Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May 2016, 11:51 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Tunisia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Tunisia, 30 January 1996, available at: [accessed 24 May 2016]
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.


The Republic of Tunisia is dominated by President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD). The President appoints the Prime Minister, Cabinet, and 23 governors. Four opposition parties hold 19 of the 163 seats in Parliament. Municipal elections were held in May, and the RCD won 4,084 of 4,090 seats. The judiciary is not independent of the executive branch.

The police share responsibility for internal security with a paramilitary national guard. Both forces are under the control of the Minister of Interior and the President. The security services continued to be responsible for human rights abuses, although the number of complaints of incidents of mistreatment of persons in custody declined from the preceding year.

The major sectors of the economy include agriculture, tourism, petroleum, textiles, and manufactured exports. Remittances from workers abroad are an important source of revenue. Because of a third year of drought and a reported decline in tourism from Europe, economic growth in 1995 is estimated at 3.4 percent, down from the previous 5 to 6 percent yearly increases. The Government continued its longstanding successful efforts to improve the social and economic conditions of the population, particularly the urban poor and those living in rural areas.

The Government's human rights performance improved somewhat during the first half of the year but showed signs of deterioration in the last half. Serious problems remain. The Government continued to stifle freedoms of speech, press, and association. It continued to deny press credentials to a journalist who had published an interview with a political dissident. Under threat of police harassment, the resident reporter for Agence France Presse departed the country. Both journalists and academics continued to practice a high degree of self-censorship. The Government continued to use the threat of withholding government advertising as a means to dissuade newspapers from publishing undesirable material. Under such pressure, a local human rights group has been unable to find a publisher willing to print its bulletins.

The Government considers the Baha'i faith a heretical sect and in July deported a Baha'i leader who was a long-time resident in Tunisia. After the case attracted international attention, the Government permitted the individual to return to his home. The arrests in October of two opposition politicians were regarded as a government move to curb political dissent. The Government interfered with the correspondence of one human rights group and in November threatened another human rights group with prosecution for not following the law in publishing its annual report. Also in November, the Government prohibited Moncef Marzouki, a human rights advocate and former presidential candidate, from traveling to the U.S. to attend a democracy conference. Authorities prevented some associations from holding meetings in hotels and other public halls. Membership in the Islamist movement known as An-Nahda is prohibited, and during the year the Government sentenced several persons to prison for their association with An-Nahda.

Human rights monitors called for the investigation of two deaths in custody, but the Government indicated that neither death was due to official misconduct. Overall, there was a decline in the number of complaints lodged by detainees who allege they were mistreated by the security services. The President appointed a special commission to investigate claims of prisoner abuse. Although the commission did not release its findings, the Government used the report as the basis for dismissing two prison administrators from their duties. Although the Government has attempted to advance women's rights, social discrimination against women remains a problem.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Two reports of deaths in custody came to light. Noureddine Alaimi died on September 10 while being held at a police station in Metlaoui, and Jaafar Ben Ali Kichaoui died on June 7 while serving a 4-month prison term. The Government conducted investigations into both cases. It found that Alaimi had committed suicide by hanging himself after his arrest for drunkenness and disorderly conduct, and that Kichaoui was killed by another inmate who was subsequently charged with murder.

The Government also confirmed the death in August 1994 of Ezzedine Ben Aicha, an Islamist who had been in prison since his conviction in 1991-92. An official investigation attributed his death to a heart attack, but Ben Aicha's family claimed that foul play was involved. Investigations continued in the cases of two prisoners who died in custody in 1991--Abderraouf Laaribi and Abdelwahed Abdelzi.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

There were allegations that the security services mistreated detainees and prisoners in their custody, although the number of such complaints declined from 1994.

