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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Timor Leste (East Timor)

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 - Timor Leste (East Timor), 9 June 2010, 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: 1,100,000
Capital: Dili
ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

The enforcement of labour legislation remained weak. Organising is curtailed by anti-union practices and the lack of knowledge about trade union rights. In June East Timor ratified four fundamental ILO Conventions, including Conventions 87 and 98. The right to strike remained limited in law, however.

Trade union rights in law

Although fundamental trade union rights are guaranteed, areas of concern exist in the labour law. Freedom of association is secured in the Constitution and the Labour Code, and on 16 June 2009 Timor Leste ratified the two ILO core conventions on trade union rights. However, foreign nationals are not allowed to participate in the "administrative or social organs of a union". While termination of employment for union activity is explicitly prohibited in law, the protection is partly undermined by another provision which allows for financial compensation in lieu of reinstatement if the employer refuses to reinstate the worker. Furthermore, trade union activities are hampered by provisions in the Freedom, Assembly and Demonstration Act. Protests are not allowed within 100 metres of certain buildings, including government offices and diplomatic missions, as well as of infrastructure such as ports and key parts of transportation. The Minister has an absolute right to prohibit or restrict a strike in "essential services".

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: East Timor, independent since 2002, is one of the poorest countries in the world, despite its oil and gas reserves. After the turmoil of 2008, notably the attempted assassination of President José Ramos-Horta in February, followed by a two month state of emergency, the country enjoyed relative stability in 2009.

High unemployment and mainly unstructured economy are barriers to organising: The great majority of East Timor's working age population are self-employed or work in subsistence agriculture. Given the difficulties workers face in finding a job in the formal economy, few want to risk returning to poverty by challenging an employer's prerogatives on trade union rights, or wages and conditions of work. The problem is compounded by their very limited knowledge of trade union rights.

Limited enforcement of legislation: Many employers, especially outside the capital city of Dili, do everything they can to prevent workers exercising their right to form and join trade unions and to go on strike, for example through dismissals.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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