Monitoring and interventions

Trade unionists are human rights defenders. They hold powerful forces to account, including governments, employers, transnational capital, and landowners.

In many countries trade unionists live under threat of retaliation, and are at risk of dismissal, harassment, and serious attacks on their personal security, and civil liberties. In some countries they face arrest, threats, kidnapping, violence, and even murder. Their organisations may face interference, heavy fines and criminal and civil punishments.

ICTUR exists to promote, defend, and extend trade union rights, and to investigate, respond to, and raise awareness of violations of these rights.

Kenya: April 2017
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The KNUT teaching union has been placed under an injunction prohibiting the union and its general secretary, Wilson Sossion, from making statements regarding a private teaching institution BIA, in the wake of domestic and international criticisms of BIA’s operations in Kenya.

Kenya has ratified both of the core ILO Conventions protecting freedom of association and trade union rights, however the rights of public sector workers, notably teachers and health worker, are frequently restricted and actions such as strikes in these sectors face restrictions and repression.

ICTUR letter    
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Kazakhstan: April 2017
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On 7 April 2017, Nurbek Kushakbayev was sentenced to two and a half years in prison under Article 402 of the Criminal Code, for inciting workers to participate in an unauthorized strike in December at the company Techno Trading Ltd.

Kazakhstan has ratified both of the core ILO Conventions protecting freedom of association and trade union rights. The country has a major trade union centre that is close to the State, but independent unions, notably those allied to the (now-deregistered) Confederation of Independent Trades Unions of Kazakhstan (KNPRK), have faced repressionm, and incidents of serious violations occur, including the extreme case in which 16 people were killed and at least 64 sustained gunshot wounds during an oilworkers' protest in 2011.

ICTUR letter    
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Turkey: April 2017
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Criminal sentences against fourteen officials of Turkish union TÜMTİS’ Ankara branch were upheld in March 2017 by the appeal court. TÜMTİS firmly maintains that the charges, which date back to November 2007, were politically-motivated

Turkey has ratified both core ILO Conventions on freedom of association and has an active and politically diverse trade union movement. However, unions face complex restrictions, routine bans on strikes, frequent incidents of violent policing, and operate under a system that requires vast organising efforts before a union can secure bargaining rights. Following the coup attempt the President introduced a State of Emergency.

ICTUR letter    
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Kenya: February 2017
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On 13 February 2017, seven officials from the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) were sentenced to one month in jail, On 15th February the Court of Appeal ordered their release.

Kenya has ratified both of the core ILO Conventions protecting freedom of association and trade union rights, however the rights of public sector workers, notably teachers and health worker, are frequently restricted and actions such as strikes in these sectors face restrictions and repression.

ICTUR letter    
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Sri Lanka: February 2017
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The leader of the All-Ceylon Telecommunications Union was abducted and held by armed men during a strike by 'temporary' workers (many of them long-term outsourced employees) at Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT).

Sri Lanka has ratified both of the core ILO Conventions protecting freedom of association and trade union rights.

ICTUR letter    
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Turkey: February 2017
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Following the failed coup of 2016 Turkey has experienced a wave of political repression that has included the mass dismissal of public sector workers, with the European Trade Union Confederation now estimating that 20,000 members from their affiliated confederations have lost their jobs and that tens of thousands from other unions have also been dismissed. In a serious incident of apparently politically-motivated violence, on 11 February 2017, the Chairman of the Türk Büro Sen union, Fahrettin Yokuş, was shot at in Ankara. Some days previously the union's headquarters had been besieged by an angry crowd, and in January, the defence of national security was offered as grounds for banning strikes at several enterprises, including at the Asil Çelik steel mill in Bursa, and at factories owned by ABB, General Electric and Schneider Electric.

The country has ratified both core ILO Conventions on freedom of association and has an active and politically diverse trade union movement (the incidents above affect unions from the left and right of Turkish politics). However, unions face complex restrictions, routine bans on strikes, frequent incidents of violent policing, and operate under a system that requires vast organising efforts before a union can secure bargaining rights. Following the coup attempt the President introduced a State of Emergency.

ICTUR letter  
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Italy: February 2017
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Trade union leader Aldo Milani - the national coordinator of the SI Cobas trade union - was arrested on 26 January 2017 in Modena province, and is facing what the union says are ill-founded charges of extortion, and which appear to be based not on any act by Mr Milani but on the alleged receipt of funds by an independent mediator brought into a negotiation at the request of the employer.

Italy has ratified all of the ILO’s core Conventions and labour rights are generally well-protected, with Europe’s largest trade union movement represented by three politically diverse national centres and by a significant number of independent unions and centres. However, this is the second significant incident involving members of the country’s smaller grassroots ‘base committee’ unions in recent months, the other case being an incident in which a picketer from the USB union was run over and killed during a protest (see ICTUR report below).

ICTUR letter  
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Algeria: February 2017
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Mellel Raouf, the leader of an independent energy sector union been sentenced to a six-month term of imprisonment after reporting corruption at SONELGAZ, the national electricity and gas company.

Algeria has ratified both core ILO Conventions on freedom of association, and a central trade union organisation, the UGTA, enjoys an established position. Independent unions have existed for many years but are marginalised, their leaders face incidents of harassment, and the unions face considerable problems securing registration.

ICTUR letter Industriall campaign
PSI campaign
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Egypt: January 2017
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Leaders of an independent union and up to 30 workers who organised strike action at a food sector factory - belonging to the IFFCO Indian multinational – have been arrested. Many remain in detention and are awaiting another court hearing. The International Union of Foodworkers warned they were at risk of fines or prison terms, but in February it was reported that they had been released.