Human rights activists state that charges of mistreatment are difficult to substantiate. However, the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH), an independent group, brought several cases of alleged mistreatment to the attention of President Ben Ali's office. In response, the President appointed a commission to investigate the treatment of prisoners. The commission reported to him in September but did not publish its findings. The LTDH claimed that the commission had confirmed some instances of mistreatment. As the result of the investigation, the Director General of Prisons and the Director of the Prison in Tunis were removed from their positions.

The Government continued to ensure that police officers are aware of human rights requirements. All officers are required to sign statements that they are aware of Tunisian and international human rights standards and will abide by them. All judges and prosecutors receive human rights training at the Magistrates Institute.

Sahnoun El Jourhi, a leader of the banned An-Nahda Islamist Movement, who was serving a 15-year sentence, died in prison in January. Officials reported the cause of death as liver cancer. Jourhi's family did not dispute the reported cause of death but alleged that prison officials failed to arrange proper medical care for El Jourhi because he was an Islamist.

Prison conditions meet minimum international standards. Although the Government agreed in principle to allow LTDH to visit prisons, it did not permit the group to make any visits during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law authorizes the police to make arrests without warrants for suspected felonies and crimes in progress, and to hold suspects in prearraignment detention for a maximum of 10 days. Attorneys, human rights monitors, and former detainees maintain that the authorities unoficially extend the 10-day limit by delaying the registration of the date of arrest. Detainees have the right to be informed of the grounds for arrest before questioning and to be represented by counsel during their arraignment hearings.

Detainees do not have the right to a lawyer during prearraignment detention but may request an examination by a medical doctor. Otherwise most are held incommunicado during this period. In a minority of cases, the prosecutor may order the release of a detainee pending arraignment. The Government provides legal representation for indigents.

At the arraignment, the examining magistrate may decide to release the accused or to remand him to pretrial detention. There has been a system of bail since 1993, but judges rarely make use of it. Detainees are usually released without bail or with the personal guarantee of a third party.

In cases involving crimes for which the sentence may exceed 5 years, or which involve national security, pretrial detention may last for an initial period of 6 months, and is renewable by court order for two additional 4-month periods. During this period, the court conducts an investigation, hears arguments, and accepts evidence and motions from both parties. The case then goes before the Criminal Court of Appeal which has an indefinite period within which to set a trial date.

The Government banned the Islamist movement An-Nahda in 1992 because An-Nahda was judged to be in violation of the law prohibiting political parties organized by religion, race, or region. Membership in An-Nahda is punishable by imprisonment. In March the Government arrested Kamel Masmoudi, a Tunisian who was also a Canadian citizen, and convicted him for membership in An-Nahda. Masmoudi was sentenced to 8 years, but was released in July after receiving a Presidential pardon.

Exile is prohibited by law and is not practiced by the Government.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is part of the Ministry of Justice. It is not independent of the executive branch, which appoints, assigns, grants tenure to, and transfers judges. This situation renders judges susceptible to pressure in politically sensitive cases. The court system comprises the regular civil and criminal courts, including the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court, as well as military tribunals within the Defense Ministry.

Defendants in criminal cases generally receive due process. They have the right to be present at their trials, represented by counsel, question witnesses, and appeal verdicts. However, because the presiding judge dominates a trial, the defense attorney has little opportunity to participate directly. Some defense lawyers complain that the courts do not grant them sufficient time to prepare their cases. Although trials in the regular courts are open to the public, judges have restricted access in cases involving accused Islamists or leftists. Family members and other interested parties must obtain police approval to attend such trials.

The judiciary is sensitive to criticism. A female lawyer was charged with defaming the judiciary after protesting a court ruling against a client who had charged her husband with assault. The court had found that cigarette burns on the inside of the client's upper thigh had been self-inflicted.

In December Najib Hosni, a well-known human rights lawyer who has defended detainees accused of political offenses, was put on trial for charges related to a fraudulent real estate transaction in 1989. In January 1996, the court found Hosni guilty of forging the name of a terminally ill co-owner of a piece of land, which Hosni had contracted to buy from the other co-owners. Hosni reportedly alleged that he was mistreated during detention. Some observers speculated that the Government's motive in prosecuting Hosni was that he had previously defended accused Islamists in court and had spoken freely with international human rights advocates. While in detention, Hosni received an honorary degree from an American law school and a human rights award from the American Bar Association.

