Sierra Leone Labour Congress

 

Background

Frequent labour unrest then prevalent in Sierra Leone and other British colonies led to the issuance of a special directive by the Colonial Secretary of the Home Government to the Colonial Administrator in 1930 requiring them to enact appropriate labour legislation on minimum conditions of employment and trade union organization. Consequently, the Sierra Leone Labour Laws embodying trade union ordinance was enacted in 1939 in concurrence with the Wage Councils. Joint Industrial Council and Joint Consultative Committee were established which acts as a central advisory body on labour legislation and policy. This marked a new era in Industrial Relations in Sierra Leone. The trade unions were then formally registered in accordance with the provisions of the Labour Laws. The first trade union that was registered is the All Seamen’s Union. Today, Sierra Leone has comprehensive Labour Laws including the Trade Union Act, Regulation of Wages and Industrial Relations Act, Employment Act, Factory Inspectorate Act, Workmen’s Compensation Act, National Social Security and Insurance Trust.

In 1942 the British Government sent a trade union envoy, Edger Parry to Sierra Leone to help restructure the Labour Movement. Efforts by Parry (who later became Sierra Leone’s first Labour Commissioner) culminated in the establishment in 1946 a streamlined trade union movement along industrial lines. The Sierra Leone Council of Labour (SLCL) was also formed in the same year. It remained the only national coordinating body of unions until in 1962 when as a result of a rift, a rival organization known as the Sierra Leone Labour Congress (SLLC) was formed. The two organizations merged in 1976 to form the present day Sierra Leone Labour Congress.

 

What is the Sierra Leone Labour Congress (SLLC)

The SLLC the umbrella organization of trade unions in Sierra Leone with 29 affiliated registered Trade Unions under Cap 221 of the Law of Sierra Leone 1971 and that operate and service workers in both the formal and informal sectors of the economy. At present, the SLLC membership is over 250,000 workers drawn from nearly every occupation in the formal and informal sectors of the economy. It is not a union but a union of unions. Each members union of the SLLC remains autonomous, conducting its own affairs in the manner determined by its own members. Each decides its own economic policies, carries on its own contract negotiations (except in cases where two or more unions belong to a joint trade group negotiation (except in cases where two or more unions belong to a joint trade group negotiating council), sets its own dues and provided its membership services.

Each of the 27 affiliated unions is free to withdraw at anytime from the SLLC. But through its voluntary participation, it plays a role in establishing overall policies for the SLLC, which in turn advances the interests of every union. The SLLC serves its constituent unions by speaking for the whole labour movement before the Government, representing workers in the Joint Consultative Committee (JCC), Joint National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT) and other Institutions as provided for by law. The SLLC represents workers in world affairs through its participation in international labour bodies and through direct contact with the central labour organizations of free countries and world over. As a coordinating body, the SLLC coordinates such activities as labour education, political education, research, minimum wage fixation, shared union strikes, alliance-building, community services, conflict resolution, etc, of its affiliated unions. The aims and objectives of the SLLC are to defend and promote the working and living conditions of workers, promote and protect human rights, social justice and democracy at the workplace and wider society.

The SLLC and its affiliated unions have been through a period of extreme hardship because of unrest and conflict in the country during the last decade. Thousands of workers have lost their employment because of the turmoil but the SLLC has continued to build alliances to stay strong so that it could promote the welfare of vulnerable groups and guarantee democracy.

 

Structure of the SLLC

Trade Unions affiliated to the SLLC for the formal sector

Formal Sector Trade UnionsDeclared Membership
Artisans public works of services employees union2,600
Clerical banking insurance accounting petroleum union3,010
Construction workers union2,500
Electicity employees union2, 200
Hotel food drinks tobacco entertainment workers unions3,100
Union of mass media, financial institutions, chemical industries & general workers1,500
Martime & waterfront workers union1,000
Municipal & general government employees union1,000
National union of civil servants1,500
National union of forestry & agricultural workers1,500
Sierra Leone fishermen’s union1,000
Sierra Leone dockworkers union1,500
Sierra Leone health services union3,010
Sierra Leone national seamen’s union1,000
Sierra Leone teachers union36,000
Sierra Leone union of postal & tel. employees union1,054
Sierra Leone reporter union450
Sierra Leone union of security, watchmen & general workers3,200
Skilled & manual productive workers union810
United mineworkers union1,602

 

Trade Unions affiliated to the SLLC for the informal sector

Informal Economy Trade UnionsDeclared Membership
Indigenous petty traders association55,000
Indigenous photographers union1,000
Sierra Leone artisanal fishermen’s union17,106
Sierra Leone traders union105,000
Sierra Leone musicians union500
SL Bike riders Union45,000
SL Motor Drivers Union 50,000
Omolakay & Wheel Barrow Riders Union 5,000
Union of Timber Factory Owners & Workers 1,500

Finances of the SLLC

The SLLC’s operations are financed through regular membership dues and assistance from donor cooperating organizations. Affiliated unions on behalf of each member pay the per capita taxes. The current per capita tax for affiliated unions is 500 leones (equivalent to US$ 0.1) a month to support the SLLC. A detailed accounting of the SLLC’s finances covering income and expenditure is presented to each quinquennial conference.

SLLC & Politics

In Sierra Leone the unions have to date neither established any organic link nor adopted the principle of any political party or Government. Their primary goal still remains to be the pursuit of the economic interest of members. The SLLC coordinates their voice on political, legislative and other vital issues at both national and international levels. This non-partisan posture has over the years-ensured greater unity within the movement and enhanced its credibility in the entire polity.

As political affiliation in Sierra Leone remains largely based on familiarity, ethnic and regional lines, it has always been in the best interest of the trade unions to play non-partisan role in order to be able to transcend all these sectional divides. That notwithstanding, SLLC and its affiliated unions have almost always never shy away from the task of swimming across the political waters. The SLLC though not a substitute for political parties engages in politic because of the role of the State in the economy. This have proved to be effective means for guaranteeing justice, social and political equity as well as achieving purposeful development particularly for the poorer and marginalized sections of society and overcoming the crisis that has befallen the traditional narrowly based type of unionism.

Sierra Leone trade unions have over the years in large part operated as business job-conscious unions. Their core function has and still is collective bargaining and membership coverage has not only been limited to wage earners but also to the informal sector.

 

Address

35 Wallace Johnson Street

P.O. Box 1333

Freetown, Sierra Leone

Website: www.sierraleonelabourcongress.org