ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Arrests: 17
Dismissals: 6

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher


The government tends to side with the employers and twice allowed the police to crack down hard on trade union protests.


East Timor, independent since 2002, is one of the poorest countries in the world, despite its oil and gas reserves. UNMIT (United Nations Integrated Mission in Timore Leste) troops have completed the handover of policing to the local forces of law and order, and are due to leave the country in 2012, after the election of a new government.

Trade union rights in law

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".

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Government remains passive in face of employer abuse: The East Timor Trade Union Confederation (KSTL) regrets the government's failure to protect workers' rights, exposing them to unfair treatment by the employers. The police intervened in trade union actions twice in 2011, yet the government did not react, either to the police violence or to exploitation by the employers.


US Mission recognises it was in the wrong: In 2010 the US Mission to East Timor opposed the union membership of one of its employees, dismissed him, and refused to meet the General Workers Union of Timor-Leste (SJTL) (see 2011 Survey). Following national and international pressure, the Mission recognised that its staff had the right to join a union. The SJTL met the Mission on 3 February and was able to settle the matter of the unfair dismissal of its member.

Three workers dismissed for their trade union activity swiftly reinstated by Sigma supermarkets: On 24 May a delegate and two members of the General Workers Union of Timor-Leste (SJTL) were dismissed by the Sigma supermarket after calling for better standards of hygiene for the staff. On 6 June, after a one hour strike, the SJTL won the reinstatement of all three, and the satisfaction of the workers' demands.

Arrest of 15 workers and two trade union delegates in the Turismo Hotel: On 11 October the General Secretary of the General Workers Union of Timor-Leste (SJTL) Mr Almério Vila Nova, another trade union official, Mrs. Henita Casimira, and 15 workers from the "Hotel Turismo" were arrested by police while preparing to hold a peaceful protest movement outside the Ministry of Justice. They were planning to protest against the dismissal of 19 hotel workers affiliated to the SJTL. The union believed the Justice Minister, Lucia Lobato, had played a key role in the dismissal. They were held in a police cell for two days and one night before being released for lack of proof of any criminal offence.

Mandiri Bank turns on trade union leaders: On 30 November, Joaquim Gonzala, head of the Advocacy and Networking Department for the workers' union at the Indonesian bank, was dismissed for defending the rights and interests of the union's members. The union's president and vice-president, Helder Barreto and Leonardo Amaral, sought conciliation with the bank but were dismissed in turn. The General Workers Union of Timor-Leste (SJTL) organised a strike beginning on 19 December within the Mandiri bank to protest at the dismissals, which were in violation of the country's labour legislation. The protestors were dispersed the following morning by the police, following discussions between the police commander and the bank managers. At the request of the SJTL and the East Timor Trade Union Confederation (KSTL), a tripartite mediation meeting was organised by the national labour authorities. According to the KSTL the government clearly sided with the bank managers at the meeting, and no solution was found.

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