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The exercise of trade union rights has been stifled since the military coup on 6 August. Demonstrations organised by the trade unions were harshly repressed.
Trade union rights in law
Restrictions on freedom of association: According to the 2004 Labour Code all workers, except members of the military, the police and the judiciary, 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.
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 is therefore to the benefit of the employers.
Collective bargaining: The right to collective bargaining is recognised.
Obstacles to the right to strike: The right to strike is recognised, except for executive and managerial staff. 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.
The Labour Code also restricts strikes in sectors that are not covered by the ILO definition of "essential services".
The public authorities may judge the legality or otherwise of a strike, whilst the unions have no right of appeal against that decision.
Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008
Background: On 6 August troops overthrew the government of Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, the first president to be democratically elected since the country's independence in 1960. Despite protests from the international community and threats of sanctions, the junta showed no willingness to talk, and set about consolidating its control over the people and over human rights defenders. In December a coalition of democratic forces was created, bringing together political parties, the principal national trade union centres and civil society organisations. It aims to restore democratic freedoms as soon as possible.
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 wrongdoing 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 another 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.
Union's protest march against coup d'état repressed: On 19 August police in Nouakchott brutally repressed a demonstration organised by trade unions to protest against the military coup. Even though the march had been authorised, several trade unionists, including Samory Ould Beye, General Secretary of the national trade union centre Confédération libre des travailleurs de Mauritanie (CLTM), were taken by force to the police station, before being later released.
Demonstrations banned, trade union march violently repressed: There was more brutal police repression on 7 October against a trade union demonstration in the centre of Nouakchott to mark the World Day for Decent Work. Trade union premises were besieged by police for several hours. The police attacks left 20 people injured. Six national trade union centres, the Union des travailleurs de Mauritanie (UTM), the Confédération libre des travailleurs de Mauritanie (CLTM), the Confédération générale des travailleurs de Mauritanie (CGTM), the Union des syndicats libres de Mauritanie (USLM), the Union nationale des travailleurs de Mauritanie (UNTM) and the Confédération nationale des travailleurs de Mauritanie (CNTM) had called on members to take part despite the junta's ban on all demonstrations. The six national centres, as a united trade union front, tried in vain to organise another demonstration in Nouadhibou on 17 October to mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
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