Full Name : Premchand Fakun
Date of birth : 20 June 1947
Place of birth: Surinam, Mauritius
a) worked 7 years in the civil service, Mauritius (1967/1974)
b) 1974/2005 – ICFTU (Retired in 2005 as Head of Africa desk)
Marital Status : married to Hemawtee Pokhun
Children: two- Prakash Fakun and Veekash Fakun
Educaton: upto secondary level in Mauritius; university: at Ruskin College, Oxford, UK in Labour Studies
This is a summary of my life from Surinam, an unknown small village in Mauritius, Indian Ocean to a long international exposure in social activities mainly in the field of trade unionism, particularly in Africa. I decided to relate my life here in the hope that it can become a source of inspiration to our millions of African youngsters who line mainly in the rural areas on the continent.
During my early days in the village, I was inspired by the social work of my late father who was active in social activities. Unfortunately, I lost my dad at the age of eight in 1956. Thereafter, it was my late brother, Dwarika Prasad, who became active in youth and sports activities in the region that became my inspirational model. Due to his continued dedication he was soon promoted from his teacher post to become a Youth Officer islandwide. He thereafter moved up in 1967 to the international level to serve the World Assembly of Youth (WAY) as project officer in Africa. Some years later he moved up gradually to become the WAY Deputy General Secretary. Unfortunately, in 1972 he passed away in Kenya following a road accident.
Start of my involvement
Inspired by the role models of my late father and brother, I got involved in my early young days in organising and coordinating football activities in the village, followed by activities in youth circles and literary clubs.
In 1967, I joined the world of work following the completion of my secondary studies. Once active in the employment world, via a temporary job in valuation activities in the service of the Mauritian government – I soon realised that the nature of work was of a permanent one whilst government was indifferent to our collective call to confirm us on a permanent basis. Hence I started my association with trade unionism. I was the architect of setting up a trade union called the Valuation Office Staff Association in 1968.
Beginning of trade union involvement
Relations with management at the Valuation Office was rough. Our determination to struggle for the recognition of our rights were equally strong. However, we did not succeed in bringing management to agree to any of our proposals for meaningful change. That is when we decided become a branch of the Government Servants Association. It was a long established trade union covering government employees in most ministries. It had a long record of achievements.
A progressive UK trade union, the IRSF, the Inland Revenu Staff Federation, noticed my struggle on the island and offered me a scholarship in 1971 to attend its Annual Delegates Conference and to understudy its activities in its valuation section during a period of 3 months.
First International Exposure
This experience was an eye opener. The IRSF was once led by late James Gallaghan, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom before he left for politics. In fact, he was the then Prime Minister when the IRSF offered me the scholarship. Another former IRSF General Secretary, Douglas Houghton, was a member of the House of Lords and he was also a friend of the then Governor-General of Mauritius. The then General Secretary, Cyril Plant, was also very influential both in the UK and the international trade union movement.
My UK stay served as a great inspiration to continue more actively my trade union work on the island.
Back in Mauritius, after the 3 months understudying the IRSF Valuation section, I redoubled efforts to motivate my colleagues to close ranks further and continue to exert pressure on govt to declare our posts as permanent ones. My umbrella trade union, the GSA, noticed my active involvement and at the ensueing bi-annual renewal of the management board, I was elected as one of the four Assistant Secretaries – in charge of employees of the Ministries of Local Government and Housing.
Barely two years afterwards (1973), I was one of 4 trade unionists belonging to the ICFTU-affiliated MLC (Mauritius Labour Congress) selected to attend a 3-month Monitors’ Training Programme. The first month was a theoretical training held in Monrovia, Liberia followed by two months of practical work back in Mauritius under the supervision of an ICFTU representative.
I relentlessly pursued educational activities in the GSA and soon we set up an Education Committee with a first ever annual budget of Mauritian Rupees 80,000 (about 7,000 US Dollars then). I was also associated with actions at the MLC level to reactivate its Education Department where I soon afterwards became the committee’s Secretary.
