The Gambia Press Union (GPU) in collaboration with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) held a two day – Seminar on Freedom of Association and Labour Rights from 13 – 14 May, in Kololi, The Gambia. The Seminar brought together 16 journalists including members of the GPU executive to deliberate on issues relating to Labour rights, freedom of association and the right to organize and collective bargaining as guaranteed by ILO Conventions 87 and 98.
In his address to the Seminar, the Assistant Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Information, Communication and Information Technology, Malick Jones, emphasized the need for more solidarity and joint fight for rights and for safety, for the strengthening of professional and ethical standards, for improving the social and economic status of journalists and the fight against impunity. He opined that a number of media owners in Africa have not fulfilled the expectations of journalists in terms of working conditions and press freedom issues. Instead of improving the media situation by labour and professional protection of journalists, domestic media investors are profit-oriented.
The President of the GPU Bai Emil Touray, in his statement at the opening ceremony said that the GPU was elated to be associated with this seminar aimed at building the capacity of the Union on Freedom of Association and Collective bargaining. He highlighted that the GPU has not been very much active in the area of collective bargaining, simply because the Union had concentrated too much of its energy in the fight for freedom of expression and hence could not engage media owners at the same time. He lamented that some of the laws in the country do not allow civil servants to join unions of their choice, which he said is a flagrant violation of the Gambian Constitution and calls on the new Government to repeal some of these laws in order to strengthen the democratic gains that the country has already made.
The Secretary General of the Gambia National Trade Union Congress (GNTUC), Ebrima Garba Cham said that the GNTUC had always stood in solidarity with the GPU during the days of peril and had condemned in the strongest terms possible the attacks on journalists, which had forced many of them into exile. Cham emphasized that the media had played a great role in the fight for the attainment of independence and that most of the unionists who were involved in the struggle were also journalists. He deplored the poor working conditions of journalists in the country and called upon the GPU to engage publishers for a collective bargaining agreement.
The IFJ Senior Programme Officer for Africa, Pa Louis Thomasi in his solidarity statement said that The IFJ holds in top priority issues concerning the freedom of association, labour rights and trade unionism. Journalists unions in the continent must be able to defend the rights and interests of their members. This Seminar therefore is very much important, for the majority of the GPU membership is made up of a large carder of young journalists, who normally are the most vulnerable to exploitation. The GPU must therefore stand on its guard to defend the rights and welfare of this very sensitive corps of journalists.
The two-day seminar focused largely on issues concerning the laws prohibiting freedom of association in The Gambia; Freedom of association and the right to organize; the role of the GPU in enhancing collective bargaining. The Seminar was funded by the IFJ through the Union to Union Project.