Population: 3,400,000
Capital: Montevideo
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

A trade unionist who tried to form a trade union was shot at, and teachers and police officers faced anti-union persecution. Several companies displayed anti-union behaviour. A company director at Alamtec threatened trade unionists with a gun, in a repeat of a similar incident in 2006 at the Naussa tannery. In general, the government respects its citizens' rights.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of Association: The Constitution recognises freedom of association and recognises the right to strike as a trade union right (art. 57). The law promotes the formation of trade unions and protects trade union leaders and negotiators against discrimination at the workplace. The law leaves it to the judiciary – through mechanisms for the protection of individual rights – to define when an act is discriminatory and should be revoked. In the event of dismissal, the dismissed worker should be reinstated in their job, as is the case across the region and the world. It is the responsibility of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security to put in place the tripartite consultative and supervisory mechanisms to oversee the application of this law. Civil servants, employees of state enterprises and workers in private enterprises may affiliate to trade unions. Trade union membership is higher in the public sector (over 42 per cent) than in the private sector (approximately 10 per cent.).

Law 17940 on Freedom of Association prohibits all acts of discrimination aimed at undermining freedom of association, in accordance with article 57 of the Constitution of the Republic, article 1 of ILO Convention 98 and with sections a) and b) of article 9 of the MERCOSUR Social and Labour Declaration.

Trade union discrimination: The law expressly prohibits anti-union discrimination. The law demands that employers rehire workers dismissed for their trade union activities and demands that employers pay compensation to those workers. The Collective Bargaining Department of the Ministry of Labour investigates claims of anti-union discrimination made by trade unionists. In general, there are effective mechanisms for resolving workers' complaints against employers.

The right to organise and to collective bargaining: The law allows trade unions to carry out their activities without interference, and the government protects this right and the right to collective bargaining. The Constitution provides for the right to strike.

Collective bargaining in the private sector: Collective bargaining is mainly carried out by branch of activity, regulating the minimum wage and working conditions for each category of workers in the Wage Councils. It is a tripartite mechanism, as the State intervenes through the Ministry of Labour, which is one of the negotiating parties on the Wage Councils.

A Law on Collective Bargaining in the Private Sector, which covers private sector workers in all branches of activity, including rural and domestic workers, is currently before the National Parliament.

Collective Bargaining in the public sector covers all civil servants, divided into the following sectors: A) all Central Administration employees (the State in the strictest sense); B) all civil servants in the Autonomous Entities and Decentralised Services; C) civil servants in primary, secondary and university education institutions and the Labour University; D) civil servants working for the judiciary, with legal exceptions and reservations; and E) workers in the municipalities and in the country's territorial districts.

A Law on Collective Bargaining in the Public Sector is currently before Parliament, in line with ILO Conventions 151 and 154, establishing it as inherent to the labour relations system in the public sector.

Export Processing Zones: Labour legislation protects workers in the eight export processing zones. There are no trade unions in the zones, but the government does not prohibit their formation.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: Hundreds of workers took part in a four-hour strike in Montevideo on 23 August to demand "essential changes" to the country's economic policies. The strike, coordinated by Uruguay's principal national trade union centre (PIT-CNT), included a march on the Ministries of Economy and Finance, and Labour and Social Security. The leader of the PIT-CNT, Luis Puig, accused the government of President Tabaré Vázquez of compromising its left-wing credentials.

Although the law prohibits trade union discrimination, in practice the trade unions do have to fight against discrimination by the employers. Violence against women and discrimination against some social groups continue, despite the government's nondiscrimination policies.

Illegal dismissals at the Naussa tannery: On 14 February, the Union of Tanning Workers (UOC) organised a demonstration by some 400 workers in the street outside the Naussa de Las Piedras tannery in Canelones to demand the reinstatement of three dismissed workers and to protest at the dismissal of a trade union leader from the company. The union's president, Ramón Martínez, stated that the company had violated the agreement signed with the Labour Ministry, promising to give priority to the three dismissed employees before hiring new staff.