The ICFTU representative noticed my dedication at organising short seminars and ease/ability to deliver lectures to adult workers. The following year the ICFTU offered me a three-month contract to act as assistant lecturer in French-speaking Africa. My commitment and dedication was such that the ICFTU offered me a two-yr contract as lecturer & its Roving Rep in French-speaking Africa.
My professional dedication was no secret and my employment contract was renewed twice. However, the nature of the job was such that I was away from home 9 to ten months every year visiting several countries either organising seminars, making friendly visits, representing ICFTU at functions, making representations to authorities. My whole time was spent on planes and hotels, which was very stressing in a political environment that was not friendly to trade unions : most countries in Africa were either under one-party or military rule.
I therefore decided to resign and went for further studies during two years at Ruskin College, Oxford, UK. That’s where I befriended Adams Oshiomohle who was on his second year. He was an inspiration too. I completed my studies with flying colours when the ICFTU offered me another job where travel was restricted to a maximum of two months covering India and Barbados. I accepted it effective July 1980.
Involvement from ICFTU Headquarters
I continued in the employment of the ICFTU up to my pre-retirement in 2005. I moved over time from the Education Department to the Africa Desk where in 1998 I was promoted to head the Desk.
I got quite a lot of opportunities during my time at the head office of the ICFTU from 1980 to 2005 to meet and interact with various eminent personalities linked to trade unionism. These were:
- Adams Oshiomhole, former President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (current Governor Odu State,
- Frederick Chiluba, former President of the Zambia Labour Congress and former President, Republic of Zambia),
- Morgan Tsvangirai, former Secretary-General, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and former Prime Minister, Republic of Zimbabwe),
- Chakufwa Chihana, former Secretary-General, Southern Africa Trade Union Co-ordinating Committee (SATUCC) and former second Vice-President, Republic of Malawi. Chakufwa was together with me at Ruskin College, Oxford, UK
- Cyril Ramaphosa, former advisor to the Council of Unions of South Africa (CUSA), first secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) of South Africa and later on leader of COSATU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions. He is the current President of the Republic of South Africa. In the early 1980s, he was active at anti-apartheid meetings at the ICFTU promoting project assistance to the NUM.
During the course of my time at the ICFTU, I must also mention encounters with some Heads of State. These were Abdou Dioff (Senegal), Jean Bedel Bokassa (Central African Republic), Mokhtar Ould Dada (Mauritania), Ben Ali (Tunisia) and Maurice Yaméogo (Haute Volta) now Burkina Faso. My most interesting encounter was with the latter. I met him as a deposed President following a coup d’état. He confided to me that he learnt the lesson of his life that a head of state should never rely blindly to advisers. He explained that while his people were grumbling across the country, his advisers informed him that it was only a minority of disgruntled people were involved. It was too late for him to react positively when the popular uprising took him by surprise and he was toppled.
Most of my activities at the ICFTU from 1973 to 2005 were related to Africa. The environment was hostile to trade unionism. Most countries were being governed by either one-party or military governments. A major portion of our work consisted in ensuring the defence of trade unionists who were falling victims of arbitrary arrests and or detentions. Hence solidarity campaigns was a regular feature of our work. Trade union education was another of our major activities. During the anti-apartheid era, the ICFTU became the centre of the world’s workers efforts towards a) intensifying support to black trade unions inside South Africa and b) coordinating pressure at international level.
Sigh of relief
I look back with a big sigh of relief that I was active at the international level at a difficult time and thus I, through the ICFTU, contributed towards Africa becoming a more democratic continent. African trade unions were at the forefront for meaningful change. Our trade union education contributed a lot towards building workers solidarity inside countries and indeed across the continent.
Mr Premchand Fakun
Brussels, May 2018
Credit: Mr Premchand Fakun