Eastern Africa Trade Unions


Most now have the right to belong to a trade union (police and military excluded) but employers often fire those who try to form unions. However, there is a constructive dialogue between the government and the union. The state often violates the laws governing labor law and has lost 75% of the cases that have gone to court. In 2017, an investigation was launched with the aim of ending the offenses by employers.

According to Countryaah, the unions in Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda have started cooperating to safeguard trade union rights in the East African Common Market. The central organizations have e.g. jointly demanded that the statutory minimum wage, which has not been increased since 1974, be substantially increased.



Central Workers’ Union of Rwanda, CESTRAR. With 165,000 members, the organization is the country’s largest central organization with 16 affiliated unions. CESTRAR is affiliated to the International Trade Union Federation, IITUC.

There are 3 more central organizations, one of which, the Congrès du Travail et de la Fraternité au Rwanda, COTRAF with 24,500 members is affiliated to the ITUC.


The labor market is partly regulated by law; the right to organize, the right to leave, the procedure for carrying out a legal strike. However, there are many guest workers from mainly India and the Philippines who are not covered by the law and who often have poorer employment conditions.



All trade union activities were coordinated in 1978 in the National Workers’ Union of Seychelles, NWUS which later changed its name to Seychelles Fed e ratio of the Worker’s Union SFWU, whose activities according to the statutes shall be under the supervision of the ruling party, which also must approve any agreement. SFWU has about 25,000 members and believes that it “represents all workers regardless of color, religion or political opinion”. SFWU is affiliated to the World Trade Union, International Trade Union Confederation, ITUC.

There is another smaller central organization, the Seychelles Workers Union.


There are two central trade unions in Somalia.

The Federation of Somali Trade Unions, FESTU with 71,982 members is affiliated to the ITUC. The organization has tripled its membership in two years.

The Somalia Congress of Trade Unions (SOCOTU) is not affiliated to the ITUC but to the OATUU, (Organization of African Trade Union Unity). The government has provided premises to SOCOTU.


The trade union movement was established in the mid-1950’s with close ties to the independence movement. In 1991, a trade union liberation process was initiated with, among other things, support from the Swedish trade union movement.

Basic trade union rights are enshrined in law and strikes occur, but in practice trade union rights are often violated and the situation for trade unions has deteriorated in recent years.

However, the trade union movement has a fairly strong position in the country. Negotiations between the government and the union take place annually. The unions are actively working to strengthen the position of women in working life and in 2018 began a long-term campaign to address the pay gap between men and women, the harassment, abuse f ear domestic workers and to prevent child labor. The work of organizing the informal sector yielded results in 2019 in the form of an agreement for people working in the transport sector.



There are today two central trade unions; The Central Organization of the mainland Trade Union Congress of Tanzania, TUCTA has 350,000 members, consists of 13 unions and has a stable economy. The largest union is Tanzania Teachers’ Union, TTU, which together with government employees and municipal employees make up about 60 percent of the members of TUCTA.

In 2003, the Zanzibar Trade Union Congress, ZATUC, was formed, which is TUCTA’s counterpart in Zanzibar, a completely independent central organization with 15,000 members.

Together with the central trade unions in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, TUCTA and ZATUC have formed the East African Trade Union Confederation, EATUC, a trade union body for East Africa.

TUCTA and ZATUC are both affiliated to the World Trade Union Confederation, the International Trade Union Confederation, ITUC and the Organization of African Trade Union Unity, OATUU.


The Government’s view is that trade union activity is permitted, provided that the trade union movement does not interfere in political affairs. In recent years, unions in several sectors have experienced increasing problems in being recognized by employers, especially in the textile, railway and hotel industries. Only one of 16 textile companies where the union has more than the required 50% of the employees as members have recognized the union. During privatizations, agreements have been concluded between the Ministry of Finance and the new owners, which have allowed mass redundancies and totally neglected trade union aspects and demands. Traffickers of trade unionists occur.

The unions in Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda are working together to guarantee trade union rights in the common East African market.

Trade union strikes occur. Actions against discrimination against women in the labor market have also become commonplace.



There are currently two trade union central organizations:

NOTU, the National Organization of Trade Unions with 23 unions and 700,000 members is affiliated to the World Trade Union, International Trade Union Confederation, ITUC. NOTU was previously closely linked to the government but is now independent and often criticizes the government.

Confederation of Free Trade Unions (COFTU). COFTU accuses NOTU of not actively defending the workers’ conditions.

About the author