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2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Tunisia

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 - Tunisia, 20 November 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52ca68c.html [accessed 30 July 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: 10,300,000
Capital: Tunis
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Trade unionists had considerable problems with getting their demands heard. The authorities harassed the teachers who took part in strikes in April. Around 100 strikers were redeployed and three activists whose contracts were not extended were left with no other option than to hold a long hunger strike. Despite the ratification of Convention 135, violations of trade union rights have increased, particularly in the private sector.

Trade union rights in law

The Labour Code provides for workers to form and join trade unions. Unlike associations, prior authorisation is not required to form a trade union. A union may only be dissolved by court order.

Right to strike: The right to strike is recognised. A decree that was supposed to set out the list of "Essential services", defined in the Labour as services "whose interruption would endanger the lives, safety or health of all or a section of the population" has yet to be produced. The Tunisian confederation Union générale tunisienne du Travail (UGTT) reports that the right to strike has largely been respected in public enterprises and services, and the provision of a "minimum service" during strikes, is subject to negotiations between unions and employers.

Unions, and particularly those representing state employees, have the right to strike, provided they give ten days' advance notice to the UGTT, which should give its authorisation. The ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) has repeatedly pointed out that subjecting the right to strike to approval by the main trade union confederation was restricting the right of grass roots unions to organise their activities and freely defend their members' interests. Also, the Committee found the nature of the penalty applicable to anyone who had taken part in an illegal strike to be disproportionate to the seriousness of the offence. According to the Labour Code, such sanctions may include imprisonment of between three and eight months.

Collective bargaining: Collective bargaining is recognised in law. Wages and working conditions are set in triennial negotiations between unions and employers after general guidelines are laid out through national tripartite consultations.

Protection of trade union representatives: The law bans anti-union discrimination. In May 2007 Tunisia ratified the ILO's 1971 Workers' Representatives Convention (n°135). Several amendments were made to the Labour Code (sections 165, 166 and a new 166bis) to bring it into line with the Convention; workers' representatives must be given access to the undertaking to carry out their legitimate role without interference and are now given improved protection against termination of employment for reasons connected with their union activities. The UGTT reported that the government had refused to discuss with the social partners the changes to be made to national law to bring it into line with the Convention.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: There remained a sharp contrast between the country's genuine economic progress and its record in terms of political governance and respect of human rights. In January, violent struggles between the police and Islamists resulted in 12 deaths.

Anti-union attitudes: Placed under strict control by the authorities, the main media have not managed or wished to air the grievances of workers and their organisations. There were many examples of concealment of union activities. The hunger strike by three teachers was not reported in the press. The UGTT criticised the bias of the state television management, which prevented trade unionists from presenting their arguments during the teachers' strike in April, as on many other occasions. A former regional leader of the UGTT announced that he wanted to create a new trade union centre, the Confédération générale tunisienne du travail (CGTT), but that he had been prevented by the authorities from holding a press conference. The Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research ordered the tearing up of the press releases of the higher education and research federation FGESRS-UGTT (Fédération générale de l'enseignement supérieur et de la recherche scientifique) and a ban on their posters in a university faculty in Tunis. In June, the Tunisian Human Rights League (Ligue tunisienne des droits de l'homme, LTDH) was prevented from reporting the demands of the women workers on strike in Monastir, not least since two of its members were beaten up before they could approach the women. UGTT local offices were also closed down by the authorities when the UGTT tried to hire out its buildings to the LTDH for meetings or conferences.

A glimmer of hope in the media sector: The activities of the Tunisian Union of Journalists (SJT) were again consistently undermined, with the authorities continuing to prevent it from holding a congress. Since the creation of the SJT in 2004, its leaders have been harassed in both their trade union and professional activities. The situation faced by the press was described as deplorable by independent journalists and human rights activists. Access to the website of the International Federation of Journalists, to which the SJT is affiliated, is banned. However, at the end of the year negotiations between the government and members of the Association of Tunisian Journalists (AJT), which has often been criticised for its lack of independence, led to an agreement on the dissolution of the AJT and the creation of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (Syndicat national des journalistes tunisiens).

Massive redeployment following a strike in the education sector: Around 100 teachers were moved to different schools after taking part in the national strike of 11 April. The strike paralysed almost all primary and secondary schools and the demands included the raising of bonuses and the right to hold trade union meetings within schools. The pressure exerted by the UGTT and its unions led to an agreement covering, amongst other things, the reinstatement of the redeployed teachers in their original posts.

Long but unsuccessful hunger strike by three sacked teachers: On 20 November, three teachers belonging to the secondary teachers' union SGES-UGTT (Syndicat général de l'enseignement secondaire), Ali Jallouli, Moez Zoghlami and Mohamed Moumni, held a hunger strike to protest against the loss of their jobs. According to the three teachers, and their union, the decision was directly linked to their participation in the strike on 11 April. Fraj Chebbah, the union's general secretary, denounced the ministry's intransigent attitude since it failed to listen to the strikers' demands and ignored their seriously declining health. The union announced that it would hold a strike in mid-January, unless the three teachers were reinstated and the redeployments were cancelled.

Higher education teachers face threats and discrimination: The higher education and research federation FGESRS-UGTT reported various forms of intimidation by the authorities against several of its members before, during and after the strike on 5 April. On 19 and 20 November, it went on strike again to protest against the way it was being treated by the authorities, which had failed to engage in any real negotiations with the union and had totally ignored its demands for years. The FGESRS also reported discriminatory measures against teachers owing to their union membership and activities, including blocking of promotion, refusals to award diplomas, redeployment, prolongation of the retirement age, premature breaking of contracts, refusal of training, etc.

Obstruction of a new trade union centre: An attempt was made to set up a new union centre, the Confédération générale tunisienne du travail (CGTT), but the organisation has not yet been officially recognised by the authorities. The constitution of the CGTT was prohibited by the Ministry of the Interior. In Tunis and the mining region Gafsa, requests to send the constitutions of the new affiliates of the CGTT were left unanswered.

Violations of union rights in the private sector: The procedures applicable for strikes are the same in the civil service, public enterprises and the private sector. In recent years, strikes and protests have been organised in several sectors, including education, health, banks, law courts, town councils, the post office, agriculture and social security. The UGTT has expressed its concern at the anti-union activities of certain private sector employers, particularly where trade union activists have been unfairly dismissed or harassed and where temporary workers have been introduced to avoid unionisation. In some industries, such as textiles, building and the hotel trade, a large majority of the workforce is temporary and recruited by sub-contracting agencies. These temporary workers are generally denied their basic rights, such as union rights and those pertaining to social protection, job security and respect for deadlines for the payment of wages.

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