Dealing with precarity: labour unions in the cotton sector in Burkina Faso

Recherche menée par Bettina Engels

This project examines how labour unions deal with precarity. Specifically, it examines the large segment of the working class that works for low and intermittent wages, has hardly any job security, whose access to social security and workers’ rights is severely restricted, and that, as a consequence, faces a high risk of social exclusion and suffering from welfare cuts, and a high cost of living.

The existence of precarious, informal, seasonal, daily and marginal labour points to essential questions of labour unionism: which segments of the working classes are organised, how and by whom? Whose interests do labour unions represent? Who participates in labour union activities and struggles, and who benefits from their achievements?

The project explores these questions using the cotton sector in Burkina Faso, West Africa, as a case study, specifically the parastatal cotton company SOFITEX. With roughly 5000 employees, SOFITEX is the largest company in the country, and accounts for 80 percent of all cotton production. Of its 5000 employees, a little over 1500 are permanently appointed; the others are seasonal labourers, employed for less than six months a year. Seasonal labourers can be divided into two categories: the saisonniers are hired every year for the season (more or less from November to April) and are compensated by a social security fund for the rest of the year. The occassionels are hired on a monthly or weekly basis; they do not have access to the social security fund and are denied basic workers’ rights, including the right to vote for the work councils. As a consequence, they are, thus far, not represented by the labour unions.


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