4 – Systematic violations of rights
The ITUC Global Rights Index


The ITUC affiliate in Tunisia is the Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (UGTT).

In practice

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Two trade unionists prosecuted for their trade union activities31-12-2019

Trade unionist Mohamed Romdhani was initially sentenced to a year and a half in prison after being accused by the Meca-Hertz company in Emghira of making defamatory remarks on social media. The UGTT immediately came to Mohamed Romdhani’s assistance and offered him the services of a lawyer to defend the union’s interests. The court ruled that the charges were unsubstantiated and dismissed the case.
Khechimi Ben Salem, general secretary of the Hamma delegation of the local UGTT union (in the governorate of Gabes), was sentenced to prison for his participation as a trade union representative in the demonstration organised by civil society in the region against the polluting activities of the CGT chemical factories in Gabes and their impact on the environment.

Trade unionist blacklisted05-07-2019

Sonia Jebali, a trade unionist and founder of a UGTT-affiliated union, is struggling to find work. The UGTT-affiliated union set up in 2011 at the Latelec plant, a subsidiary of the Latécoère Group and a supplier of Airbus and Dassault Aviation, was supported by all the workers at the time and had helped put an end to many of the workers’ rights violations. The most committed trade unionists were, however, dismissed and never reinstated. Among them was Sonia Jebali, who has since been blacklisted by all of the country’s private companies.

Press freedom under threat03-05-2019

Speaking at the release of the annual report on press freedoms in Tunisia, the president of the SNJT national journalists’ union, Neji Bghouri, expressed his fears about the erosion of freedoms in Tunisia. According to the report, 200 journalists were subjected to 139 assaults between 1 May 2018 and 30 April 2019. Another 150 journalists were dismissed and 400 were not paid. The figures, he said, are a reflection of the threats to press freedom, which is also being undermined by attempts to use the justice system to restrict journalistic activity in Tunisia.

A few months later, in October, the president of the SNJT denounced 79 violations or attacks directed against 76 journalists during the Tunisian election process. A total of seven serious physical assaults, four verbal assaults, four threats of assault and seven cases of incitement to threaten journalists were recorded. According to the union leader, Tunisia’s local news outlets are the targets of a widespread smear campaign. Tunisia’s new president, Kais Saied, has since called for “respect for journalists and media companies”.

Clashes during a demonstration17-04-2019

Residents of Sidi Bou Ali in Sousse took part in a strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
to show their solidarity with the former employees of the Elbene Industrie dairy factory, which had been idle for five months. Demonstrators, joined by workers from other factories in the region, blocked a national road. The protest culminated in clashes with law enforcement officers, who used tear gas.

Demonstrators arrested in clashes with police11-10-2018

In early January, demonstrators and police clashed in several parts of Tunis and other cities around the country. A man was killed in Tebourba, around 50 kilometres from the capital, on the margins of a demonstration against price rises and the harshening of austerity policies following the approval of the 2018 finance law. According to the spokesperson of Interior Minister Khlifa Chibani, over 200 people were arrested across the country between 8 and 11 January and almost 50 police officers were injured in the clashes. In Gafsa, three local Popular Front leaders, including a UGTT representative, were arrested and subsequently released under pressure from protests.

Police trade union leader jailed for alleged “defamation”07-02-2017

Walid Zarrrouk, a prisons officer and member of the Union for a Republican Police, was arbitrarily imprisoned and sentenced multiple times for denouncing the retaliatory practices of the Tunisian police forces against those that dare to criticise them. Mr. Zarrouk was sentenced by two different courts and with respect to three different episodes to a total of two years and eight months in prison. In particular, on 23 November 2016, a Tunis Court condemned him to one year in prison in application of Article 128 of the penal code for a television interview he gave during which he stated that Tunisian authorities bring trumped up charges against those that criticise them. The same day another chamber of the same court sentenced him to eight months in prison because he criticised the former Interior Minister in a daily newspaper, accusing his political party of involvement in a terrorist network.

On 7 February 2017, after being indicted by the counter-terrorism judicial unit, he was then sentenced to one year in prison by another Tunis court because of a post he wrote on Facebook criticising the head of the National Guard counter-terrorism unit as well as the prosecutor and the judge of the unit. These are only the latest in a long series of trials that Mr. Zarrouk faced. On 9 September 2013, an investigative judge ordered his detention for four days because of a Facebook post in which he criticised the politicisation of prosecutions and in October 2015 he was sentenced to three months imprisonment for a Facebook post against a public prosecutor.

