Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2017, 07:49 GMT

2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Syria

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 - Syria, 20 November 2008, available at: [accessed 15 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: 20,000,000
Capital: Damascus
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

There was no change in Syria. There is only one trade union federation allowed: the GFTU. Workers are threatened with severe punishments, including forced labour, if they take strike action. Migrant workers are abused as they lack legal protection.

Trade union rights in law

Trade union monopoly: The law prohibits independent trade unions. All workers' organisations must be affiliated with the country's sole official trade union federation, the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU), which is strictly controlled by the ruling Ba'th party. The GFTU controls most aspects of union activity and determines which sectors or areas of activity can have a union. It acts as an information channel between political decision-makers and workers, also passing back to the decision makers information about workers' needs. It has the power to disband the executive committee of any union.

The ILO has asked the government to repeal the legislation that establishes a trade union monopoly.

Foreign workers may join the union of their profession, but they may not stand for election to trade union office. Union elections are held by secret ballot.

The law authorises the Ministry of Labour to determine the composition of the GFTU congress and to set the conditions and procedures for the use of trade union funds.

Severe strike restrictions: Although the law does not forbid strikes, the right to strike is severely restricted by the threat of punishment and fines. Strikes involving more than 20 workers in certain sectors, and any strike action which takes place on the public highways or in public places or that involves the occupation of premises, are punishable by fines and even prison sentences. Civil servants who disrupt the operation of public services risk losing their civil rights. Forced labour can be imposed on anyone who causes "prejudice to the general production plan".

The ILO has requested that the penal code, which imposes heavy sanctions, including forced labour, on the right to strike, be repealed.

Collective bargaining: The law provides for the right to collective bargaining.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Collective bargaining rights have not yet been practised in any meaningful way.

Workers dare not exercise the right to strike, given the heavy penalties foreseen and memories of past repression.

GFTU position: The GFTU rejects the view that the political leadership imposes its control over the organisation. It 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.

Free Trade Zones: There are seven free trade zones, where workers have the right to join the union of their choice. However, there were no unions in the zones.

Migrant workers: The law does not prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labour, so the governments of Sri Lanka and the Philippines have banned their citizens taking employment as domestic workers because of the abuses and lack of protection.

There are many illegal workers in the country, who have no basic rights and no legal protection.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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