Military tribunals try cases involving military personnel and civilians accused of national security crimes. The tribunal consists of a civilian judge from the Supreme Court and four military judges. Defendants may appeal the tribunal's verdicts to the Supreme Court.

There is no reliable information on the number of political prisoners. An undetermined number of persons were arrested during the year for suspected membership in illegal political organizations, principally Islamist and Communist groups. Many of these detainees may be considered political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution provides for the inviolability of the person and the home and for the privacy of correspondence, "except in exceptional cases defined by law." Police must have warrants to conduct searches, but this requirement is sometimes ignored in cases in which the authorities consider that state security is involved or in which a "flagrant crime" is deemed to have been committed. The authorities closely monitor the activities of Islamists and leftists, search their homes without warrants, and harass their relatives and associates by repeatedly interrogating them. The authorities have also interfered with the delivery of the mail. Police presence is heavy throughout the country. Traffic officers routinely stop motorists to examine their identity and vehicular documents.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of thought, expression, and the press. In practice, however, the Government limits the exercise of these freedoms. The Press Code contains broad provisions prohibiting subversion and defamation, neither of which is clearly defined. The authorities use the placement of government advertising in newspapers as a technique to control the press. Such advertising is a significant part of revenue for newspapers and magazines. In the past, the Government has withheld placing advertisements in publications which have published articles deemed offensive. As a result of such pressure, the human rights group LTDH has been unable to find a publisher willing to print its communiques or annual report (also see Section 4).

In addition, the Government exerts control over the media by issuing or withholding credentials to journalists. It continued to deny accreditation to a journalist dismissed from the government news agency, Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP), in 1994 for publishing an interview with an opposition politician in a foreign publication. The Government also provides official texts on major domestic and international events and has reprimanded publishers and editors for failing to publish these statements. All these factors induce a high degree of self-censorship in the media.

The Government also showed intolerance of criticism in the foreign media. In January the resident French Press Agency (AFP) correspondent left Tunisia after police confronted him in a parking lot and questioned him about sexually assaulting the woman with whom he was talking. The journalist maintained that the Government staged the incident because he had not adequately reported the Government's position in a dispute with the International Commission of Jurists. In February the Government permitted the French publications Le Monde and Liberation to renter the market. Both had been banned in 1994.

Before distributing publications onto the market, printers and publishers are required by law to deposit copies of the publication with the Chief Prosecutor (Procureur), the Ministry of Interior, the Secretary of State for Information, and the Ministry of Culture. Similarly, distributors must deposit publications printed abroad with the Chief Prosecutor and various ministries prior to distributing them onto the market. While publishers need not wait for an authorization of the publication's contents, they must obtain a receipt of deposit before distribution. On occasion such receipts are reportedly withheld, sometimes indefinitely. Without such receipts, publications may not be legally distributed. The Press Code stipulates fines and confiscations for failure to comply with these provisions.

In November the LTDH did not deposit copies of its annual report for 1994 at all the required offices, maintaining the report is not for the general market. The Government disagrees with the LTDH's interpretation and has formally notified it that it may be prosecuted for the infraction (also see Section 4.).

In July the National Assembly passed legislation regulating the purchase and installation of satellite receiving dishes. However, the sale of dishes remained suspended pending the issuance of implementing regulations; these had not been promulgated by year's end.

