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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Tunisia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Tunisia, 9 June 2010, available at: [accessed 18 December 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: 10,200,000
Capital: Tunis
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Activists from the journalists union were harassed on countless occasions. The heavy sentences handed down to Gafsa workers and trade unionists were confirmed in February, but the 38 people sent to prison were given a conditional release in November.

Trade union rights in law

A number of restrictions apply despite basic trade union rights being guaranteed. The Labour Code provides for the right to form and join trade unions, and unlike for associations, prior authorisation is not required to create a union. However, foreign nationals need prior approval by the authorities to have access to union office. Wages and working conditions are set in triennial negotiations between unions and employers after general guidelines are laid out through national tripartite consultations.

While the right to strike is guaranteed, all strikes must be approved by the national trade union centre the Union générale tunisienne du travail (UGTT), which unduly restricts the activities of first-level unions. Unions must also announce the duration of the strike in advance. Furthermore, workers having participated in an unlawful strike can face long prison sentences of between three and eight months.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: The repression of any form of opposition was stepped up even further after the October elections won by Zine El Abidine Be Ali with 90% of the vote, his fifth term as President. The country's economic development suffered a setback at the hands of the world economic crisis and rising unemployment.

Long prison sentences for Gafsa "ringleaders" confirmed: On 4 February, a court of appeal confirmed the sentences handed down to workers and trade unionists in December 2008 in the Gafsa case. Thirty-eight people charged with leading the demonstrations in the Gafsa mining region in June 2008, which were violently put down by the security forces (see 2009 Survey), went before the appeal court. Most of the sentences were reduced, notably those of Adnan Hajji and Bechir Laabidi, two officials from the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) which were shortened from ten to eight years' in prison. But five people who had been released after the first trial were sentenced after the prosecution appealed. According to Amnesty International and several credible observers who attended the hearing, the appeal trial was unfair. Several of the 38 defendants had been tortured or suffered other forms of inhuman treatment. At the beginning of November they were all given a conditional release as part of a presidential pardon marking the 22nd anniversary of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali coming to power.

Government's repeated attempts to silence journalists' union: The publication in May of a report on press freedom in Tunisia by the Tunisian National Union of Journalists (SNJT), created in 2008, led to widespread attacks against the new union by government supporters. The document denounced the injustice against hundreds of national television and radio journalists on strike since January in protest at the government's refusal to meet their demands. A few days after the report came out, members of the pro-government media orchestrated a campaign against the SNJT. The resignation of several pro-government members of its executive led to its dissolution and to the "appointment", tainted with irregularities, of a new executive bureau openly supportive of President Ben Ali's party the Rassemblement constitutionnel démocratique (RCD). On 8 September police evicted SMNJT members from the union's premises and prevented other journalists from entering, including Neji Bghouri, the president of the legitimate SNJT. Several other union activists became the target of threats and bullying by their employers, the authorities and unknown attackers. On 8 October, Neji Bghbouri, Néjiba Hamrouni and Zied El Heni were subjected to lengthy security checks and had documents confiscated when they arrived at the airport on their way back from Jordan where they had attended an International Federation of Journalists' (IFJ) conference. On 15 October Hanène Belaïfa, a freelance journaliste on Radio Jeune (Youth Radio) and an SNJT activist, who had notably campaigned for the rights of temporary staff in the audiovisual media, was prevented from entering the radio station. On 16 October, Zied El Heni was beaten by unknown attackers in a public square in Carthage and his blog was hacked. On 3 November Sihem Bensedrine, a journalist and human rights activist, was struck by police as they prevented her from attending a colleague's trial. On 30 December plain clothes police officers tried to prevent Neji Bghbori from entering his office at the Assahafa daily paper, claiming they had received orders from the Ministry of the Interior. The intervention of several colleagues and passers-by ensured that this last act of harassment of the year against a journalist /trade unionist failed. (See 2009 Survey for more information on the creation of the SNJT).

Anti-union discrimination at Nestlé subsidiary: After Habib Ben Aifa was elected in June as general secretary of the Nestlé Tunisia Workers' Union (affiliated to the General Federation of Food and Tourism Workers – FGAT), the company's management sought to undermine the reputation of its employee, who had worked for the company as a sales representative for 20 years and was promoted as Head of Sales for Nestlé Nutrition. An "inspector" was sent to the clients visited by Habib Ben Aifa asking for complaints, to no avail. In September, the trade unionist was removed from his post on the grounds that there had been a drop in sales and was assigned to a position that required "a constant presence in the office". The union believes the measure was a reprisal for Habib Ben Aifa's trade union role during the sale of an ice-cream factory owned by the Nestlé group and negotiated in secret. In December staff at the factory held two strikes after being informed that their factory had been sold. No negotiation took place however between management and the union on the future of the 105 workers and the trade union leader was not reinstated in his former post.

Trade unionists harassed at Leoni: Deep concern was expressed over violations of fundamental rights at work and the extremely high level of precarious employment (70% of the workforce) at a coordination meeting organised by the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF) on 18 and 19 November in Tunis between trade unionists from Leoni production units in Morocco and Tunisia. According to participants, even though an international framework agreement (known as the Leoni Declaration on Social Rights) was signed by Leoni in 2003, employers showed no respect for trade union activity and union delegates faced various forms of intimidation. At Leoni Mateur Sud, one of the group's Tunisian units, the general secretary of the workers' union, affiliated to the General Metalwork and Electronics Federation (FGME-UGTT), was facing legal proceedings purely because of his trade union activities.

Discrimination in higher education: The General Federation of Higher Education and Scientific Research (FGESRS) had still not been granted official recognition as the legitimate organisation for the sector by the authorities. According to the FGESRS, the slowness of the courts in making a ruling was all part of a strategy by the authorities to suggest there was a crisis over trade union representation in the sector. In practice, however, the FGESRS was often consulted and involved in social dialogue, notably in the conclusion of three collective agreements in 2009. The FGESRS is affiliated to the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT).

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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