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2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Yemen

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Yemen, 6 June 2012, available at: [accessed 19 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: 24,050,000
Capital: Sana'a

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Threats: 1
Injuries: 3

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher


There is only one official trade union organisation, and the law is not conducive to trade union activities. Strikers were reprimanded in 2011 as were anti government protests.


Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East. Yemenis reportedly work for daily wages with little or no job security – one in ten of the workforce is a child. At the start of 2011, 40 per cent of Yemenis were living on less than USD2 a day. Unemployment was estimated to be more than 35 per cent.

Anti-government protests: The lack of jobs, poverty and corruption initially drove many Yemenis to join in the wave of protests sweeping the Arab world in 2011. Several thousands of Yemenis held numerous protests in the capital Sanaa and elsewhere throughout 2011, calling for the president and his allies to step down.

Hundreds of protestors have reportedly been killed during the uprisings and many others were beaten and detained. Between 16-25 February, security forces allegedly killed at least nine people and injured more than 150 in the port city of Aden. Dozens of peaceful protesters and activists were detained. Some were released, but in at least eight cases detained activists "disappeared". At least 30 people were killed and hundreds wounded on 18 March after security forces opened fire on protesters in Sanaa.

Protests were complicated by inter tribal conflict and fighting between security officials and militia from tribal leaders, including that of Sheikh Sadiq Al Ahmaraimed at ending the governments regime. Several bomb attacks and street fighting ended with civilian causalities.

In November 2011, after a series of protests and violent reprisals killing several hundred people, President Saleh finally agreed to cede power to his deputy in February 2012 in a deal rejected by most of the protestors due to his continued immunity from prosecution. Saleh had ruled since 1978, when he became president of the Yemen Arab Republic following a military coup.

The uprising and political conflict that followed have pushed Yemen to the edge of a severe humanitarian crisis in Yemen with mass shortages of food, water, electricity, fuel and other essential goods. Construction work dried up, leaving many of the estimated one million day labourers in dire poverty due to the lack of work and no social security. These workers had been employed on a daily basis without a written contract or legal protection. Many companies and factories closed down during the year, leaving tens of thousands more workers on the street and increasingly unable to meet their most basic needs. Many of the unemployed have joined demonstrations calling for change.

Trade union rights in law

Many excessive restrictions apply despite some trade union rights being recognised. While freedom of association is guaranteed in the Constitution, all unions must belong to the General Federation of Worker's Trade Unions of Yemen (GFWTUY), the country's only umbrella union organisation. A proposed Labour Code would allow foreign workers to join trade unions, although they would still not have the right to be elected to trade union office.

While the right to collective bargaining is secured, the Ministry of Labour has the power to veto any collective bargaining agreement. Agreements that are "likely to cause a breach of security or to damage the economic interests of the country" can be annulled.

Furthermore, the right to strike is very limited. Permission to strike must be obtained from the GFWTUY, and all strikes must concern more than two thirds of the workforce of the employer. Three weeks' notice must always be given, and strikes may not be carried out for "political purposes". Also, industrial disputes may be referred to compulsory arbitration at the request of only one of the parties, in which case a strike can be suspended for 85 days, and all strikes are banned in some sectors such as ports, airlines and hospitals.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Political developments but strikes continue:

A general strike shut most shops and offices on 7 April despite threats of reprisals against strikers and protestors. In November, President Ali Abdullah Saleh finally signed an agreement to transfer power. However, protestors called strikes to demonstrate against his proposed immunity from prosecution, for the removal of his relatives and associates suspected of corruption from their government or military posts.

This wave of strikes began in the third week of December with a walk out at the national airline, followed by strikes at the state television and Sanaa police headquarters, and a strike by hundreds of government soldiers. Industrial action spread throughout the country on 28 December.

Employer resistance to organising and bargaining: Many private sector employers do not allow their workers to organise. In both the public and private sector, many trade unions are not allowed to negotiate collective agreements.

Migrant workers without contracts: Almost all domestic workers work without legal contracts. The political and social unrest has led to affluent families leaving the capital and laying off their foreign domestic workers. Many of those laid off have not received any compensation since they are unable to produce an employment contract as required for them to be entitled to severance pay under Yemeni law. Thousands of migrant workers from Ethiopia have been stranded in Yemen since the protests began.


Attack on aviation union president: In May, the house and car of the President of the Yemeni Aviation Engineers' Syndicate were destroyed in an arson attack days after he had appeared on television talking about corruption within the state airline.

Striking teachers sacked:

Teachers throughout Yemen went on strike during April, demanding salary increases previously agreed with the government be honoured. It was reported that striking teachers were replaced with volunteers and absent teachers were dismissed. The government told private schools that they would lose their licence if their teachers continued to strike. One source reported beatings and threats to striking teachers. The teachers have little legal protection as the civil service law states that if a teacher is absent for 20 consecutive days he or she will be dismissed.

The Yemeni Teachers Syndicate (YTS) and its members have been particularly exposed by the repression as they have been active since the beginning of the uprising in February. At least 40 YTS members were killed during the protests in 2011.

Journalists under attack:

Widespread violence is directed against journalists. Reports of abductions, kidnappings, arbitrary arrests, beatings and torture are commonplace. During February, security forces beat or harassed at least 31 international and Yemeni journalists in an effort to quash reporting on the nationwide protests. On 25 October, gunmen shot two television journalists, killing one and injuring the other. This came weeks after the deputy director of a local radio station died of gunshot wounds from an attack on 25 September believed to have been carried out by Yemeni security forces.

On 12 March, the offices of the Yemeni Journalists' Syndicate were attacked and arson threatened. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) reported a concerted campaign to intimidate and silence journalists which included detention and the burning down of a senior editor's house following deaths threats against him and his family.

The Yemen state television authority warned in June that media workers who defied state orders to censor reporting on the anti-government protests would be sacked.

Strikers dispersed – three injured: Thousands of sanitation workers began a strike on 7 March demanding improvements in their pay. At least 3 were injured during the dispersal of their sit-in by police in Sanaa.

Oil workers agreement ignored: More than 1,000 workers at the Yemeni oilfield operated by Canadian company Nexen went on strike on 4 May. An agreement was reached later that day to suspend the strike during negotiations. However, four months later union leaders said demands from the strike had yet to be met.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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