In 2011, Tunisia’s transitional authorities liberalised the press code and the law pertaining to the broadcast media, eliminating most of the criminal penalties for speech offenses. However, prosecutions and convictions for non-violent speech continued because of repressive articles in various legal codes that Tunisia’s interim legislative bodies did not modify, causing the prosecution of at least 16 people since December 2011 for speeches deemed defamatory towards individuals or state institutions.

President of National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNTJT) denounces violations against press freedom03-03-2016

On World Press Freedom Day on 3 March 2016, the president of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT), Mr. Naji Al Gauri, denounced the violations challenging freedom of the press in Tunisia. Gauri presented the annual SNJT report of press freedom highlighting violations against press freedom perpetrated in the country by the Parliament, the Government and some officials who called for the prosecution of journalists and common citizens. The annual report also documented acts of physical violence perpetrated by members of the security forces and the military against journalists performing their duties, calling on the authorities to provide more protection for journalists.

Police fire tear gas and attack hundreds of young protesting Tunisians marching against unemployment25-01-2016

Political and social unrest followed the suicide of a young Tunisian unemployed man. Young Tunisians went in the streets demanding employment policies and a political response to what has become a plague in the country with the unemployment rate reaching 31.2 per cent for university graduates and 31.8 per cent for the youth.

The protests started in Kasserine - where the suicide occurred – and, in response, the Interior Ministry announced a nighttime curfew in the city as a preventive measure. Protests continued during the night and spread during the following days in different cities, including Tahla, Fernana and Meknasi. In response to youth protests, on 19 January, police fired tear gas and violently clashed with hundreds of protesters.

Following this first protest, the unrest spread in the whole country and enlarged its base from unemployed youth to other categories of workers. On 25 January, several thousand policemen marched to the presidential palace in Carthage demanding improvement in working conditions and salaries. Tunisia’s police forces have been of crucial importance and were at the forefront of the war against Islamist militants who in 2015 attacked several army checkpoints. However, their salaries remained unchanged and incredibly low (around $300 a month) and their conditions of employment are extremely poor unlike those of their sister force, the military.

Journalists faced with precarious employment and threats31-12-2015

In addition to threats against the freedom of the press, the Syndicat National des Journalistes Tunisiens (SNJT) fought an uphill battle defending its members against their employers. Scores of journalists were arbitrarily dismissed in 2015. According to the SNJT, journalists are faced with high levels of job insecurity, not to mention the repression and other dangers they encounter. Nearly three quarters of journalists in the written press are not covered by collective agreements and do not have a clear employment contract

Oppressive antiterrorist decree 24-11-2015

Following the terrorist attack in Sousse, on 4 July, the Tunisian president imposed a state of emergency for one month. Human rights organisations and the UGTT feared that the decree could entail further restrictions on the freedoms of expression, assembly and association, as well as on trade union rights, as it would allow the executive to impose bans on strikes or protest actions considered a threat to public order and to prohibit any meeting likely to incite or harbour unrest. At the end of July, the state of emergency was extended by two months. In the meantime, the Parliament adopted a new antiterrorist law that has been criticised by civil society as it could lead to further curbs on freedoms.

In this context of heightened security, on 1st September in Tunis, security forces brutally attacked protestors, including at the UGTT headquarters. The demonstrators were violently dispersed. Some were beaten up, others arrested, including Lasaad Yakoubi, general secretary of the secondary school teachers’ union Union des Ecoles Secondaires, and Nejib Sellami from the UGTT. Both leaders were released after being detained for an hour at a police station. The demonstrators were protesting against a bill on economic and financial reconciliation that would grant amnesty to business people who profited from Ben Ali’s regime. The draft legislation has been condemned by the UGTT. The worst incidences of police brutality took place in Sfax on 6 September. The state of emergency was lifted on 2 October and then re-established on 24 November following a new attack in Tunis in which 12 officers of the presidential guard were killed. In Tunis and the neighbouring areas, the measure was accompanied by a curfew between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m..

Nobel Peace Prize against backdrop of severe social and economic crisis09-10-2015

On 9 October, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Tunisian “Quartet”, which was set up on the initiative of the UGTT, alongside the Union Tunisienne de l’Industrie, du Commerce et de l’Artisanat (UTICA), the Ligue Tunisienne des Droits de l’Homme (LTDH) and the Ordre National des Avocats de Tunisie. Together, these four organisations were rewarded for negotiating the country’s transition to democracy and the adoption of a Constitution based on fundamental human rights, as well as for their role in preventing the bloody confrontations that befell other countries during the course of the Arab Spring. The country was in a deadlock in 2013 when the four organisations launched this celebrated “national dialogue”.