In October Mohamed Moaada, president of the opposition party MDS, was arrested for allegedly accepting money from a Libyan citizen for a report containing national security information. That exchange allegedly took place one year before Moaada's arrest, which itself took place a day after Moaada wrote a letter to President Ben Ali, complaining about the lack of political freedom. Later in October, Khemais Chammari, an MDS colleague of Moaada and member of the Chamber of Deputies, was indicted for illegally disclosing information about the Moaada investigation. The Chamber then voted to lift Chammari's immunity, which allows the State to prosecute him. At year's end, his case was under investigation. Although there is insufficient information to judge the validity of the charges against Moaada, some observers speculated that the two episodes were attempts by the Government to curb dissent.

The Government owns and operates the Tunisian Radio and Television Establishment (ERTT). ERTT's coverage of government news is taken directly from the official news agency, TAP. There are several regional radio stations and one local television channel. Bilateral agreements with France and Italy permit Tunisians to receive the French channel, France 2, and the Italian station Rai Uno.

Like journalists, university professors practice a form of self-censorship, avoiding classroom criticism of the Government or statements supportive of the Islamist An-Nahda party. The presence of police on campuses also discourages dissent.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly. Groups wishing to hold a public meeting, rally, or march must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Interior. The authorities routinely approve such permits, except in cases involving proscribed organizations. However, some groups alleged that hotels and other facilities would often be pressured by the Government into canceling previously made arrangements for meeting rooms.

The human rights group LTDH continued to conduct activities, although it does not comply with the Law on Associations which requires that membership in associations must be open to all applicants. The LTDH prefers to control the admission of new members as a means of ensuring its independence. The local chapter of Amnesty International was unable to arrange facilities for public meetings and received threatening visits from people it believed to be police agents. Despite this harassment, the chapter continued to conduct activities.

The law stipulates that political parties must reject all forms of violence, including fanaticism, racism, and other types of discrimination. No political party may be based on religion, race, sex, or region, receive funds from a foreign party, or financial aid from foreign governments or citizens. All political party members must be citizens for at least 5 years.

The Government uses its authority to license political parties and nongovernmental organizations as a means to control the political environment. Since 1994 the Ministry of Interior, which registers parties, has declined to accept an application from the Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties.

There are seven legal political parties. The Maoist Tunisian Communist Workers Party (POCT) remains underground. In November President Ben Ali pardoned Hamma Hammami and Mohamed Kilani, two POCT leaders, who had been tried in absentia in 1992 for, inter alia, membership in an illegal party. Hammami, the former editor of POCT's defunct newspaper, was arrested in 1995 and was serving a 5-year, 6-month sentence at the time of the pardon. Kilani, also an editor for the party newspaper, was arrested in 1994 and was serving a 2-year sentence.

The Government maintains that the Islamist An-Nahda Party is illegal because it is based on religion. The nominal head of An-Nahda, Rachid Ghannouchi, was granted political asylum in Britain in 1993. The courts sentenced several individuals in 1995 to prison for association with An-Nahda. These included Mohamed Ali Abrouk, a junior doctor, and Mohamed Naceur Jouini, an engineer. Both were sentenced in January to 2 years' imprisonment. Jouini received an additional year in prison for collecting funds for An-Nahda. Also in January, Younis Jouini, a soldier, was convicted by a military court in Le Kef for membership in An-Nahda. He was sentenced to 1 year in prison. In May a court sentenced Imed Ebdelli, a 29-year-old philosophy student at Tunis University, to 3 years in prison and 5 years of administrative surveillance for belonging to an "unauthorized association" (An-Nahda).

Ali Baazaoui, a high school physical education teacher, was arrested in May for belonging to an unauthorized association.

He was later sentenced to 3 years in prison and an additional 3 years of administrative control.

c. Freedom of Religion

Islam is the state religion, but the Government permits the practice of other religions. The Government regards the Baha'i faith as a heretical sect of Islam and permits its adherents to practice their faith in private only. In July authorities deported Baha'i leader Rauchon Mustafa, a native Egyptian who had resided in Tunisia for more than 40 years, to London from whence he traveled to the United States. After pleas from his family and members of the Baha'i faith and others outside Tunisia, the Government reversed its decision and permitted Mustafa to return. The authorities maintain that Baha'is, like members of other religions, are free to practice their faith without governmental interference or harassment.

