Last Updated: Monday, 20 November 2017, 16:41 GMT

2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Syria

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Syria, 8 June 2011, available at: [accessed 21 November 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: 22,000,000
Capital: Damascus
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Syrian trade unions are required to belong to the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU), a nominally independent organisation that is funded by the government and closely linked to the ruling party. Collective bargaining hardly exists, and it is prohibitively difficult to call a lawful strike.


There is little room for trade union activity in Syria despite the enactment of a new Labour Code in April 2010. 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 conditions and 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 but they may not be elected to trade union office.

The right to collective bargaining is recognised in the 2010 Labour Code, however the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour has vast powers to object to and refuse the registration of concluded collective agreements. 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".


Background: Syria remains tightly controlled with repression of dissidents and increased arrests, trials and imprisonment of political and human rights activists. Dozens of journalists and writers have been prosecuted under draconian legislation in the past few years. One in eight children in Syria is reportedly in the labour market, and some 45% of workers are in the informal sector. Syrians also face increasing living costs and inflation.

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.

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.

Migrant domestic workers at risk: In February a new law, the Regulation of Private Employment Agency for Non-Syrian Domestic Helpers, Conditions and Rules of their Employments in Syria was introduced, regulating more closely migrant worker agencies. It also limited the time a foreign domestic worker can work in Syria to three years and set out requirements such as an adequate salary and proper method of payment, social security coverage, suitable working conditions, annual leave, clothing, food, medicine, standard working contracts and other entitlements and benefits. The law additionally put the responsibility for providing a safe working environment onto the agency. However, there remain illegal recruiters hiring migrants, primarily Filipinos, as domestic staff.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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