2009 Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Middle East

Trade union rights still systematically flouted, migrants being the hardest hit

Trade union rights still systematically flouted, migrants being the hardest hit

Brussels, 10 June 2009 (ITUC OnLine): The Middle East continues to be a very dark region on the map of trade union rights violations, as illustrated by the Middle East section of the ITUC’s 2009 survey of trade union rights violations around the world. Long-awaited legislative reforms are proving slow to materialise and the lot of migrant workers, especially domestics, remains very worrying. Iran is still the scene of particularly harsh anti-union repression.

Promises of new laws guaranteeing increased trade union freedom have still not been kept in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Iraq and Iran. Trade unions are still banned in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Despite the fact that trade union rights are enshrined in constitutions, restrictions remain and trade union pluralism and collective bargaining are virtually non-existent in the region. The right to strike remains limited in Oman, Qatar, Syria and Yemen, whilst it is totally banned in Saudi Arabia and in the public sector in the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Kuwait and Qatar. The governments of the region continue to meddle in trade union affairs, as illustrated, for example, by the Iraqi government’s interference in the trade union elections.

Dismissals, arrests, imprisonment, violence... Attempting to exercise trade union rights is still a dangerous affair in the region, as underlined by the ITUC Survey. Trade union representatives in Bahrain’s construction sector and in the Iraqi oil sector are regularly harassed, transferred or suspended. In Iraq, eight union representatives from the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) were transferred to dangerous areas. Other faced arrest in countries such as Iraq, Palestine and Yemen. The president of the Iraqi Journalists’ Union was assassinated and his successor narrowly escaped death.

According to the ITUC Survey, migrant workers, despite being an essential pillar of the region’s economies, are still living and working in appalling conditions. In Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, the governments have brought in measures or proposed reforms aimed at improving their lot. Meanwhile, the majority of the workers in the region do not have any trade union rights. Many of them carried out protests during 2008, which often resulted in brutal police repression and threats of arrest and deportation. Such was the case in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (where there are thousands of migrant construction workers), Jordan (in the export processing zones), Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where 200 workers were expelled from the country. In the United Arab Emirates, 45 Indian construction workers were sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, followed by deportation, for going on strike; thousands of Asian workers were arrested after similar demonstrations deemed “subversive” by the authorities.

There are ever-increasing reports of physical violence and sexual abuse against women domestic workers. In Saudi Arabia, an Indonesian servant who had been raped was sentenced to one year in prison (where she gave birth) and received 100 lashes.

Iran continues to stand out for its particularly fierce anti-union repression, explains the ITUC Survey. Hundreds of workers were arrested for taking part in trade union activities, particularly in the education sector. The Revolutionary Courts delivered 11 new prison sentences against trade unionists and condemned four workers, including two women, to flogging. Two eminent union leaders remain in prison. Mansoor Osanloo, president of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Sherkat-e Vahed), who has been in prison since 2007 for “threatening national security” and “propaganda against the state” and whose health has been deteriorating in prison, has become an emblematic figure at international level. A Kurdish teacher, a human rights activist and union member, was sentenced to death for “threatening national security”. He is also regularly tortured and members of the committee opposing his death penalty are harassed. Braving the repression, the Haft Tapeh Complex Syndicate, affiliated to the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), was set up in 2008 by the workers at a sugar refinery.

In Lebanon, Iraq, Israel and Palestine, political tensions and violence continue to obstruct trade union activities. The offices of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, and several of its members’ houses, were destroyed by bombardments. In Lebanon, the government called on the army after a general strike was announced in May, against a background of heightened internal political tensions.

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