With 2,500 adherents, the Jewish community is the country's largest indigenous religious minority. The Government assures the Jewish community freedom of worship, safeguards its security, and pays the salary of the Grand Rabbi. The small Christian community is composed mainly of foreigners. It is free to hold church services and operates a small number of schools.

The Government views proselytizing as an act against "public order." Authorities ask foreigners suspected of proselytizing to depart the country and do not permit them to return. There were no reported cases of official action against persons suspected of proselytizing.

The Government controls the mosques and pays the salaries of the prayer leaders. The 1988 Law on Mosques provides that only personnel appointed by the Government may lead activities in the mosques.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for these rights, and people are free to change their place of residence or work at will.

Human rights monitors complained that the Government arbitrarily withholds passports from citizens but in fewer instances than in previous years. Several such complaints from earlier years were settled. There is no arbitrary restriction on emigration or repatriation.

The Government restored the passport of Moncef Marzouki, an opposition politician who unsuccessfully sought to run for the presidency in 1994. Marzouki's passport was confiscated during his arrest in 1994 for allegedly spreading false information and defaming judicial authorities in an interview he gave to a Spanish newspaper. After recovering his passport, Marzouki traveled abroad and returned to Tunisia. However, in October the Government prohibited Marzouki from traveling abroad again, this time to the United States to attend a conference on democracy. Marzouki was subject to such a travel ban because as a public-sector employee, he must obtain government authorization before traveling abroad. Marzouki is a physician and professor of public health but claims that he is no longer permitted to work at the hospital where he is a staff member.

The Government does not accept refugees for permanent resettlement.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides that the citizenry shall elect the President and members of the legislature for 5-year terms. However, the ability of citizens to change their government through democratic means has yet to be demonstrated. The ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), and its direct predecessor parties, have controlled the political arena since Tunisia gained independence in 1956. The RCD dominates the Cabinet, the Chamber of Deputies, regional and local governments. The President appoints the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, and the 23 governors. The President and the RCD dominate politics at the national, regional, and local levels. The Government and the RCD are closely integrated: the President of the Republic is also the President of the RCD, and the RCD's Secretary-General holds the rank of Minister of State.

The 163-seat Chamber of Deputies does not function as an effective counterweight to the executive branch. The Electoral Code provides for a winner-take-all formula for 144 of its seats. The ruling RCD party won all those seats in the 1994 parliamentary elections. Nineteen additional seats were reserved for unsuccessful candidates. They were divided among four opposition parties after the 1994 election. Voting is by secret ballot. All legal parties are free to present candidates.

In May the RCD won 4,084 of 4,090 seats in countrywide municipal elections. In large part the landslide was due to the RCD's effectiveness as a party and the opposition's lack of popular support. However, opposition party leaders claimed the Government manipulated voter registration lists and intimidated opposition candidates.

Women are permitted to participate in politics. Eleven women are members of the Chamber of Deputies, and one is a Junior Minister (charged with Women's and Children's Affairs) in the Prime Minister's office. Nevertheless, women's presence in public office is disproportionately low; they hold few senior government posts.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Government recognizes several local human rights organizations, but subjects them to a variety of restrictions. The most active is the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH), an independent group. Although LTDH's refusal to permit open membership does not comply with the law governing associations, the group claims 4,400 members in 41 chapters nationwide. It continues to hold meetings. In November the League published its first annual report, covering events in 1994. Although the report was printed and distributed privately, the Government has threatened LTDH with prosecution for violating the press Law (see Section 2.a.). LTDH has been unable to find local newspapers willing to publish its communiques. The group has unsuccessfully sought to engage various government ministries in a human rights dialog. During the year, LTDH brought allegations of the mistreatment of prisoners to the attention of President Ben Ali. The President appointed a commission to investigate the allegations but declined to include any LTDH representatives in it (see Section 1.c.).

