris, France, 27 Mar. 2003. Lexis Nexis. BBC, 28 Mar. 2003. Web. Transcript.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Danny Hirschel-Burns, 20/03/2011