The law provides workers with the right to organize and to form and join unions. The law also provides workers the right to 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.” The government did not issue 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. However, the UGTT criticized police and National Guard members for failing to protect workers during several peaceful demonstrations, notably on December 4 when LNPR members attacked the UGTT Tunis headquarters during the union’s 60th commemoration of its founder’s assassination, leaving 10 unionists, including three executive committee members (Hfaiedh Hfaiedh, Samir Cheffi, and Mouldi Jendoubi) injured. The UGTT complained the government failed to protect its regional offices. Unknown assailants either vandalized or firebombed branch union offices in metropolitan Tunis, Manouba, Ben Arous, Kbelli, Douz, and Feriana the night of February 20-21; and in Jendouba, Bousalam, and Ben Guerdane the night of June 11-12. On July 26, partly in reprisal, angry workers attacked National Guardsmen and Nahda Party offices in Sidi Bouzid.
The UGTT also charged police used excessive force in repressing five days of strikes and marches in the governorate of Siliana in late November. Approximately 300 demonstrators were injured, including dozens shot in the face with birdshot, blinding several.
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 Union (Association) for Industry, Commerce, and Handicrafts (UTICA) constituted the commissions’ membership. In July the tripartite members agreed to form several working groups to resolve various outstanding issues and to conclude increases in the minimum wage for both public and private employees. On December 4, the social partners signed wage accords, including a path-breaking one for private sector employees, increasing the minimum wage by 6 percent for agricultural and nonagricultural workers. The monthly minimum wage for nonagricultural workers was increased to 320 dinars per month ($206), while the daily minimum wage for agricultural sector workers was increased to 11.608 dinars ($7.50).
A committee chaired by an officer from the Labor Division of the Office of the Inspector General had to approve 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.
Unions rarely sought advance approval 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.
After Ben Ali’s departure, the UGTT, the newly formed General Confederation of Tunisian Labor (CGTT), and the Union of Tunisian Labor (UTT) were independent of the government and had the right to decide union leadership. In the period preceding the October Constituent Assembly elections, the three labor confederations were not explicitly aligned with political parties, but prominent UGTT members played a role in the formation of the short-lived Tunisia Labor Party.
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. Following the emergence of “labor pluralism” in May, 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. Government-organized collective social negotiations were held only with the UGTT. CGTT and UTT representatives complained throughout the year their labor organizations had been ignored and shut out of tripartite negotiations. They acknowledged their organizations had conducted strikes to gain recognition as a bargaining partner in tripartite negotiations.
The government, moreover, contended the UGTT had staged strikes to undermine the ruling troika and to agitate the public against it. For its part, the UGTT claimed that Nahda party adherents had vandalized and trashed several regional union offices early in the year as part of an orchestrated effort to intimidate the union. During a February 25 walkout, UGTT demonstrators called for the government to resign. Both Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali and Nahda president Rached Ghannouchi subsequently met with UGTT Secretary General Houcine Abassi in March to defuse the situation and reestablish good working relations.
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. A number of solidarity strikes were held to publicize the plight of temporary workers, notably those municipal workers who are paid less than the minimum wage.