The Arab Institute of Human Rights, headquartered in Tunis, was founded in 1989 by the LTDH, the Arab Organization for Human Rights, and the Union of Arab Lawyers. It is an information, rather than advocacy, organization. The Higher Committee for Human Rights and Basic Freedoms, a governmental body established by the President in 1991, presented its fourth annual report to him in September but did not make it public.

Amnesty International (AI) protested the Government's harassment of its Tunisia chapter, claiming that the Government instigated the last-minute cancellations of facilities for public meetings, intercepted the chapter's mail, and sent agents to AI's offices to intimidate its staff.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution provides that all citizens shall have equal rights and duties and be equal before the law. The Government generally observes this practice.


Violence against women occurs, but there are no reliable statistics to measure its extent. The Tunisian Association of Democratic Women operates the country's only counseling center for women who are victims of domestic violence. The center, located in Tunis, assists approximately 20 women per month. Instances of rape or assault committed by someone unknown to the victim are rare. Battered women first seek help from family members. Police intervention is often ineffective because police officers and the courts tend to regard domestic violence as a problem to be handled by family members.

Although women still face discrimination in certain legal and social matters, the Government has made serious efforts to advance women's rights. The major focus in this regard in 1995 was the implementation of the 1993 changes in the Personal Status Code and in a 1994 law which enables divorced women to seek court orders to compel child support payments from their ex-husbands.

There has been continued growth in the number of women in the medical, legal, and other professions. Women comprise an estimated 25 percent of the work force, a figure which probably underestimates their presence, as many women are employed in the informal sector, as well as seasonally in agriculture. According to government figures, women comprise 26 percent of the civil service, employed mainly in the fields of education, health, and social affairs at the middle or lower levels.


In November the Government promulgated a body of laws to constitute a code for the protection of children. The code is based primarily on Canadian family and juvenile law and consolidates protections relating to children previously included in the Personal Status Code. The new law proscribes child abuse, abandonment, and sexual or economic exploitation. Penalties for convictions for abandonment and indecent assault on minors are severe. The new code also creates a presidential appointee ("delegue") for the protection of children, outlines judicial protection for children, and defines the rights of delinquents under the juvenile law. The Government is committed to upholding these laws.

People with Disabilities

A law enacted in 1981 prohibits discrimination based on disabilities and mandates that disabled persons comprise at least 1 percent of public and private sector employees.

All public buildings constructed since 1991 must be accessible to physically disabled persons. Many cities, including Tunis, have begun to install wheelchair access ramps on city sidewalks. There is a general trend toward making public transportation more accessible to disabled persons. The Government issues special cards to the disabled for benefits such as unrestricted parking, priority medical service, preferential seating on public transportation, and some consumer discounts.

Indigenous People

The small Berber minority constitutes under 3 percent of the population. Some older Berbers have retained their native language but the younger generation has been assimilated into Tunisian culture through schooling and marriage. Berbers are free to participate in politics and express themselves culturally.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution and the Labor Code stipulate the right of workers to form unions. The Tunisian General Federation of Labor (UGTT) is the country's only labor federation and claims about 15 percent of the work force as members, including civil servants and employees of state-owned enterprises. There is no legal prohibition against the establishment of other labor federations. A union may be dissolved only by court order.

The UGTT and its member unions are legally independent of the Government and the ruling party but operate under regulations which restrict their freedom of action. The UGTT's membership includes persons associated with all political tendencies, although Islamists have been removed from union offices. The current UGTT leadership follows a policy of cooperation with the Government and its economic reform program. There are credible reports that the UGTT receives substantial government subsidies to supplement modest union dues and funding from the National Social Security Account.

Unions, including civil servants organizations, have the right to strike, provided they give 10 days' advance notice and the UGTT approves of the strike. These restrictions, however, are rarely observed in practice. In recent years, the majority of strikes have been illegal because the UGTT did not approve them in advance. The Government does not prosecute workers involved in illegal strike activity. The law prohibits retribution against strikers, but some employers punish strikers, who are then forced to pursue costly and time-consuming legal remedies to protect their rights.