Anti-union persecution in the private education sector: Teachers from the National Union of Private Education Workers (SINTEP) began a strike on 5 March in protest at the failure to reach a pay agreement in some areas and at the dismissals that had occurred in some colleges, which they considered to be anti-union persecution.

Workers occupy savings and loans cooperative COPAC following dismissal of trade union leader: In March about 200 members of the Bank Employees Association of Uruguay (AEBU) marched to the savings and loans cooperative COPAC in Montevideo in protest at the dismissal of a trade union leader and occupied the premises.

On 8 June COPAC staff, who had occupied the premises for more than 80 days, complied with the eviction order. However, the civil servants affiliated to the AEBU stated that their dispute would continue until they had secured the reinstatement of the dismissed trade unionist. They held a strike across the whole banking sector, claiming that they were victims of anti-union persecution by the company.

Bank workers demonstration: In May, the Association of Bank Employees of Uruguay (AEBU) began a series of demonstrations and strikes in Banco República branches across the country in protest at the indictment of seven employees in the locomotion section because of their action in a dispute. The AEBU complained of anti-union repression and attempts to contract out jobs. They warned the bank authorities they could expect a "strong response".

Shot fired at worker trying to form a union: On 4 May, Iván Bello of the commerce and industry workers' union Federación de Empleados de Comercio e Industria (FUECI) was shot at on his way to work. The bullet hit the portable television he was carrying in his back pack, which saved his life. The trade unionist reported that he had also been shot at the week before and had received threats by telephone. Bello believed the attacks against him were because he was forming a trade union with his colleagues in a cleaning company.

Persecution of police union members: In May over 100 police officers took part in a march organised by the National Police Unions Coordinating Body (CONASIP) in Montevideo. They went to the Ministry of the Interior to protest at the killing of an officer from the automobile section, who had died a week earlier during an attack on a service station. They also protested at the persecution in some areas faced by police officers who were union members.

Employer points gun at workers: On 10 September in Montevideo, workers at the Alamtec company – which makes electric cables – held a general assembly at their workplace. When they tried to go back to their posts, the company director, Daniel Justitz, prevented them. Later, workers' representatives from the metalworkers' union Unión Nacional de Trabajadores del Metal y Ramas Afines (UNTMRA) had a meeting with the director, who told them "Here you come to work and nothing else". He then pulled out a revolver, smiled, and put it away again. UNTMRA issued a statement describing the event as a "death threat" against union leaders. The union had been negotiating in the Ministry of Labour for three months about a dismissal, the non-respect of working conditions, work in the black, the nonpayment of category rises and sexual harassment against women workers in the company.

Abusive and anti-union behaviour at CONAPROLE: In August the Conaprole workers' union – Conaprole is the Uruguayan dairy company – declared it was on "a state of alert" following unilateral measures by the employer who had sanctioned workers for "applying trade union methods".

Protests by Conaprole distributers employees: Workers at the companies distributing Conaprole products protested by preventing lorries leaving the plant with its products. The protest was organised by the dairy workers' union Sindicato Único Transporte Obreros de la Leche (Sutol).

On 27 September, workers from the Montevideo Industrial Complex began a 24-hour strike to denounce Conaprole's abusive and anti-union behaviour.

Botnia subcontractor dismisses trade union leader: A dispute began on 20 December between the Henderson company, a Botnia subcontractor that delivers wood and supplies the woodchip plant, and its workers who threatened to prevent raw materials from entering the factory. The employees reported anti-union persecution and physical aggression relating to differences in the workplace, which the employer denied. The strikers reported that the company threw out a leader of the woodworkers' union Sindicato de Obreros de la Industria de la Madera for his trade union activities.

In the public sector, there are cases of discrimination, insults and denial of freedom of association and collective bargaining, particularly in some public institutions such as the Electoral Court, the Court of Auditors, the Administrative Disputes Court (the body responsible for ruling in administrative cases by means of legal invalidity proceedings), in the Public Prosecution Service, the Attorney General's Office, in the Supreme Court of Justice, and in most government departments or town halls.

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