The law provides workers with the right to organize, form and join unions, and strike, provided workers give 10 days’ advance notice to their federations and receive approval. The Ministry of Interior issues unions permits to strike and hold demonstrations. The International Trade Union Confederation and the International Labor Organization characterized the requirement for strike notification as an impediment to freedom of association. The right to strike extended to civil servants, with the exception of workers in “essential” services, that is, those jobs “whose interruption would endanger the lives, safety, or health of all or a section of the population.” However, the government had not issued a decree stipulating which services were “essential.” While the provision could potentially be misused, the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) reported that during the year the right to strike was largely respected in public enterprises and services and that the provision of “minimum service” during strikes is subject to negotiations between unions and employers. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers and retribution against strikers, and it protects the right to bargain collectively.
The government generally respected and enforced the laws prohibiting retribution against strikers. Conciliation panels, in which labor and management were represented equally, settled labor disputes. Tripartite regional arbitration commissions settled industrial disputes when conciliation failed. Representatives of the Ministry of Social Affairs, the UGTT, and the Tunisian Association for Industry, Commerce, and Handicrafts (UTICA) constituted the commissions’ membership.
A committee chaired by an officer from the Labor Division of the Office of the Inspector General approved all worker dismissals. The committee was composed of representatives from the Ministry of Social Affairs, UGTT, and the company dismissing the worker. Workers have the right to reinstatement after dismissal for union activities. Following the ouster of Ben Ali, the UGTT and UTICA reached an agreement about the right to join a union and engage in union activities. The agreement provides that employers may not harass or arbitrarily dismiss any worker for joining a union and engaging in union activities.
Two labor federations emerged during the year in addition to the UGTT, which had been the country’s only recognized labor federation: the General Confederation of Tunisian Labor (CGTT) and the Union of Tunisian Labor (UTT). On February 1 and on May 1, the government recognized the CGTT and the UTT, respectively.
Unions rarely sought advance approval in practice to conduct strikes. Wildcat strikes (those not authorized by union management) were commonplace throughout the year. The state of emergency did not inhibit or prevent labor unions in the public and private sectors from conducting strikes.
On September 6, the prime minister ordered the dissolution of the Union of Internal Security Forces after its membership allegedly conspired to oust the commander of the National Guard, Army General Moncef Helali.
After Ben Ali’s departure, the UGTT, CGTT, and UTT were independent of the government and had the right to decide union leadership. They were not explicitly aligned with political parties, but prominent UGTT members played a role in the formation of the Tunisia Labor Party (PTT).
The UGTT alleged antiunion practices among private sector employers, including firing union activists and using temporary workers to deter unionization. In certain industries, such as textiles, hotels, and construction, temporary workers accounted for a significant majority of the workforce. With the emergence of “labor pluralism” during the year, employers complained that negotiating bargaining agreements had become more complicated. UTICA, along with the government, continued to maintain an exclusive relationship with the UGTT in reaching collective bargaining agreements. Collective social negotiations were held only with the UGTT. The government tended to ignore CGTT and UTT demands that their representatives be included in tripartite negotiations. However, in the face of sporadic strikes, walkouts, and sit-ins staged by the CGTT and UTT, individual companies were compelled to reach settlements with these labor confederations. Although the labor code covers temporary workers, enforcement efforts were weaker than for permanent workers. Toward the end of the year there was an upsurge in strike activity on behalf of temporary workers.