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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Syria

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Syria, 9 June 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c4fec56c.html [accessed 25 April 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: 22,000,000
Capital: Damascus
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

After an easing of restrictions for a few years, the authorities have clamped down again, arresting and imprisoning any opposition members. The right to strike is severely restricted, and workers are threatened with harsh punishment if they strike. Migrant workers are abused as they lack legal protection. Only one trade union federation is allowed.

Trade union rights in law

The Constitution provides for freedom of association, but workers may not establish unions independent of the government. In addition, all workers' organisations must belong to the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU), which is strictly controlled by the ruling party. The GFTU also controls most aspects of union activities; it determines which sectors or occupations can have a union, and sets the procedures for the use of trade union funds. It also has the power to disband the executive committee of any union. Foreign workers may join the union of their profession, however they may not be elected to trade union office.

Furthermore, while strikes are not prohibited, the right to strike is severely restricted by the threat of punishment and fines. Strikes involving more than 20 workers in certain sectors, including transport and telecommunications, are punishable by fines and even prison sentences. The same applies to any strike action which takes place on public highways or in public places, or that involves the occupation of premises. Civil servants who disrupt the operation of public services risk losing their civil rights. Finally, forced labour can be imposed on anyone who causes "prejudice to the general production plan".

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: After a period of slight lifting of restrictions on individual activity when President Bashar al-Assad came to power in 2000, the government has clamped down once again, and there have been increased incidents of arrests, trials and imprisonment of political and human rights activists. In December 2009, research showed that child labour was rising, with some 10% of school-aged Iraqi refugee children in Syria found to be working to supplement family savings; indeed, child labour is the main source of sustenance among refugees in Syria, who are not legally entitled to work.

Right to strike hardly exercised: Workers generally dare not exercise the right to strike, given the potential heavy penalties and the reintroduction of repression of any activity deemed to be critical of the government. However, in November 2009, some 30,000 United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East employees from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon went on strike for a brief period. Workers and union members reported they were striking in order to improve services offered to Palestinian refugees, bring an end to service conditions for employees, and increase the number of employees in the region.

Collective bargaining not practised: Collective bargaining rights are not practised in any meaningful way, though there is some evidence that union representatives participate with employers' representatives and the supervising Ministry in the establishment of minimum wages, hours and conditions of employment.

GFTU position: Despite its close links with the ruling Ba'ath Party, the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) rejects the suggestion that the political leadership imposes control over the organisation. The GFTU states that workers at all levels elect their leadership freely and will vote out of office those who do not adequately represent their interests. It also states that the reason for the existence of a single trade union system is that workers themselves reject union diversity because it harms their unity and their interests. The government has used precisely the same argument in its reports to the ILO.

Journalists union fails to support journalists: Dozens of journalists and writers have been prosecuted under draconian legislation in the past few years. In June 2009, shortly after the May release of the prominent journalist and intellectual, Michel Kilo, who spent three years in jail for "threatening national sentiment" and "inciting sectarian strife", another prominent journalist denounced the official journalist union for failing to protect the rights of journalists. Following publication of a controversial story of official corruption, the journalist Maya Jamous was summoned several times for questioning by security officials, who warned her against publishing such stories. However, many journalists state that the Journalists' Union, the only legal organisation representing media professionals, fails to defend colleagues who have problems with the authorities including Michel Kilo.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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