The Sierra Leone Labor Congress (SLLC), the umbrella body of labor unions in the country, has accused the government of interference and suppression.
The allegation followed a reported police clampdown on a union activity on Friday, leading to the arrest of several activists.
The National Commercial Motor Bike Riders Union was holding its delegate conference which would have seen them elect their leaders at the headquarters of the Labor Congress in Freetown.
Reports indicate that police stormed the offices to prevent the holding of the elections. As a statement from the Labor Congress said, several of its members were detained at the Central Police Station in Freetown.
According to other sources, among those detained was a 70-year-old labour activist and Commissioner, Alhaji Muctarr Williams.
“Efforts are now ongoing to secure their release and members are advised to remain calm and will be further informed of what next action the Labor Congress will advise,” the statement, signed by its President, Jennings A.B. Wright, said.
Friday’s ugly incident followed a protracted division within the Bike Riders Association. There had been a row within the association which has been divided into two factions, each of them identified along the two main political parties – the ruling SLPP and the main opposition APC.
The group which attempted to hold the elections on Friday is widely considered as the legitimate body, even though some see them as leaning towards the opposition APC.
Leaders of the Labor Congress say unnamed senior government officials were using the police to interfere in the affairs of the union.
In a social media post, Sierra Leone Labor Congress’ Acting Secretary General, Max Conteh, said among those detained include the President of the Motor Bike Riders Union, the Secretary General of Traders Union and coordinator of the informal economy in the union.
“We have been on this for a long time now whilst ministers of government would want to impose illegal leaders for the union which we stand against as interference into the administration of trade unions,” said Mr. Conteh.
He added: “I am therefore bringing this to your attention that government is interfering and suppressing trade unions in Sierra Leone. We need your support in whatever way possible to fight against this form of state suppression and interference.”
The International Trade Union Confederation has weighed in on the matter. In a letter sent on Saturday, its President appealed to President Julius Maada Bio to ensure the immediate release of those detained and to refrain from further interference in the affairs of the unions.