Benin’s Constitutional Court has banned the right to strike by workers in the country’s defence, security, justice and health sectors, sparking concern among union officials and legal observers.
The ruling, issued late on Thursday, came after months of wrangling between the government and the court, which had previously said the measure was unconstitutional.
“Civil servants, public security forces and equivalents should fulfil their duties in all circumstances and not exercise their right to strike,” the court said in its new ruling.
“There should be no disruption to the duties of public sector defence, security, justice and health workers.”
The decision was taken “in the public interest” and for “the protection of citizens”, it said.
Speaking on Friday, one senior union leader, who asked to remain anonymous, described the ruling as shocking and a “hammer blow”.
And Benin legal affairs expert Albert Medagbe told AFP the decision was a “worrying sudden legal U-turn”.
Earlier this month, a close ally of President Patrice Talon, Joseph Djogbenou, was elected to lead the Constitutional Court during a vote held behind closed doors.
Djogbenou is Talon’s former personal lawyer and was previously Benin’s attorney general.
Until his arrival, the court had strained relations with Talon, and had criticised the government for misunderstanding and failing to respect the constitution.
The small West African nation was last year hit by a wave of public sector strikes, which brought the education, health and justice system to a near halt.
The industrial action was sparked by Talon’s attempts to introduce free-market reforms.