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2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Libya

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 - Libya, 20 November 2008, available at: [accessed 22 September 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.

Population: 6,200,000
Capital: Tripoli
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

In Libya the law imposes a single trade union system and collective bargaining is heavily curtailed in practice. The national trade union centre stated its intention to develop its independence and democratic practices, but the current political system is continuing to control the unions and to restrict the freedom of socio-professional associations and civil society organisations.

Trade union rights in law

A trade union monopoly: Membership of the General Trade Union Federation of Workers (GTUFW) is automatic, although workers do have the right to opt out. Independent trade unions are banned. Candidates for trade union office must be of Libyan nationality.

In 2007, the federation demanded improvements in workers' living and working conditions but it continued to function as an integral part of the system of "People's Committees", which is characteristic of Libya. Based on that system, socio-professional organisations can only be tolerated if they support the political system in place. The general secretaries of the GTUFW, at each level of the federation, are asked to hold an ex officio post in these committees, which form the pillars of the central political power structure.

Collective bargaining – highly restricted: The Labour Code requires that clauses of collective agreements be in conformity with the national economic interest. That provision allows the government to preclude any demand it regards as incompatible with its economic and social preferences.

Right to strike – compulsory arbitration: According to section 150 of the Labour Code the exhaustion of all conciliation and arbitration procedures is the only condition for a lawful strike and section 176 imposes a penalty of imprisonment or a fine against anyone who contravenes this provision. Collective disputes must be referred to compulsory arbitration at the request of one of the parties or at the discretion of the public authorities, the outcome of which is binding on both parties. As the ILO has noted, this system makes it possible to prohibit virtually all strikes or end them quickly.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: The Libyan authorities have backed up their new international policy with an unprecedented opening of the economy to foreign investors and a speeded-up dismantling of the public sector. In January, the government announced its intention to reduce the number of civil servants by one third, affecting some 400,000 people. But those economic transformations did not engender any political reforms, either in terms of the exercise of power or on respect for human rights. Foreign workers from neighbouring countries, asylum seekers and migrants trying to reach Europe via Libya are the most vulnerable groups. They are frequently arrested and mistreated.

Role of the national centre: The GTUFW has recently claimed to have become independent and has changed its name, dropping the word "producers" as a means of stressing that it is a workers' union. The leadership of the union centre has adopted several amendments to its constitution to bring it more in line with the principles of free and democratic trade unionism. But these changes have to be submitted for "legalisation" to the next "Congress of People's Committees". So far, the structures of the organisation have not changed, neither have most of its leaders.

The national leaders of the GTUFW claim to have opposed the government on several occasions in 2007. However, the GTUFW appears not to have adopted any position on the case of the six Bulgarians condemned to death, or indeed on the mass expulsions of migrant workers, who constitute an essential part of the country's workforce.

Collective bargaining: The government has the right to set salaries unilaterally and even to cut them, as it has done repeatedly, for instance with the national airline. So in practice there is no real collective bargaining at either national or sectoral level. In the event of disputes, the union centre approaches the management to find solutions and conclude an individual agreement for the company. The GTUFW can appeal to the "Congress of People's Committees" to get wage increases or social benefits for workers. However privatisation and the increasing number of foreign-owned enterprises are creating an unprecedented situation, whereby workers' representatives will have to negotiate with new employers and with far more limited state intervention.

That will give the GTUFW a chance to display some concrete progress towards achieving its independence and the ability to represent workers' interests effectively.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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