ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182
Workers' protests went ahead with fewer difficulties than in 2007, as the authorities showed greater tolerance. There were many more high-level tripartite meetings, but the national trade union centres were frustrated at the total lack of results. Trade unions were harassed throughout the year. Workers were transferred or sacked because of their trade union activities.
Trade union rights in law
Freedom of association: Workers are free to form and join trade unions without prior authorisation, although they have to follow cumbersome administrative procedures. Members of the judiciary are barred from forming trade unions, while domestic and agricultural workers are not covered by the Labour Code, thereby also depriving them of the right to form unions.
The right of organisations to elect their representatives in full freedom is curtailed by the requirement that union officials must be of Moroccan nationality.
Labour Code: The 2003 Labour Code, designed to modernise labour relations and make Moroccan industry more attractive to outside investors, has "flexibility" as its recurring theme. It includes provisions to bring the law into line with ILO Conventions, such as those on maternity and the minimum working age. At the same time, however, the unions complain that the law makes it easy for employers to hire temporary staff.
The Labour Code specifically prohibits employers from sacking workers for participating in legitimate union organising, and the courts have the power to reinstate arbitrarily dismissed workers, and can compel employers to pay damages and back pay.
Collective bargaining: The Labour Code recognises the right to collective bargaining, but it can only be conducted by the "most representative" union, which must have at least 35 per cent of the total number of employee delegates elected at the enterprise or establishment level. The law does not clearly stipulate whether certain categories of public servants (teachers, prison officials, lighthouse workers, water and forestry workers) have collective bargaining rights.
Right to strike – heavy penalties: The Constitution guarantees the right to strike. Some restrictions exist however. Civil servants may be punished for taking part in work stoppages or collective insubordination.
Restrictions on sit-ins, picketing and public demonstrations: Further to a court ruling, sit-ins are prohibited and employers can suspend any worker who prevents non-strikers from going to work for seven days. A second offence during the year can lead to a 15 day suspension.
Under the Labour Code, employers have the right to seek criminal prosecution of any strikers who hold a sit-in, damage property or carry out active picketing. The government can break up demonstrations in public areas held without government permission, and can prevent factory occupations.
Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008
Background: Social discontent mounted as the price of basic goods rose. In Sidni Ifni, a port in the south of Morocco, the police were brutal in their repression of young people blocking access to port installations to protest at unemployment and poverty. Several died. The public service unions also complained of the deteriorating living and working conditions of civil servants. A fire at a mattress factory in Casablanca, which cost the lives of 55 employees, again threw light on the often deplorable health and safety conditions in medium-sized enterprises. They avoid all controls by the labour inspectorate and the employers refuse to allow any unions in.
Less repression, more dialogue, but still a long way to go: While there were many incidents and much police violence during workers' demonstrations in 2007, in 2008 the unions generally found it easier to organise marches and other forms of protest.
Trade unions are beginning to gain a foothold in the burgeoning call centre sector, sometimes at the request of employers who believe that by doing so they will win over the union delegates to their side. The companies quickly find themselves up against determined activists, angry at the appalling working conditions (stress, working hours, etc.) rife in the sector and keen to negotiate collective agreements.
Harassment of air traffic controllers union in Casablanca: The day after it was created on 8 February, the Air Traffic Controllers Union at Casablanca airport, affiliated to the Democratic Confederation of Labour (CDT) was faced with all sorts of harassment. On 9 February, one of its members, Adil Gaout, was transferred from his job as an air traffic controller to a job in the library. After showing their solidarity with the CDT's national strike on 21 May, five other activists from the union were transferred to regional airports in posts that prevented them enjoying the same salary advantages that they had had in Casablanca.
Union members had the right to work overtime withdrawn after they held a general assembly and elected an enlarged executive bureau. All members had to undergo a new oral procedure to validate their skills to work in the regional airports. In October the flight licence of Bakiz Abdelmajid, a union executive board member, was not renewed owing to the "shilly-shallying" of the airport's administration.
On 17 November, after a meeting between the union representatives and the National Airport Office (ONDA), the latter agreed to allow the transferred workers to return to their jobs in Casablanca and to remove the administrative obstacles to obtaining licences. Over the next few weeks however anti-union harassment resumed with a vengeance, with ONDA going so far as to question the existence of the union, given that several of its members had been transferred to other airports. This harassment was still going on at the end of 2008, according to the union.
Trade union repression in the agricultural sector: At the end of February management of the market gardening group Soprofel transferred or dismissed several members of the National Federation of the Agricultural Sector (affiliated to the UMT national centre) in retaliation for a strike that had taken place a few days earlier on seven farms employing 800 workers. This followed sit-ins organised by the staff in response to the employer's refusal to open social dialogue. Staff representatives had also been transferred in 2007.
According to the UMT, over 70,000 people, nearly three quarters of whom are women, work in this arable farming region in the south of Morocco, yet barely 15,000 of them are officially registered. Trade unions are tolerated on some farms but they are unable to negotiate collective agreements. The effect of intensive farming on the water table in an already semi-arid region is forcing companies to regularly change area, abandoning the workers to their fate, and begin new farms, hiring new agricultural workers.
The UMT was also busy throughout the year helping peasant farmers' organisations in Aoulouz in the south of the country. They were protesting at the corruption of the local authorities and a so-called farmers' association imposed by the administration since the construction of a dam that dried up their land. The UMT succeeded in getting the association dissolved. At the end of 2008, after several protests and all sorts of intimidation, the peasant farmers finally won recognition of their rights.
Three Dihanex trade union leaders serving prison terms: At the International Labour Conference, the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF) strongly criticised the attitude of the Moroccan authorities who sentenced workers in the Dihanex case on the basis of Penal Code provisions on the "freedom to work". On 15 November 2007, men and women workers at the Dihanex factory were beaten by the police. They were attempting to stop the employer of this company that had gone into liquidation from illegally moving the machines and equipment that were supposed to be sold in a public auction. Three trade union representatives, Larbi Riyach, Houssine Oulad Abou and Mohamed Hanfi, were detained by the police whilst trying to lodge a complaint. On 21 November, they were sentenced to two years of fixed-term imprisonment under Article 288 of the Penal Code. Dihanex had been shut down in March following three months of fruitless efforts by the union and the Labour Ministry to try and resolve the numerous breaches of the workers' statutory rights. At the time the factory was closed, the employer owed up to two years of wage arrears.
Abuses in Export Processing Zones (EPZs): EPZs are beginning to develop, particularly in the port of Tangiers and in Casablanca. The companies concerned are often small production units (in the textile or food sectors) and are failing to declare their employees and pay them the minimum wage. Sub-contracting is increasingly common, making union organising particularly difficult.
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