Message of International Labour Day: This year’s May Day calls for concrete steps towards a new social contract

This May Day, the Federation of Somali Trade Unions (FESTU) joins the workers and trade unions in Somalia and around the world to commemorate this special day designated to the indispensability of the struggle and courage of workers. On this day we emphatically underline our unequivocal demands for peace, social and economic justice for workers in Somalia. 

This year, our salutations and recognition of the contributions of the working people of Somalia, including those who have lost their lives while trying to earn a living and improve their working conditions, are intensified as we find our country in unprecedented waters. 

The COVID-19 and its impact on the way we live and work has impacted workers disproportionately. Whilst the pandemic has affected all sectors of society, it is the poor and working classes that have felt the brunt most severely. Workers are forced to continue working in the absence of safety measures such as PPE provision and clearly-defined workplace policies regarding COVID-19. This has resulted in cases of morbidity and mortality that have left families grieving, vulnerable and without breadwinners.

FESTU President Ahmed Said (L) and FESTU General Secretary Omar Faruk Osman (R)

The economic downturn as a result of the raging COVID-19 placed great strain in the labour market, and in turn, on workers. Many employers, failing to adhere to national labour regulations, chose to reduce wages, terminate employment engagements without proper procedures and sacrifice the wellbeing of workers and their families rather than endure cuts to profits. This exploitation of workers continued unabated for much of 2020 and into 2021, a situation that proved doubly difficult given the high food prices and scarcity of employment. Many workers were forced to contend with the conditions for fear of loss of income altogether and an inability to look after family and loved ones. 

This exploitation of workers played out during a period where, ironically, Somalia should have been celebrating its workers’ courage, commitment and contributions. Workers kept the country afloat during the pandemic and workers continued to show up in the frontline, despite risks to their health and safety. 

Millions of Somalis continue to hold out great hope and enthusiasm for peaceful elections. However, at the moment, our country finds itself in political disputes and at an electoral impasse. This is unacceptable and likely to contribute to further social and political instability. Such a climate impacts on decision-making more broadly; it will inevitably affect workers and ultimately fail to create an environment conducive to labour rights, peace and security. Workers and their families who constitute the majority of the nation are the prime victims of violence and instability. 

FESTU calls for political leaders to adhere to their 17 September 2020 agreement on a revised election model for 2021 polls, a framework widely believed to be considered critical for entrenching an effective federal system of governance. 

We demand that politicians set aside their personal ambitions and rivalries and put the country, its people and its workers first. Somalia can turn a corner on its history of conflict and instability but only if politicians stop holding the country hostage by failing to reach consensus on the elections.”

Somalia continues to grapple with the tragic reality of violence and extremism. The innocent victims of such incidents are often civilians, workers and their families. Once again, workers are collateral damage in political and ideological conflicts that appear unceasing. We call upon the Federal Government of Somalia and the regional administrations to double their efforts to control armed groups and facilitate peace and stability in the regions most affected.

In the context of the multi-faceted crisis presented by COVID-19, delayed elections, lack of protection from shocks, climate crises and continued violence and conflict, Somalia desperately needs a new social contract. We want job creation to be a key component in the new social contract as a facilitator for recovery and resilience. In addition to job creation, we demand the new social contract to include enforcement of labour rights, social protection, equality for women and other marginalised groups, and inclusion. 

Until then, we will continue to fight tirelessly for workers to enjoy all the rights due to them. 

Wishing all our workers a happy and safe May Day.

Ahmed Osman Said President of FESTU 

Omar Faruk Osman General Secretary of FESTU 

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