MAPUTO, A senior Mozambican trade unionist has openly voiced support for the power, now ruled as unconstitutional, of the Labour Minister to sack any foreign worker without the right of appeal or defence.

The country’s labour regulations have given the Minister the absolute power to terminate any foreigner’s contract and have him or her thrown out of the country but the Constitutional Council, the country’s highest body in matters of constitutional law, in a unanimous decision on May 9, ruled that this norm in the labour regulations violates the Constitution.

The norm was unconstitutional because it denies the foreign worker affected the right to defend himself in a due legal procedure, the Council declared. A dispatch from the Minister revoking a private contract without offering, in good time, the opportunity for defence against the content of the accusations, whatever their nature, is an unequivocal and flagrant violation of the principle of contradiction which is essential under the rule of law.

Jeremias Timana, the General Secretary of the National Confederation of Free and Independent Unions of Mozambique (CONSILMO), the smaller of the country’s two labour federations, claimed the Council ruling was a setback in the struggle for workers’ rights.

He told journalists after a meeting of the Labour Consultative Council (CCT) here Monday that the Council’s ruling had taken unions by surprise, and alleged that the measure means that foreigners can now abuse Mozambican workers in the knowledge that nothing will happen to them. The Council ruling, of course, says nothing of the sort.

Timana claimed that in the past, if a foreigner abused Mozambican workers, the unions could turn to the Labour Ministry for support. He feared that if the Ministry was no longer able to intervene, the abused workers might take matters into their own hands.

The Council never suggested that the Ministry could not act in cases where foreigners abuse Mozambicans, only that it cannot unilaterally terminate their contracts. The legal remedies still exist, and abusers can still be hauled before the courts.

Timana claimed that, after the Council ruling, workers who believe their rights have been abused will have to go to the police, the public prosecutor’s office and the courts, a process he regarded as very long winded.

The General Secretary of the CCT, Joao Loforte, said the government has no alternative but to accept the ruling decreed by the Constitutional Council. The Monday CCT session mainly discussed the establishment of labour tribunals, a longstanding demand of the unions and these courts, when established, might be able to deal with the abuses that concerned Timana.