ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182
Several strikers and unionists were dismissed and detained while many workers remain unorganised and subject to abuse. The authorities have increasingly stepped up repression of independent media and journalists. There is only one official trade union organisation, and the law is not conducive to trade union activities.
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.
Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009
Background: Since the middle of 2009 clashes between government forces and rebels in the north-west of Yemen have killed hundreds and displaced many more leading to a humanitarian crisis. Additionally there are fears of a growth in the influence of Al-Qaeda. The government promised to improve the labour law to give more union freedom, but without results. The International Federation of Journalists urged the Yemeni authorities to guarantee the safety of journalists in the country following death threats made against Murad Hashem, Al-Jazeera's bureau chief in Yemen.
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. Strikes do occur however. For example, following negotiations with the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate, an affiliate of the International Journalists Federation (IFJ), in early 2009, the government agreed to a pay rise and improved contracts for 2010. The agreement came after a partial strike of journalists working in four media groups who had observed a work stoppage of one hour per day for one week.
Unorganised workers lack legal protection: Most construction workers and those in trades such as painting ceramics and shipment services who work in the capital, Sana'a, are employed on a daily basis without a written contract or legal protection. They are frequently cheated by employers and have no recompense in case of accidents. Specific legal provisions are also needed for the protection of workers' organisations and sanctions against anti-union activity by employers.
Doctors barred from taking part in protest: A fatal attack on Dr. Derhim Al-Qadasi in the capital Sana'a led to a one month sit in by some 30 relatives and colleagues. In January, it was announced that doctors and nurses would be holding a strike in solidarity with the family and in response to the government's apparent failure to investigate the case. On 22 January, doctors, pharmacists, nurses and hospital workers of the Yemeni Physicians and Pharmacist Syndicate Union announced a full strike. However, some 70 hospitals were reported to have prevented their doctors from participating in the sit-in by placing security at the gates to prevent them from going out. After huge pressure from physicians, activists, and the general public, the authorities arrested Tawfiq Al-Maflahi and four other involved in the murder.
Strike organisers arrested: Problems between the management and workers at the new "Port II / Caltex port" in Aden (a newly privatized section of the state-owned port) remain unresolved. The non-recognition and banning of trade unions, delays in salaries, non implementation of the agreement concerning workers rights signed between the Port management and the Ministry of Transport, led to a massive strike in the port and the arrest of six of the organisers in November 2008. Intervention by The International Transport Federation (ITF) helped end the conflict and the detained workers were released. However, trade unions are still not allowed and working conditions remained poor.
Union members dismissed and drivers' union's registration revoked: In April 2009, the General Federation of Workers' Trade Unions of Yemen (GFWTUY) wrote to the Minister of Social Affairs and Labour to protest against the cancellation of the official registration of the Total Drivers' Syndicate. It also asked for four drivers dismissed in connection with an industrial dispute, including the head of the union Abdullah Al-Mihdhar, to be reinstated. The letter stated that cancelling the registration of the Total Drivers' Syndicate violated the provisions of Trade Union Law No. 35, issued in 2002, particularly articles 2 and 14.
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