Wednesday Feb 21

Fair Labor Conditions in Morocco Show Small Progress

In September, my associates and I joined three associates with ReAct France and Morocco for the 2017 ACORN International Organizers’ Forum. Laila Nassimi, Bouchra Rhouzlani, and Marielle Bencheboune introduced us to various human rights groups in Casablanca and Rabat. The purpose of the forum was to educate us on the country’s social issues and efforts of the local human rights organizations. One issue that continues to plague the country throughout the current regime is poor, unfair labor conditions.

Several local activists agree that the monarch has a history of unfair labor treatments. Under the former king, Hassan II, citizens could count on him imposing sanctions that favored his kingdom instead of the people. He would limit trade deals with foreigners to usurp power over available merchandise to local vendors. As a result, his actions forced vendors to resort to smuggling goods (mainly clothes) to sell in order to make up for their losses. Additionally, Hassan II would incite division between migrant and native workers and fail to enforce labor regulatory laws. Unfortunately, following Hassan II’s death in 1999, Mohammad VI maintained his father’s practices as he succeeded him to the throne.

To preserve his kingdom, King Mohammad undermines local merchants by creating their dependency on his regime. One activist we met shared a story about several street sellers forming solidarity and writing a proposal to the state. In it, they asked the state to give them land, and they would find funders to build a commercial building so they could sell items inside. Their request was due to the state making a previous proclamation that the authorities were planning to build commercial markets and malls in the locations where the street sellers sold their goods. Reportedly, the king rejected the proposal and gave the workers an option to rent a tent from him and the government instead, or limit their selling to their own neighborhoods where they paid utilities. Restricting sellers to their communities puts limits on their profits and may force sellers to relocate. Non-compliance to his decrees could result in a significant loss of income for vendors and support to their families. To continue his corruption and authority, the king decrees that if someone wanted to be a street seller, they would have to commit to providing any information about friends and families at his request, as told by a local organizer.

Labor Fight: A continued fight for justice

Human rights organizations in Morocco want better wages, health insurance, and gender equality in the workplace. They also long for fair treatment on the job site, more job opportunities, and the right to unionize without facing the government’s harassment. Most of the groups we met want benefits for natives and migrants whether they are informal or formal workers. However, they face several oppositions that make the victories a little tougher to gain. The groups we spoke with seemed to agree on at least two barriers that affect their progress— (1) the king and (2) the present ideology of the indigenous people (which includes their loyalist views toward the regime and traditions). According to Lalia, an activist with ReAct Morocco, Moroccans lack an understanding of current social issues, which presents another barrier. Racine, founder of a local social and human development group, had concerns that “locals don’t know where to go to fight” for social justices, which impedes their fight for progress.

We asked several activists how Moroccan human rights organizations plan to overcome barriers and oppositions to achieve social and economic growth, specifically progress with labor conditions; each group could agree on the problems, but they struggled with developing organized strategies to gain reform. Representatives from two groups we met, PADS and Afrique Culture Maroc, suggest that developing a culture that embraces diversity, accountability, and freedom (among other attributes) is the solution. On the other hand, F.A.D.A.E. offered there solution— “Progressive changes would come when citizens obtain freedom within public space.”

Labor Laws and Poor Conditions

Labor and human service issues are apparent on the streets of Casablanca. Children panhandle and sell goods on the streets during school hours like skilled workers. Young kids (about six to ten years old) stood on sidewalks asking strangers for money—a practice not allowed in many parts of North America. The young street sellers appeared to be pre-teens and teens. It was unclear how many hours of schooling these children missed or whether they attended school at all. One crew member noted seeing a young child working in the same location for at least four hours. Other obvious issues included young kids working in unsanitary conditions, a lack of food, and protection to shield them from the outdoor elements. One could not help asking activists about the possibility of the young workers performing forced labor. Local activists told us that forced-child labor continues to plague the country, particularly Casablanca, the economic capital of the nation.

Activist, Bouchra, explained that children in rural areas are less likely to attend school due to a lack of resources; therefore, forcing families to use children in the informal working sector. This type of work for kids is a form of forced child labor. The Moroccan constitution sites the minimum age of employment as 15, and it warn employers of a penalty for breaking the law. As pedestrians trampled the sidewalks, no one appeared concerned about this vulnerable population of young workers. No one stopped to advocate for them to return to school or assist with basic resources and transportation. Problems with child labor may have decreased slightly on paper since the 20 February protests, according to local groups, but they still exist in reality. Child labor creates a greater risk for children not to graduate high school, complete a post-secondary education, or trade school. Child workers are also at risk for becoming domestic laborers. Children as young as eight years old perform domestic work for elitist families, as reported by a local activist.

Domestic workers are vulnerable for exploitation  by employers, according to Ali Lotfi, director of the Democratic Labor Organization (ODT). Most migrant and domestic workers either are young or have limited education. Predator’s target orphaned or abandoned little girls for forced domestic labor. Domestic and migrant laborers, whether child or adult female, are subject to various types of abuse from their employers. Groups like ODT, Afrique Culture Maroc (ACM) and Association Democratic Women of Morocco (ADWM) fight for fair domestic labor laws and women’s rights. Representatives with ACM and ADWM explained how families mistreat female domestic workers. These workers endure physical beatings, low wages, no wages and long workdays without breaks. Additionally, many migrant workers reported that their bosses steal their employees’ important identification papers, making it difficult for migrants to get an ID, social services and housing. Employers might also require the domestic workers to work additional days, instead of allowing them time off to be with their own families. Rose, with ACM, explained that migrant workers receive half the pay of Moroccan workers and work about five or six extra hours beyond the typical eight-hour time frame. Morocco’s Labor Code limits the workweek to 44 hours, but the country’s labor codes do not cover domestic workers extensively. Consequently, they complete the extra hours without additional pay.

Members of the ADWM, a strong voice for women, have fought for women’s rights since 1985. Sara Sojar explained to our team that her group worked to achieve equal pay for women in fields that employ both genders. The ADWM achieved another victory when the minimum age for a domestic worker was set at 15 years old and not younger. The change in the law restricts employers from hiring young girls. The group’s continued work include raising the age limit for domestic work from 15 to 18, achieving role equality and equality with job advancement for women, according to Sara.

Formal versus informal workers

The informal sector is the fastest growing sector in Morocco’s workforce . Local social justice groups are working to unionize these particular groups of workers. Informal workers are workers who lack citizenship documentation. The ODT reports that migrants make up a large percentage of informal workers. They usually work in fishing, construction, street selling, call center and domestic work. As informal workers, there are no guaranteed wages, health benefits, vacation, and opportunities for position advancement or any of the benefits formal workers might have access to. Although informal workers do not pay taxes, they are consumers; therefore, they are relevant to the nation’s economy. They make up approximately 15% of the GDP. The ODT has worked to organize informal workers in at least three cities—Casablanca, Fez, and Marrakesh.

Stephanie Newton is a member and leader of Local 100 United Labor Unions in Little Rock, Arkansas.

 

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