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W&L Law Students Release Human Rights Report on Tanzanian Employment Practices

Students in the International Human Rights Practicum at Washington and Lee School of Law travelled to Tanzania this spring to research employment and labor rights in the city of Dar es Salaam’s factories. The results of this study have now been released in a 60 page report including findings and recommendations for improving conditions for workers.

Titled “The Gap between Law and Reality,” the report puts special focus on the obstacles female laborers face in the industrial sector of Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian capital. While Tanzania has a fairly robust legal code when it comes to employment rights, student researchers found that many of the laws designed to protect workers are not being enforced in a systematic way.

According to the report, employers either ignore or wrongly interpret the protections granted to workers with regard to hours, working conditions, and benefits. W&L law student Hanna Jamar ’12L, who participated in the project, says that the most common issue revealed in the field investigation was the exploitation of the role of the daily, or casual, worker.

“Tanzania has a large number of workers who are treated as daily workers but are actually filling permanent positions,” says Jamar. “Yet these workers don’t receive the benefits and protections long term employees should receive.”

The supply of causal workers, who are largely unskilled and lack formal education, is much greater than the demand. As a result, employers offer daily workers little or no job security, refusing to grant them the paid maternity or sick leave they are entitled to under the law and frequently giving away one daily worker’s job to a new employee if that worker takes leave due to illness, pregnancy, or family emergency.  Workers reported to the W&L delegation that some female daily workers  face sexual harassment.   According to the group’s findings, some managers subjected female daily workers to demands for sex in exchange for daily work.

Another problem the students’ investigation revealed was the Tanzanian minimum wage, which amounts to about $50 a month. Everyone interviewed, including factory owners, acknowledged that this was too low to meet basic needs. To get by, workers will often pool the day’s wages so one of them can buy necessities while the others go without.

The International Human Rights Practicum, taught by Professor Johanna Bond, is one of the practice-based courses that are part of W&L’s innovative third-year curriculum. Such classes are designed to prepare students for their careers by simulating a variety of legal practice environments, but as with many of W&L’s practicum courses, this class goes well beyond “simulation” by engaging students in the investigation of actual cases of human rights abuse.

The students in the class began their semester researching the Tanzanian legal system and the law and policy around employment. They also conducted a number of practice interviews specifically designed to teach them how to extract the most accurate information from people often reluctant to speak out on sensitive issues for fear of losing their jobs.

On the ground in Tanzania, students worked with staff from the Women’s Legal Aid Centre (WLAC) in Dar Es Salaam, the same group who assisted W&L students in the class in 2009 who traveled there to research sex crime enforcement. During eight days of fieldwork, students interviewed more than one hundred people including 17 members of factory management and 61 factory workers, as well as government officials, union employees, and NGO employees.

For Bond, the most gratifying part of the class is when the students begin to adapt to the situation they find on the ground and take ownership of the project.

“Students quickly realize that despite our preparation, there are gaps in our knowledge of the situation,” she says. “You can see them start to strategize about how to fill in those gaps with additional inquiries and put the puzzle pieces together.”

The Report makes a number of recommendations for the Tanzania government, as well as for employee unions and other organizations working on employee rights. These suggestions include establishing an enforcement agency charged with ensuring casual task workers are not consistently used to fill permanent positions, reforming legislation to provide limitations on how long daily workers can work for the same employer without becoming permanent employees,  reviewing the minimum wage law to conform to the current cost of living, and clarifying and enforcing prohibitions on sexual harassment of all workers.

The executive summary of the report is available online. To receive the full report, contact Professor Bond at bondj@wlu.edu.

News Contact:
Peter Jetton
School of Law Director of Communications
(540) 458-8782