Population: 1,200,000
Capital: Dili
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 87 – 98 – 182

The right to strike and the application of labour legislation remain limited. The US Mission gave a bad example by refusing to recognise the right to organise of one its employees.


Although fundamental trade union rights are guaranteed, areas of concern exist in the labour law. Freedom of association is secured in the Constitution and the Labour Code, and in 2009 Timor Leste ratified the two ILO core conventions on trade union rights. However, foreign nationals are not allowed to participate in the "administrative or social organs of a union". While termination of employment for union activity is explicitly prohibited in law, the protection is partly undermined by another provision which allows for financial compensation in lieu of reinstatement if the employer refuses to reinstate the worker.

Furthermore, trade union activities are hampered by provisions in the Freedom, Assembly and Demonstration Act. Protests are not allowed within 100 metres of certain buildings, including government offices and diplomatic missions, as well as of infrastructure such as ports and key parts of transportation. The Minister has an absolute right to prohibit or restrict a strike in "essential services".


Background: East Timor, independent since 2002, is one of the poorest countries in the world, despite its oil and gas reserves. The President José Ramos-Horta and the Prime Minister José "Xanana" Gusmão remain in power but the apparent failure of the government in the fight against corruption and nepotism are eroding the stability of the four-party coalition. At the end of December, the Prime Minister stated that the UNMIT troops (United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste) should leave the country because the national forces are capable of keeping the peace.

Mainly unstructured economy is a barrier to organising: More than 80% of the active population of East Timor work in the informal economy. Given the difficulties that workers face to find paid employment, few dare to speak out against employers. The problem is compounded by their limited knowledge of trade union rights.

US Mission to East Timor opposes the right to organise of one of its employees: On 22 November, the US Mission to East Timor refused to meet with the General Workers Union of Timor-Leste (SJTL) to discuss the wrongful dismissal of one of its members, Mario Baretto on 16 July. Mr. Baretto had been employed in the Security Services of the Mission since 3 May 2004. The reason given by the Mission for refusing to meet the union was that "according to his terms of employment, Mr. Baretto did/does not have the right to be a member of a trade union and we therefore do not recognise any representative acting in his name". The US Mission had previously refused to meet with the union and also to attend a Labour Council mediation session, falsely claiming diplomatic immunity.

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