But the struggle is not over yet. A 2015 report on social dialogue social dialogue Discussion and co-operation between the social partners on matters of common interest, such as economic and social policy. Involves participation by the state where tripartism is practice. in Tunisia sponsored by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation established an inventory of the obstacles to be overcome to allow for far reaching reform. In its conclusions, it stressed the need for education and training to be adapted to the existing productive system and for improved governance of public and private institutions.

The country is in the throes of a severe economic crisis. Tourism, one of the pillars of the economy, is in shambles as a result of terrorism. Since the Revolution, purchasing power is reported to have fallen by 40% in four years, and the number of people living in poverty is reported to have risen by 30%. The unions are demanding increased wages, and protests and strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
actions are on the rise. A few days after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded, an important meeting on the resumption of social dialogue social dialogue Discussion and co-operation between the social partners on matters of common interest, such as economic and social policy. Involves participation by the state where tripartism is practice. was cancelled due to the absence of the employers’ organisation employers’ organisation A body of employers associated for the collective protection and promotion of their interests. Can engage in collective bargaining with trade unions or trade union organisations. UTICA. The UGTT has been the target of violent attacks in the media. In response, it stressed the importance of uniting national efforts, each according to their abilities, while refusing that workers be made to bear the full brunt of the repercussions of the crisis.

UGTT and its leadership under constant attack eants31-07-2015

In January, the UGTT received threats directed at its Tunis headquarters and its general secretary, Houcine Abassi. In July, the head of government, Habib Essid, issued a personal warning to Houcine Abassi regarding the risk of attacks on leaders of the UGTT. Radical Islamic jihadist groups regularly issue death threats against the UGTT on the social media. Direct threats have been issued against trade union leaders on several occasions in recent years. At the end of 2014, it was only thanks to the vigilant intervention of the UGTT security service that Houcine Abassi escaped unscathed from an attempt on his life while leaving his office by car.

Death threats against UGTT leader:19-06-2014

An anonymous caller phoned the Tunisian trade union confederation, the Union générale tunisienne du travail (UGTT), on 15 January 2015 threatening to assassinate its General Secretary Houcine Abbasi. The caller also threatened to trigger a bomb in Mohammed Ali Square outside the UGTT headquarters. Security forces swept the area and implemented heavy security measures. On the morning of 16 January the UGTT received another threat to detonate a car bomb during the secretary general’s motorcade. The UGTT had seen a recent rise in attacks and threats against its organisation. The threats came just after it endorsed a transport strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
that paralysed public transport in Tunis for 4 days.

Saida biscuit factory refuses to implement collective agreement12-06-2014

The workers at the Saida biscuit factory in Ben Arous, south of Tunis, walked out for three days to demand the implementation of agreements signed with management in March 2014. The local branch of the FGAT-UGTT at the Mondelez-SOTUBI joint venture is demanding, among other things, permanent employment for contract workers working in the company for over four years and overtime payment for drivers.The three-day strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
was announced after talks broke down on 12 June 2014.

Workers excluded from collective bargaining20-09-2013

Workers in export processing zones and domestic workers are excluded from the right to bargain collectively.

Death threats against unionists20-09-2013

The Secretary General of the Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (UGTT) has been the subject of death threats. The union suspect that Salafists groups are behind the threats since they are constantly accusing the UGTT of hampering economic development.

Prohibition of demonstrations20-09-2013

The Ministry of the Interior regularly prohibits demonstrations on Avenue Bourguiba in Tunis.

Police fired tear gas 31-07-2013

In July 2013, riot police fired tear gas in order to disperse hundreds of protesters in front of the Interior Ministry. People were protesting against the assassination of Mohamed Brahmi, who was an opposition leader, general coordinator and member of the National Constituent Assembly and a leading figure in the Popular Front coalition. Chokri Belaid, the leader of the Popular Front coalition, was also killed on 6 February 2013.

Interference in union premises01-11-2012

Hundreds of men armed with knives, sticks and Molotov cocktails descended on the union¹s Tunis headquarters on 4th December, whilst a vigil was being held to mark the 60th anniversary of murdered union founder Farhat Hached. Ten people were injured.
The UGTT suspects the League for the Protection of the Revolution. Even though an investigation commission was set up in December 2012, no report has been presented because of pressure exerted by the ruling party on the commission.

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