Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 September 2014, 12:56 GMT

2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Libya

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Libya, 11 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52cadc28.html [accessed 17 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 6,300,000
Capital: Tripoli
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

While Libya has opened up its economy and restored diplomatic relations, there has been no such progress in the respect of trade union rights. There are no independent trade unions. All workers' organisations are closely linked to the government.

Trade union rights in law

A trade union monopoly: Membership of the General Trade Union Federation of Workers (GTUFW) is automatic, although workers do have the right to opt out. Independent trade unions are banned. Candidates for trade union office must be of Libyan nationality.

The federation is as an integral part of the system of "People's Committees", a key feature of Libyan political life. Based on that system, socio-professional organisations can only be tolerated if they support the political system in place. The general secretaries of the GTUFW, at each level of the federation, are asked to hold an ex officio post in these committees, which form the pillars of the central political power structure.

Collective bargaining – highly restricted: The Labour Code requires that clauses of collective agreements be in conformity with the national economic interest. That provision allows the government to preclude any demand it regards as incompatible with its economic and social preferences.

Right to strike – compulsory arbitration: According to section 150 of the Labour Code the exhaustion of all conciliation and arbitration procedures is the only condition for a lawful strike and section 176 imposes a penalty of imprisonment or a fine against anyone who contravenes this provision. Collective disputes must be referred to compulsory arbitration at the request of one of the parties or at the discretion of the public authorities, the outcome of which is binding on both parties. As the ILO has noted, this system makes it possible to prohibit virtually all strikes or end them quickly.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: The former pariah regime of Colonel Muammar Khadafi, in power for 40 years, has returned to the international stage. The country's large oil and gas reserves have a lot to do with the flurry of diplomatic activity. Economically the authorities are heavily dependent on oil prices, however, and are trying to diversify their sources of income by attracting foreign investors. In March, Colonel Khadafi sought to calm social tensions by announcing he would give every family 3,500 euros as a form of "wealth redistribution". At the end of the year the money had not yet been paid out, however.

Role of the national centre: The GTUFW has recently claimed to have become independent and has changed its name, dropping the word "producers" as a means of stressing that it is a workers' union. The leadership of the union centre has adopted several amendments to its constitution to bring it more in line with the principles of free and democratic trade unionism. But these changes have to be submitted for "legalisation" to the next "Congress of People's Committees". So far, the structures of the organisation have not changed, neither have most of its leaders.

The fate of the migrant workers: The authorities announced their intention to expel the 1 million illegal migrants living in the country. After actively recruiting a large migrant labour force in the '90s, the authorities are now faced with public discontent and the popular perception that migrants are taking Libyans' jobs. They also face pressure from the European Union, which has urged Libya to enforce better border controls to help it combat clandestine immigration into EU countries. In December, however, the authorities announced their plans to welcome 500,000 workers from Bangladesh for various projects. The GTUFW does not seem to have been involved in any of the discussions, either on measures concerning illegal migrants or on plans to draft in an Asian workforce. In any event, the unions are not equipped to defend and organise these foreign workers.

Collective bargaining: The government has the right to set salaries unilaterally and even to cut them, as it has done repeatedly, for instance with the national airline. So in practice there is no real collective bargaining at either national or sectoral level. In the event of a dispute, the union centre approaches the management to find solutions and conclude an individual agreement for the company.

The GTUFW can appeal to the "Congress of People's Committees" to get wage increases or social benefits for workers. However privatisation and the increasing number of foreign-owned enterprises are creating an unprecedented situation, whereby workers' representatives will have to negotiate with new employers and with far more limited state intervention.

That will give the GTUFW a chance to display some concrete progress towards achieving its independence and the ability to represent workers' interests effectively.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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