Labor disputes are settled through conciliation panels in which labor and management are equally represented. Tripartite regional arbitration commissions settle industrial disputes when conciliation fails.

Unions are free to associate with international bodies.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The right to organize and bargain collectively is protected by law and observed in practice. Wages and working conditions are set by negotiations between the UGTT member unions and employers.

Approximately 47 collective bargaining agreements set standards for industries in the private sector and cover 80 percent of the total private sector work force. The Government's role in these negotiations is minimal, consisting mainly of lending its good offices if talks appear to be stalled. However, the Government must approve, but may not modify, the agreements.

The UGTT also negotiates with the various ministries and state-run enterprises on behalf of public sector employees. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers. The UGTT, however, is concerned about increasing antiunion activity among private sector employers, especially the firing of union activists and the use of temporary workers to avoid unionization. In certain industries, such as textiles, temporary workers account for 80 percent of the work force. The Labor Code protects temporary workers, but enforcement is more difficult than in the case of permanent workers. A committee hears cases of alleged unjustified firing of workers.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not specifically prohibit compulsory labor, but there have been no reports of its practice in recent years. In January the Government abolished the practice of sentencing convicts to "rehabilitation through work". That practice, which dated to the Penal Code of 1912, had been of concern to the International Labor Organization's Committee of Experts as a possible violation of ILO convention 29 on Forced Labor.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment in manufacturing is 15 years, and in agriculture 13 years. The Government requires children to attend school until age 16. Workers between the ages of 14 and 18 are prohibited from working from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Children over the age of 14 may work a maximum of 4.5 hours a day. The combination of school and work may not exceed 7 hours. Inspectors of the Ministry of Social Affairs examine the records of employees to verify that employers comply with the minimum age law. Nonetheless, young children often perform agricultural work in rural areas and work as vendors in urban areas.

The UGTT has expressed concern that child labor, frequently disguised as apprenticeship, still exists, principally in the handicraft industry. In other instances, young rural girls are sometimes placed as domestics in urban homes by their fathers who collect the children's wages.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labor Code provides for a range of administratively determined minimum wages, which are set by a commission of representatives from the Ministries of Social Affairs, Planning, Finance, and National Economy. During the course of its deliberations, the commission consults with the UGTT and the Employers' Association. The President approves the commission's recommendations. When supplemented by transportation and family allowances, the minimum wage covers only essential costs for a worker and family. Since May the minimum wage has been $164 (154.128 dinars) per month for a 48-hour workweek and $144 (135.024 dinars) per month for a 40-hour workweek.

The Labor Code sets a standard 48-hour workweek for most sectors and requires one 24-hour rest period. The workweek is 40 hours in the energy, transportation, petrochemical, and metallurgy industries.

Regional labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing standards. They inspect most firms about once every 2 years. However, the Government often encounters difficulty in enforcing the minimum wage law, particularly in nonunionized sectors of the economy. Moreover, more than 240,000 workers are employed in the informal sector, which falls outside the purview of labor legislation.

The Ministry of Social Affairs has responsibility for improving health and safety standards in the workplace. There are special government regulations covering such hazardous occupations as mining, petroleum engineering, and construction. Working conditions and standards tend to be better in firms that are export-oriented than in those producing for the domestic market. Reported workplace accidents during the first 6 months of 1994 (latest data available) indicate a 0.9 percent decline in mishaps over the same period in 1993. However, the total number of workdays lost due to accidents during the same period was up 6.5 percent over 1993. Work-related deaths increased to 82 in the first 6 months of 1994, compared to 76 for the same period in 1993. Workers are free to remove themselves from dangerous situations without jeopardizing their employment, and they may take legal action against employers who retaliate for exercising their right.

Search Refworld