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2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Syria

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Syria, 11 June 2009, available at: [accessed 24 October 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

After an easing of restrictions for a few years, the authorities have clamped down again, arresting and imprisoning any opposition members. Only one trade union federation is allowed, the GFTU, which has close links to the government. Workers are threatened with severe punishment if they strike. Migrant workers are abused as they lack legal protection.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association: Although the Constitution provides for the right of association, workers are not free to establish unions independent of the government, and all workers' organisations must be belong to the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU), which is strictly controlled by the ruling Ba'ath party. The GFTU is part of the state bureaucratic structure, and its president is a senior member of the Ba'athist party. It 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. 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 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.

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

Right to strike – severe 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.

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.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: After a period of slight lifting of restrictions on individual activity when President Bashar al-Assad came to power in 2000, the government has clamped down once again, and there have been increased incidents of arrests, trials and imprisonment of political and human rights activists, according to human rights organisations.

Collective bargaining and right to strike hardly exercised: 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.

Workers 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.

GFTU position: Despite its close links with the ruling Ba'ath Party, the 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.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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