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2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Tunisia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2007
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Tunisia, 9 June 2007, available at: [accessed 20 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: 10,000,000
Capital: Tunis
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Members of the journalists union continued to face harassment, including arrest and dismissal, while teachers faced intimidation after going on strike to demand, inter alia, respect of their trade union rights.

Trade union rights in law

The Labour Code provides for workers to form and join trade unions. Unlike associations, prior authorisation is not required to form a trade union. A union may only be dissolved by court order.

Right to strike: The right to strike is recognised. A decree that was supposed to set out the list of "Essential services", defined in the Labour as services "whose interruption would endanger the lives, safety or health of all or a section of the population" has yet to be produced. While this provision is potentially open to abuse, the Tunisian confederation Union générale tunisienne du Travail (UGTT) reports that the right to strike has largely been respected in public enterprises and services, and the provision of a "minimum service" during strikes, is subject to negotiations between unions and employers.

Unions, and particularly those representing state employees, have the right to strike, provided they give ten days' advance notice to the UGTT, which should give its authorisation. In 2005, the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) pointed out once again that subjecting the right to strike to approval by the main trade union confederation was restricting the right of grass roots unions to organise their activities and freely defend their members' interests. Also, the Committee found the nature of the penalty applicable to anyone who had taken part in an illegal strike to be disproportionate to the seriousness of the offence. According to the Labour Code, such sanctions may include imprisonment of between three and eight months.

Collective bargaining: Collective bargaining is recognised in law. Wages and working conditions are set in triennial negotiations between unions and employers after general guidelines are laid out through national tripartite consultations.

Protection of trade union representatives: The law bans anti-union discrimination. In November 2006 President Ben Ali announced that the government would ratify ILO Convention 135 on the protection of workers' representatives. The UGTT reported that the government had refused to discuss with the social partners the changes to be made to national law to bring it in line with the Convention.

Trade union rights in practice

Anti-union attitudes in the private sector: The UGTT has expressed its concern at the anti-union activities of certain private sector employers, particularly where trade union activists have been unfairly dismissed or harassed and where temporary workers have been introduced to avoid unionisation. In some industries, such as textiles, building and the hotel trade, a large majority of the workforce is temporary and recruited by sub-contracting agencies. These temporary workers are generally denied their basic rights, such as union rights and those pertaining to social protection, job security and respect for deadlines for the payment of wages.

Teachers: In the public sector, teachers have also complained of anti-union attitudes by the Education Ministry. One of the principal demands of two teachers' strikes in 2006 was the respect of their trade union rights.

Right to strike: The UGTT has noted that strike procedures are applied in the same manner in essential public services, public enterprises and the private sector. In recent years strikes have been held, in practice, in the education and health sectors, banks, the postal service, agriculture, and many public companies and offices.

Violations in 2006

Background: In September, participants from 20 countries were prevented from holding a major conference on Employment and the Right to Work in the Euro-Mediterranean Area in September, just two days before it was due to begin, apparently due to the intervention of the government.

Harassment of journalists' union continues: The harassment faced by leaders and members of the Tunisian Union of Journalists (Syndicat des Journalistes Tunisiens – SJT) since its creation in May 2004 continued in 2006. Lotfi Hajji, General Secretary of the SJT was detained and questioned by police in May 2006, accused of holding a secret meeting in his home. In June 2006 he was again arrested, without warrant, and taken 60km from Tunis to Bizerte where he was held in detention for four hours. Documents were removed from the office of Slim Boukhedir, a cultural journalist and member of the SJT in February. He had earlier been warned to leave the SJT, had been detained repeatedly by the police and had received many threatening phone calls. He was fired by the El Sherouk newspaper in April.

Intimidation of striking teachers: When secondary school teachers went on strike in May 2006 they complained of intimidation by the authorities, notably in Kasserine. They also complained that the Ministry was "escalating" tensions by banning union meetings and posters in schools. A week earlier primary school teachers had gone on strike, also complaining that their trade union rights had been flouted.

Police violence around the UGTT Congress: International and national press and observers reported widely on police violence during the first day of the 21st UGTT Congress, held from 14 to 16 December in Monastir. Strong contingents of uniformed and civilian clothes police were in place to prevent non-accredited activists from entering the Congress hall, as had happened during the previous Congress, five years earlier.

Protests by non-accredited trade unionists started around 9.00 a.m., and were met by police officers who intervened brutally against their gathering, in the immediate vicinity of the Saqanes-Almuradi hotel where the Congress was being held. Al-Habib Basbas, former Head of the Bank Workers' Trade Union and another activist from the same sector, Shakib Dahdouh, were reportedly brutally beaten by the police. This prompted a solidarity reaction from some delegates inside the Congress hall, about 100 of whom walked out to express support for those kept outside. In the afternoon, plain-clothes police and government activists attacked the protesters and reportedly sabotaged some of their cars.

A number of unionists sustained injuries at the hands of the police, including Khamis Saqrah, a member of the Executive Bureau of a sectoral union, who was taken to a Sousse hospital, Hammadi Bin Mim, a leader from the Secondary Education Trade Union, Abdullah Qarram, a former leader of the Finance Trade Union, Mohamed Bin Ammar, a union activist whose right ear sustained damage in the attack, as well as an agricultural workers' union activist, Al-Akhdar Amarah. When the dissenting trade unionists returned to the hotel where they had checked in, they found their luggage had been thrown in front of their rooms and were ordered to leave. Meanwhile, police blocked roads leading to Monastir in order to prevent trade unionists arriving from other areas from reaching the Congress venue. One such unionist was Na'eema Musallam, a non-accredited woman candidate for the Executive Bureau. When she complained that police had prevented her from entering the city, she was reportedly told that she "could have followed the Congress from her house".

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