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2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Morocco

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Morocco, 20 November 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52ca7bc.html [accessed 30 August 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: 31,200,000
Capital: Rabat
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The demonstrations held to celebrate May Day gave rise to many arrests. Several demonstrators were sentenced to imprisonment for "attacking sacred values". The legal restrictions on strikes and sit-ins led to police repression throughout the year.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association: Workers are free to form and join trade unions without prior authorisation, although they have to follow cumbersome administrative procedures. Members of the judiciary are barred from forming trade unions, while domestic and agricultural workers are not covered by the Labour Code, thereby also depriving them of the right to form unions.

The right of organisations to elect their representatives in full freedom is curtailed by the requirement that union officials must be of Moroccan nationality.

Labour Code: The 2003 Labour Code, designed to modernise labour relations and make Moroccan industry more attractive to outside investors, has "flexibility" as its recurring theme. It includes provisions to bring the law into line with ILO Conventions, such as those on maternity and the minimum working age. At the same time, however, the unions complain that the law makes it easy for employers to hire temporary staff.

The Labour Code specifically prohibits employers from sacking workers for participating in legitimate union organising, and the courts have the power to reinstate arbitrarily dismissed workers, and can compel employers to pay damages and back pay.

Collective bargaining: The Labour Code recognises the right to collective bargaining, but it can only be conducted by the "most representative" union, which must have at least 35 per cent of the total number of employee delegates elected at the enterprise or establishment level. The law does not clearly stipulate whether certain categories of public servants (teachers, prison officials, lighthouse workers, water and forestry workers) have collective bargaining rights.

Right to strike – heavy penalties: The Constitution guarantees the right to strike. Some restrictions exist however. Civil servants may be punished for taking part in work stoppages or collective insubordination.

Restrictions on sit-ins, picketing and public demonstrations: Further to a court ruling, sit-ins are prohibited and employers can suspend any worker who prevents non-strikers from going to work for seven days. A second offence during the year can lead to a 15 day suspension.

Under the Labour Code, employers have the right to seek criminal prosecution of any strikers who hold a sit-in, damage property or carry out active picketing. The government can break up demonstrations in public areas held without government permission, and can prevent factory occupations.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: The Conservative party, Istiqlal, won the legislative elections in September. Among the challenges facing the new government is the growing poverty, exacerbated by rising commodity prices, unemployment and difficult access to safe drinking water. The country is also confronted with the issues surrounding Sub Saharan migrants.

Countless sit-ins "forbidden", right to strike trampled: Employers and the public authorities exploited the serious restrictions on the right to organise protests in order to thwart workers' legitimate demands. Throughout the year, workers from both the public and private sectors who dared to challenge these restrictions were systematically targeted by the security forces called to the rescue by employers, who refused to dialogue with the unions. Countless sit-ins were broken up and tens of protesters were beaten, injured and arrested.

Examples of such repression include the police brutality used in February against employees on strike at Delphi Automotive, a U.S. manufacturing company supplying the automobile industry. The authorities also used violence against workers at Coca Cola – Morocco: several strikers were injured and the CDT General Secretary at the company was sacked. Other violations reported include: the dismissal of a striker, the illegal transfer of machinery and the use of temporary workers to replace strikers at the Bambino Confort furniture factory, where staff were taking action in protest against the management's breach of an agreement signed with the workers' representatives regarding health and safety. In October, during sit-ins in Rabat and Casablanca, strikers at the international security firm G4S were literally besieged by security forces, deprived of water, electricity and contact with the press, then driven out by the police. In October, henchmen hired by the management of the Hanabus transport company in Kenitra used violence to break up a strike involving 46 workers, members of the UNTM. The police were late and imbalanced in their intervention, arresting the 46 strikers and nine of their aggressors.

The role of female unionists, activists and strikers' wives and mothers: Women are often at the frontline during protests, especially in the textile sector where they usually form the majority of the workforce (see the violations at the Dewhirst and Dihanex plants). Women also formed the bulk of the demonstrators who marched 30 kilometres to demand the release of miners employed at the Touissit mining company. The management at the postal service singled out a woman trade union leader for persecution; she carried out a hunger strike for her suspension to be lifted.

Anti-union tactics at a textile factory followed by collective dismissal: On 27 February, police used force to disperse the 350 workers (mainly women) who had been occupying the entrance to a factory of the British group Dewhirst since December. According to the UNTM, around fifteen women workers were arrested and three were injured. The 486 staff members had been dismissed at the end of 2006 for "unjustified absences" following a stoppage organised in protest of anti-union tactics by the management, which was seeking to impose a unilaterally prepared collective agreement concluded with a company-controlled union. When the union representatives elected by the workers demanded that a new agreement be negotiated, the management refused and then withheld the pay of the unionised workers. A representative of Marks & Spencer, Dewhirst's main customer, deemed the strike to be illegal and unjustified.

