Afghan trade union faces harassment by government

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Raids were conducted at NUAWE’s office recently and the union was threatened with de-recognition if it did not hand over its property

Credit: NUAWE/ Facebook

The headquarters of the National Union of Afghanistan Workers and Employees (NUAWE) was raided by the Afghan police on May 14. This is not the first instance of such raids. In April 2018, the regional offices of the trade union centre in Kabul were raided twice by armed police and the Afghan military. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has called on the government to  “cease the harassment and intimidation of the NUAWE and to uphold its obligations to respect freedom of association”.

Sharan Burrow, the General Secretary of ITUC, responding to government’s recent anti-union action noted, “We call on the government to cease the intimidation and use of armed force, which constitute serious violations of Afghanistan’s obligations to respect fundamental workers’ rights as a member of the International Labour Organization.”

The General Secretary further noted that the government’s attempts “to take control of NUAWE premises would render the organization’s activities to organize and represent working people extremely difficult if not impossible”.

After Hezb-e Dimokratik-e Khalq-e Afghanistan (People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan), the major union established in 1967, the NUAWE, is among the significant  employees’ bodies in the country. The organization suffered a great deal during the civil war in the 1990s but managed to stage a revival in the 2000s.  

Reports said that the union members were involved in non-violent resistance to safeguard the union’s premises and the union had also approached the court to seek protection under guarantees enshrined in the country’s constitution.

ITUC’s May 16 report suggested that the Afghan government had ignored court proceedings while instructing the justice ministry to cancel the NUAWE’s registration unless the “union handed over its legally acquired property to government.” The report also noted that the government  had disrupted a planning meeting at the union offices earlier in March. NUAWE and ITUC have referred the government’s recent actions to the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Committee on Freedom of Association.

According to the ILO, of which Afghanistan has been a member since 1934, most labours laws in the country are outdated and the government capacity to implement the laws and the conventions it has signed has been minimal. Meanwhile, the overall lack of awareness among employees about these laws, and the largely antiquated job training centres with obsolete curricula have led to the worsening of the situation. There also remains the extremely under-developed micro sectors where scope for social security schemes is limited.   

“Enormous unemployment problems exist in the country. The government’s plans have not been effective in preventing an increasing rate of unemployment,” Maroof Qaderi who is the Chairman of the NUAWE, has on various occasions told the media.


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