ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182
Further to a decision by the Supreme Court, magistrates are now forbidden from forming or joining unions. Three union delegates were promptly transferred by hospital authorities after their election, while striking bakery workers were arrested and detained for 48 hours. The government still has the power to grant or refuse union recognition.
Trade union rights in law
Restrictions on freedom of association: The current Labour Code was introduced by Act 2004/017 of 6 July 2004. All workers, except members of the military and police, and most recently of the judiciary (see below), are free to form and join trade unions. However, Articles 275 and 276 of the Labour Code constitute a breach of freedom of association and the protection of union rights, as they give the government the power to decide whether or not to recognise a trade union, while the Office of the Public Prosecutor has to authorise all trade unions. Unions have no legal status until they receive that approval.
In March 2006, the Public Prosecutor delivered an authorisation to the Union of Magistrates of Mauritania. However, this decision was overruled a few days later by the Supreme Court. Decree 016/2006 modifying the status of the judicial authorities was then introduced, denying magistrates the right to join or form unions. Five judges resigned in protest, and were immediately replaced.
At present, non-Mauritanian nationals do not have the right to become trade union officials unless, as the Labour Code requires, they have worked in Mauritania and in the profession represented by the trade union, for a period of at least five years.
Protection of trade union leaders is not explicitly provided for in the Labour Code, although it is conferred on workers' delegates within companies. Labour courts are not allowed to overturn decisions and reinstate workers who have been arbitrarily dismissed. This provision will therefore benefit the employers.
Obstacles to the right to strike: The right to strike is recognised. Civil service unions have to give one month's notice before holding a strike. In the private sector they must provide official notification that conciliation procedures have broken down. Executive and managerial staff are not allowed to strike. The Labour Code also restricts strikes in sectors that are not covered by the ILO definition of "essential services".
The public authorities have the right to judge the legality or otherwise of a strike, whilst the unions have no right of appeal against that decision.
Collective bargaining: The right to collective bargaining is recognised.
Trade union rights in practice
Prior authorisation rarely granted: Unions have reported that authorisation for a trade union to exist and operate is rarely granted. Applications are consistently blocked at the registry of the Public Prosecutor. Numerous employers refuse to create workers' representation bodies.
Pressures by private employers: The unions have also reported that trade union organisations are not free to carry out their activities normally, as they regularly come up against obstacles and pressure from the government. Unionised workers are subjected daily to all kinds of pressure and discriminatory measures, such as arbitrary dismissals – in particular for exercising the right to strike. Workers are occasionally imprisoned, tortured and then dismissed, purely on the grounds of employers' complaints of supposed wrong doing at the workplace.
Collective bargaining rights ignored: According to the unions, there is virtually no social dialogue, and employers are very reluctant to deal with them. Social dialogue generally only takes place when workers take industrial action. In many companies, freedom of association is constantly short-circuited because employers interfere in union elections. This occurs frequently in the private sector where union delegates are very vulnerable.
Ineffective labour inspection: The enforcement of rights is complicated by the fact that labour inspectors have few means at their disposal and corruption is rife. Some have to cover regions that extend over 6,000 square kilometres, without a telephone or car. Even when a dispute breaks out, labour inspections are limited to voluntary conciliation. When a union takes the matter to a higher level, the legal environment is such that court rulings are often contradictory and sometimes completely ignored by companies. Also, the procedures for settling disputes have become increasingly lengthy and complex. The Labour Code allows 30 days for conciliation, 120 days for mediation and 90 days for arbitration. Thus, in certain cases it will take seven or eight months to complete the procedure for settling a conflict.
Violations in 2006
Background: After the August 2005 coup d'etat and removal of President Maaouiya Ould Taya, the military junta initiated a transition process that was due to conclude with presidential elections in March 2007.
Fourteen union leaders arrested during strike: When the National Trade Union of Bakeries (Syndicat national des Boulangeries), affiliated to the CGTM, called a strike on 12 April 2006, 97 percent of all bakery workers in the capital responded. They went on strike in support of a set of very basic demands, including proper employment contracts, pay slips, social security cover and the respect of weekly breaks and annual leave. Although the strike was called legally, 14 union leaders were arrested and kept in custody for at least 48 hours without food or contact.
Hospital union delegates suspended, replaced and transferred: On 30 April 2006, Mr. Ba Abdarahmane, a workers' delegate and secretary of the branch union at the Nouadhibou hospital was suspended for eight days by the hospital's director, Doctor Cheikh Baye Ould M'Kaittarat. The decision was revoked the following day further to pressure from the delegates' colleagues. Two months later, Mr. Ba Abdarahmane and three other members of the union delegation, Soumaré Abdoul, Fatimata Sarr and Cheikh Ould M'haimid, were transferred to hospitals in other locations further to a decision announced in a letter pre-dated 27 June 2006. This followed the election of three of them as workers' delegates on 28 June 2006. Since taking up his post in June 2005, Doctor M'Kaittarat has repeatedly stated he does not recognise the public health workers' union affiliated to the general workers' union, the Confédération Générale des Travailleurs de Mauritanie (CGTM), and systematically refuses to meet with the union representatives and workers' delegates. He has replaced and transferred several workers' delegates.
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