Last Updated: Monday, 22 January 2018, 12:53 GMT

2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Tunisia

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 - Tunisia, 8 June 2011, available at: [accessed 22 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: 10,200,000
Capital: Tunis
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Government interference in the trade union movement was constant up until the final days of 2010 when social protest reached unprecedented levels with the growing support of members of the national trade union centre Union générale tunisienne du travail (UGTT).


A number of restrictions apply despite basic trade union rights being guaranteed. The Labour Code provides for the right to form and join trade unions, and unlike for associations, prior authorisation is not required to create a union. However, foreign nationals need prior approval by the authorities to have access to union office. Wages and working conditions are set in triennial negotiations between unions and employers after general guidelines are laid out through national tripartite consultations.

While the right to strike is guaranteed, unions must announce the duration of the strike in advance. Workers having participated in an unlawful strike can also face long prison sentences of between three and eight months.


Background: The unrest that swept across Tunisia as of 17 December brutally exposed the limits of the "Tunisian miracle" boasted by President Ben Ali, which brought steady economic growth but proved incapable of creating the skilled jobs sought by the country's increasingly qualified young men and women. The brutal police repression also served to illustrate how heavily the regime relied on silencing civil society and suppressing human rights.

Damning hRW report on trade union rights violations: In October, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report entirely devoted to the attacks on the Tunisian trade union movement was released, documenting the tight system of control over trade unions set in place by the authorities, which "refused to recognize independent unions, limited their ability to assemble peacefully, and unfairly prosecuted members, effectively shrinking the space in which unions can operate outside of government control". The report also exposes the attacks on students' organisations and highlights the plight of journalists' unions and the CGTT (Confédération générale du travail tunisien), the trade union centre that has been awaiting recognition since 2007. In its response to these criticisms, the Tunisian government ensured the NGO that the unions not recognised were those that had not provided the documents required to be registered.

Former detainees still not reinstated in Gafsa: On 25 November, teachers in Gafsa held a stoppage in protest at the injustice still present in the Redeyef mining region. Over two years following the wave of protest that swept the phosphate mining region, and its violent repression by the authorities, many union activists, mainly teachers, have still not been reinstated to their posts, whilst a number of those who took part in the demonstrations in 2008 continue to be held in jail. The protestors released from prison, as well as their families, are reportedly kept under constant surveillance and harassed on a daily basis. In addition, the economically depressed region has still not received any support from the government in terms of development projects.

Wave of social protests and violent repression unleashed: The self-immolation of a young unemployed Tunisian graduate on 17 December followed by the suicide of another young man in the town of Sidi Bouzid unleashed a wave of protests across the country, in which the regional federations affiliated to the national trade union centre UGTT took part. On 27 December, in Tunis, anti-riot police surrounded trade unionists, mainly teachers, health, postal and telecommunication workers, who had gathered in front of the UGTT head office. At demonstrations across the country, police fired live ammunition at protestors on numerous occasions. At least one demonstrator was killed in December and dozens more were injured. Hundreds of people were arrested, including lawyers and journalists. The protesters were demanding action on unemployment and corruption, as well as respect for fundamental rights. The journalists' union SNJT (Syndicat national des journalistes tunisiens) denounced the authorities' clampdown on the media.

Government interference in journalists' union: Members of the former executive bureau of an independent union of journalists, the SNJT (Syndicat national des journalistes tunisiens), demanded in vain that a congress be held so that they could be re-elected to their positions as the organisation's legitimate leaders. Pro-government forces had organised a putsch in 2009 to silence the SNJT after the union released a highly critical report on press freedom in Tunisia. Since then, its members have been faced with harassment from the authorities.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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