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Burkina Faso: Thousands March Against Privatisation and for Higher Wages

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
July 18th, 2002

Thousands of workers went on strike on Thursday and marched through the main streets of Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, to protest against privatisations and to press demands for salary increases. The procession and strike were organised by the country's trade unions.

"Through this strike and procession we just want to demonstrate our dissatisfaction with the government's silence on the legitimate demands of workers," the unions' spokesman, Liliou Jean Mathias, told IRIN in Ouagadougou.

Sources told IRIN that thousands also marched in the second largest town, Bobo Dioulasso, 360 km west of Ouagadougou. Private and public sector activities were affected in both towns. All banks, for example, were closed.

The workers, who also went on strike in April and May, want a 25-percent increase in salaries and retirement pensions, and a reduction of income taxes. These amount to 10 percent of monthly salaries, which have hardly increased since 1994, three years after Burkina started to implement programmes prescribed by the International Monetary Fund. On the other hand, the cost of basic services have gone up: water by 114 percent and petrol by 50 percent.

The minimum wage in Burkina Faso is CFA 25,000 (about US $38) per month. More than 45 percent of the country's 11 million people live under the poverty line, set at CFA 72,000 (US $109) a year.

According to the unions, workers' woes have been compounded by privatisations, which have cost about 5,200 jobs, directly affecting 42,000 persons when dependents are included. Last year the government said it had earned CFA 11 billion (US $16.6 million) from the sale of 16 state companies since it began the privatisations a decade ago. It said it intended to sell another 13 companies, including water and telecommunication utilities.

Prime Minister Ernest Paramanga Yonly met union leaders on Saturday in an unsuccessful attempt to have them cancel their protest. He said he would meet them again in September.

"We hope the government will respect its commitment," Liliou said.

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