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2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Tunisia

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 - Tunisia, 11 June 2009, available at: [accessed 21 January 2018]
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: 10,400,000
Capital: Tunis
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Police brutally repressed demonstrations in the Gafsa mining region. One person was killed, dozens injured and hundreds arrested. Many members of the national trade union centre the Union générale tunisienne du travail (UGTT) were sentenced to up to ten years in prison.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association: 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.

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.

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 Code as services "whose interruption would endanger the lives, safety or health of all or a section of the population", has yet to be produced. 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. The ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) has repeatedly pointed out 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.

Protection of trade union representatives: The law bans anti-union discrimination. In May 2007 Tunisia ratified the ILO's 1971 Workers' Representatives Convention (n°135). Several amendments were made to the Labour Code (sections 165, 166 and a new 166bis) to bring it into line with the Convention: workers' representatives must be given access to the undertaking to carry out their legitimate role without interference and are now given improved protection against termination of employment for reasons connected with their union activities.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: The gap between the country's economic performance and its performance in terms of civil liberties and political rights continues to grow. Strikes and protests have been organised in several sectors in recent years, both public and private, including education, health, banks, the justice system, post and communications, agriculture and social security.

Brutal repression of demonstrations in the Gafsa mining region: A wave of protests swept across the Gafsa region throughout the first half of the year. The disturbances began in January in the town of Redeyef after the region's biggest employer, the Phosphates Company, announced the results of a recruitment competition. The local branch of the UGTT and many of the unsuccessful candidates cried foul and protested that there had been fraud. The demonstrations spread rapidly to other towns in the region, demanding action on corruption, cronyism, the cost of living and unemployment. In April, dozens of demonstrators were arrested. On 6 June, police opened fire, killing one demonstrator and wounding another 18. Adnan Hajji, the General Secretary of the UGTT's Redeyef branch and the movement's spokesperson, denounced the blind violence used by the police. A total of 100 demonstrators, including many trade unionists, were arrested.

"Gafsa" trade unionists handed heavy prison terms: On 11 December, 33 people, most of them workers and trade unionists, were sentenced to lengthy prison terms. The sentences were handed down before the defence lawyers could present their case and without the accused being questioned in court. Seven people, including Adnan Hajji, Bechir Labidi and Taieb Ben Othman of the UGTT, were given ten-year terms, whilst five were acquitted. The remaining accused were given sentences of between two and six years in prison. The UGTT criticised the extreme severity of the judgements, noting that they would only serve to aggravate social tensions in the Gafsa mining region.

Journalists' union created: On 14 January after years of failed attempts, the journalists finally announced the birth of a genuinely representative organisation, the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT), replacing the Tunisian Journalists Association (AJT) that had often been criticised for its lack of independence. The creation of the SNJT coincided with the lifting of the ban on the International Federation of Journalists' website. However, the authorities continued to use technological filters throughout the year to make some of the more critical websites inaccessible and to persecute many journalists.

Unions refused recognition: The Ministry of Higher Education has refused to recognise the General Federation of Higher Education and Scientific Research (FGESRS), affiliated to the UGTT, created at a unification congress organised on 15 July 2006 by the UGTT, as the legitimate organisation representing workers in the higher education sector. The Ministry has been criticised for an increase in anti-union discrimination against members of the FGESRS and refusing to enter into collective bargaining with it. A complaint was lodged with the ILO by Education International (EI) and the FGESRS.

The Tunisian General Confederation of Labour (CGTT), created in 2007 and having a membership of 3,000, has complained several times about the persistent refusal of the authorities to recognise it and about the obstruction it faces: the banning of press conferences, the questioning of its leaders by the police and the refusal to recognise affiliated organisations in Tunis. The CGTT has lodged a complaint with the ILO.

Violations of union rights 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.

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