Last Updated: Monday, 23 October 2017, 15:25 GMT

The Global State of Workers' Rights - Eritrea

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 31 August 2010
Cite as Freedom House, The Global State of Workers' Rights - Eritrea, 31 August 2010, available at: [accessed 24 October 2017]
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.

Very Repressive

The government of Eritrea has ratified the main International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions guaranteeing freedom of association and the rights to organize and bargain collectively. Under Eritrea's Labor Proclamation No. 118, workers have the legal right to form unions. However, there are severe restrictions in practice. The civil service, military, police, and other professions defined as "essential service" providers are precluded from union activity. Groups of 20 or more persons seeking to form a union require special approval from the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare. The National Confederation of Eritrean Workers (NCEW) is the country's main union body and has affiliated unions for women, teachers, young people, and general workers. The government controls all the unions, as it does all other elements of society in Eritrea. Workers whose profession has an NCEW-affiliated union are required to join it.

The law allows strikes, but because all unions are closely tied to the government, this right is not exercised in practice. Similarly, collective bargaining is allowed, but in reality the government sets wages and working conditions for public-sector employees. Under Proclamation 118, a board consisting of workers, employers, and officials from the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare arbitrates disputes. Complainants can contest its decisions in the courts.

The government imposes a harsh system of forced labor and national service on its citizens, in violation of ILO Convention 29. This system effectively renders meaningless the country's legal protections for workers. Citizens between the ages of 18 and 50 are liable to be called upon to perform compulsory labor in any given year. The same age group is also required to undertake national service of indefinite length, either in the military or in civilian work programs. Such obligations take people far from their homes and families and deprive them of a living wage. The families of those who evade national service face imprisonment or heavy fines. The government justifies its repressive policies by arguing that potential aggression by Eritrea's neighbor and former ruler, Ethiopia, compels the country to remain in a perpetual state of readiness for war.

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