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2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Mauritania

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 - Mauritania, 8 June 2011, available at: [accessed 18 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: 3,300,000
Capital: Nouakchott
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The authorities and employers refused to negotiate with trade unions. Attempts to organise workers and protest actions were repressed. As a general rule highly restrictive legislation makes it very difficult for trade unions to function properly.


Freedom of association is strictly regulated despite some initial guarantees. Workers are free to form and join trade unions by virtue of the 2004 Labour Code. However, prior authorisation from the government is required to register a union. Only workers' representatives within companies are protected against anti-union discrimination, and reinstatement for arbitrary dismissals is not available.

Collective bargaining is severely circumscribed, since the Ministry for the Civil Service and Labour decides whether or not an organisation may engage in negotiations, and can even participate in the preparation of collective agreements. The head of government also decides how collective bargaining is organised at the national level.

Furthermore, although the right to strike is recognised, cumbersome procedures must be exhausted before a legal strike can be called. Civil service unions must give one month's notice prior to a strike, and all strikes can be declared illegal by the public authorities, without the possibility of appeal. The list of "essential services" is also bloated.


Background: Poverty and unemployment remained high despite the country's mining industry, which accounts for 75% of exports but only 3% of jobs. Nearly one Mauritanian in two lives below the poverty line and agricultural production only meets 25% of domestic needs. In November, as the country marked its 50th anniversary, the President called for better dialogue with the political opposition. Human rights violations are still widespread. The presence of hundreds of thousands of migrants in the country is also a cause for concern. An ambitious partnership between Mauritanian, Senegalese and Malian trade unions to help these migrants continues to develop.

Social dialogue at a standstill: Social dialogue remained virtually non-existent at all levels. The only multi-sector collective agreement dates back to 1974. There are only four sectoral agreements, the most recent of which (for the mining industry) dates back to 1969. In April the four main trade union centres lodged a formal complaint with the ILO about their exclusion from social dialogue forums, where only unions loyal to the government were invited to take part. Both public and private employers will not, in general, negotiate with the trade unions until a dispute breaks out.

Ineffective labour inspection: The enforcement of rights is complicated by the fact that labour inspectors have few means at their disposal and corruption is rife. Some have to cover regions that extend over 6,000 square kilometres, without a telephone or car. Even when a dispute breaks out, labour inspections are limited to voluntary conciliation. Taking a case to court does not guarantee that a dispute will be resolved. The procedures for settling disputes have also become increasingly lengthy and complex. The legal environment is such that cases pile up and can be left to collect dust for years before often contradictory rulings are made. Furthermore, if the courts rule against them, employers can ignore the decision with impunity.

Interference and relentless anti-union tactics by many employers: In many companies, employers are ruthless with trade union activists, and sometimes do not hesitate to dismiss them with impunity. There is constant interference in trade union affairs. Trade union elections are delayed, manipulated or banned (Macore, Mauritel, Bemop, the Autonomous Port of Nouakchott, etc.) . In the private sector, the increasing use of sub-contracting has weakened the trade union struggle. But multinational companies are also guilty of anti-union tactics. In January, for example, the Free Confederation of Mauritanian Workers (CLTM) denounced the aggressive behaviour of a Coca Cola executive towards his staff, particularly on the grounds of their union membership.

Several demonstrations repressed, many arrests: Many strikes were repressed by the authorities. The most serious incidents took place in Nouakchott in May during a dockers' protest. Anti-riot police used extreme violence against the demonstrators on several occasions, and many were injured. According to the Free Confederation of Mauritanian Workers (CLTM), 70 dockers were taken in for police questioning during the clashes. On 6 May, police used truncheon blows to disperse Ksar town hall employees. The National Local Authorities' Workers' Union (SNTCL) had applied for authorisation for the demonstration several times, in vain. Earlier in the year, on 3 March, elementary teachers who held a sit-in outside the national Education Ministry were violently dispersed by the police. Six primary school teachers were taken for police questioning.

Public service strike repressed: During a general strike by public service workers on 15, 16 and 17 March, organised by the Workers' Union of Mauritania (UTM), the General Workers' Confederation of Mauritania (UTM), the General Workers' Confederation of Mauritania (CGTM), the Free Confederation of Mauritanian Workers (CLTM) and the National Confederation of Workers of Mauritania (CNTM), several trade unionists were taken for police questioning, and others were summoned to appear before the walis (governors) in a bid to break the movement. This strategy worked in several towns such as Sélibaly (in the Guidimagha region) where the security forces even raided the CGTM's regional office, which was being used as the headquarters of the striking unions. All the trade unionists in the building were taken to the police station. There were many incidents of pressure and intimidation. And while the trade unions' demands were obscured or denounced by the official media, the pro-government unions were given full voice. Several strikers faced heavy sanctions.

CGTM excluded from delegation to International Labour Conference: The Labour Ministry refused to include a member of the General Workers' Confederation of Mauritania (CGTM) in the country's workers' delegation to the International Labour Conference, in violation of the Labour Code which sets the criteria for representation. It argued, incorrectly, that the national centre was not one of the most representative.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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