Several trade unionists arrested in Agadir on 1st May, two receive heavy sentences: The police stormed the UMT union offices in Agadir and arrested five trade unionists and human rights activists who had just taken part in the May Day demonstration. Three of them were released after being mistreated by the police. Mahdi Barbouchi, a 19-year-old secondary school pupil and a member of the Moroccan human rights association, the AMDH, and Abderrahim Karrad, a 25-year-old agricultural worker and union representative of the National Federation of the Agricultural Sector (FNSA-UMT) were charged with "attacking sacred values", for having chanted anti-monarchy slogans. On 10 May, they were sentenced to two years of fixed-term imprisonment and a heavy fine. The sentences were confirmed on appeal on 26 June. The two activists were tortured during questioning to force confessions out of them that they later retracted. One of them was sexually assaulted in jail by a common law prisoner. After embarking on a hunger strike at the end of July, they obtained a transfer to another prison and the right to receive visits, but continued to be detained under intolerable conditions, according to their relatives.

Further arrests and convictions of May Day demonstrators: May Day demonstrations in several other towns and cities were forcefully broken up. In Ksar El Kebir, the General Secretary of the local UMT branch was briefly detained along with a number of other trade unionists and human rights activists. On 22 May, five demonstrators were sentenced to three years' imprisonment for "attacking sacred values".

Repression of sit-ins organised in support of May Day detainees, new arrests and convictions: On 5 June, in Beni Mellal, some hours following a sit-in organised in support of the May Day detainees, the police arrested ten of the participants – members of civil society organisations, including several CDT and UMT members. On 26 June, four of the ten activists were, in turn, given prison sentences. On 24 July, the five demonstrators from Ksar El Kebir saw their prison terms raised to four years on appealing against their sentences. Several sit-ins were organised during the course of these weeks, all of which were repressed by the police.

Union members intimidated at Bank Al-Maghrib and five union representatives relocated: In May, two unions affiliated to the UGTM and FDT at the central bank of Morocco, Bank Al-Maghrib (BAM), denounced the bank management's attacks on them. Two of the general secretaries of the BAM unions, Mohamed Salki for the UGTM and Mohamed Regragui for the FDT, were transferred along with three other union representatives from their posts in Rabat to offices often very far away from their homes. The two general secretaries were also stripped of their administrative responsibilities on the pretext that the posts they occupied were incompatible with their trade union activities. For several months, the BAM management had been exerting all kinds of pressure on the members and representatives of the two unions, with which they refused to negotiate, against a background of staff restructuring. Several employees reported that they had been threatened with sanctions if they refused to leave the union. Eight members of the BAM union affiliated to the UGTM agreed to withdraw from the union, so that they would not be relocated and separated from their families. On 26 May, a sit-in was violently broken up by the police in Rabat. The participants were beaten and a number of them passed out. The action had been organised by the UGTM and FDT in protest at the sanctions and transfers imposed on the two general secretaries, as well as the management's refusal to involve the two unions in discussions regarding the future of Bank Al-Maghrib and the planned restructurings.

Elsewhere in the banking sector, at Attijariwafa bank, the UNTM reported that employees were threatened and intimidated by the management following the formation of a union at the bank.

One year imprisonment for three union representatives at a carpet factory placed into liquidation: On 15 November, men and women workers at the Dihanex factory were beaten by the police. They were attempting to stop the employer of this company that had gone into liquidation from illegally moving the machines and equipment that were supposed to be sold in a public auction. Three trade union representatives, Larbi Riyach, Houssine Oulad Abou and Mohamed Hanfi, were detained by the police whilst trying to lodge a complaint. On 21 November, they were sentenced to two years of fixed-term imprisonment under Article 288 of the Penal Code. Dihanex had been shut down in March following three months of vain efforts by the union and the Labour Ministry to try and resolve the numerous breaches of the workers' statutory rights. At the time the factory was closed, the employer owed up to two years of wage arrears.

Union leader stages hunger strike in protest at her suspension from the postal service: Atika Samrah, a postal employee and a member of the national bureau of the CDT, was suspended on 3 July, based on her participation in a picket on 16 June and her refusal to cover her duties, according to the management. According to her colleagues, however, her suspension was an act of reprisal and a means of removing a union leader that had just played a major role in coordinating a trade union front and in ensuring the success of the strike on 28 June called by three trade union centres, the UMT, FDT and CDT. Atika Samrah also played an active part in formulating a list of demands within the framework of the restructuring at the postal service, which was directly threatening 8,000 jobs. Following her suspension, Atika Samrah embarked on a hunger strike, which she halted after receiving a guarantee that she would be reinstated.

Police repression and arrests during miners strike: On 10 September, 29 miners at the Compagnie minière de Touissit (CMT) were arrested by the police, who injured several strikers. The strike had been organised in support of demands for better working conditions. The following day, between 500 and 1,000 people, including many miners' wives, marched 30 kilometres from Mrit, where the mine is located, to the court in Khenifra, to protest against the arrests. Women played a major role in the protest. Several of them were briefly detained. They succeeded in securing the release of most of the miners being held in detention. In October, the last five strikers still in prison were released on bail.

Abuses in Export Processing Zones (EPZs): EPZs are beginning to develop, particularly in the port of Tangiers and in Casablanca. Many of the companies in these zones are operating illegally. The companies concerned are often small production units (in the textile or food sectors) and are failing to declare their employees and pay them the minimum wage. Sub-contracting is increasingly common, making union organising particularly difficult.

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