Egypt has ratified both core ILO Conventions on freedom of association but for decades has repressed independent union organising and has maintained a single state-run trade union monopoly centre, the ETUF. Independent unions have long existed on the fringes, though are now more widely established, and are organised within two rival national centres. The ETUF remains by far the largest union centre but it tends to have an antagonistic relationship to the independent unions.

ICTUR letter IUF campaign  
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Bangladesh: January 2017
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There has been a rapid deterioration in the trade union rights situation in the garment sector of Bangladesh, specifically around the Ashulia export zone, which erupted in December 2016. The situation over a number of years has been serious, with key problems involving a near total ban on unions in the zone; the lack of any effective industrial relations bargaining or resolution system in the zones; hostile and violent policing of strikes; a lack of protection from retaliation for trade union activists, leaders, organisers, and for workers who participate in strikes; and an extremely serious problem with workplace safety, which resulted in several serious workplace fires, and the internationally notorious collapse of the Rana Plaza factory.

|The present concern relates to the serious violations of trade union rights that erupted in the period around 21 December, when numerous arrests were made, and when many workers were dismissed, following strike action in support of a demand for increased wages from 12 December.

Bangladesh has ratified both core ILO Conventions on freedom of association, and has revised its labour law in recent years. A key problem is that union rights remain excluded from the export zones where most garment factories are located. A new EPZ law offers hesitant steps towards improving worker representation, but falls far short of full trade union rights, and in any case has not yet been adopted.

ICTUR letter    
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Nicaragua: January 2017
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A group of 12 trade unionists and union leaders have been sentenced to periods of one year house arrest and two years imprisonment following their arrests during a peaceful protest at a factory in the Tipitapa free trade zone.

Nicaragua has ratified both of the core ILO Conventions on freedom of association and its trade unions have generally had a good relationship with leftist President Daniel Ortega. The country faces serious economic problems, and investment in free trade zones has been promoted as a way to attract jobs, but the priority placed on keeping investment in the zones has led to friction with unions. The conviction and sentencing of trade unionists for participating in a factory protest marks a serious deterioration in the trade union rights situation.

ICTUR letter
Industriall campaign
 
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UK: January 2017
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The leader of a small independent union has been arrested during a protest concerning deductions from workers' wages in the form of non-payment of tips. The demonstration itself was forcefully dispersed by police.

The UK has ratified both core ILO Conventions concerning freedom of association and collective bargaining, and while arrests of union leaders are uncommon the country has experienced significant interference with trade union rights in recent years.

ICTUR letter    
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Burundi: January 2017
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Four trade union leaders were arrrested on 28 December 2016, including the Chairman of the Burundi Confederation of Unions (COSYBU), Tharcisse Gahungu, the Chairman of the Burundi Cotton Processing Company Union (COGERCO), the Chairman of the Coffee Processing Company Union (SODECO), and a further COSYBU member.

Burundi has ratified both ILO Conventions protecting freedom of association. Union leaders have previoulsy faced harassment and arrests.

ICTUR letter    
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Lebanon: January 2017
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Two migrant workers' rights activists Rose Limbu and Sujana Rana have been arrested on grounds that are unclear and have been denied access to legal counsel. Sujana Rana was arrested on 30 November and deported on 10 December. Rose Limbu was arrested on 5 December. The women are involved with a small but pioneering and locally and internationally well-respected migrant workers' organisation which has been seeking formal recognition by the State.

Lebanon has ratified ILO Convention 98 though not Convention 87.

ICTUR letter    
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Brazil: January 2017
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The University of Sãu Paulo University has taken steps to evict the long-established Sindicato dos Trabalhadores da USP (SINTUSP) from its offices at the university, and to cease engagement with the union. The University has also launched a number of actions against the union's officers, which it describes as spurious and baseless.

Brazil has not ratified ILO Convention 87 on protection of freedom of association, but it has ratified ILO Convention 98, which explicitly protects trade unionists from harassment and anti-union retaliation by employers, such as the university. Brazil is further obligated to respect freedom of association under the terms of its membership of the ILO, and these principles are further protected under Brazil's own Constitution.

ICTUR letter    
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Sri Lanka: December 2016
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The military has intervened in a port workers' strike following remarks made by a Government Minister who reportedly described the strike as 'piracy' and said that the military could 'shoot' strikers. ICTUR has written to express its concern at this action and to call for the Minister to retract his claim, which has no basis in law.

Sri Lanka has ratified both of the core ILO Conventions protecting freedom of association and trade union rights.

ICTUR letter
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Kazakhstan: December 2016
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The Government of Kazakhstan has begun a procedure aimed at de-registering one of the country's trade union centres, following changes to the law which make compliance much more demanding. The union concerned was the first independent centre, although it recently suffered a major split which left it very significantly depleted in numbers. Little clear information exists concerning its present membership levels, but the authorities argue it does not meet the new registration criteria. Human rights organisations and international trade unions have argued that the legal reforms are aimed at supressing independent unions.

Kazakhstan has ratified both of the core ILO Conventions protecting freedom of association and trade union rights, but serious violations occur, including the extreme case in which 16 people were killed and at least 64 sustained gunshot wounds during an oilworkers' protest in 2011.

ICTUR letter Human Rights Watch report Labourstart campaign
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Pakistan: December 2016
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At least 63 hotel union members have been reported arrested. In a seperate incident 100 striking oil and gas workers were also arrested. Both incidents of mass arrest occured during labout disputes. A number of other reports of anti-union discrimination have been reported.

Pakistan has ratified both of the core ILO Conventions protecting freedom of association and trade union rights, but violations occur.

January 2017 - update - see IUF webpage

ICTUR letter IUF campaign and letters APWC reply
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Fiji: December 2016
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A trade union leader has been arrested and detained over a weekend. Firefighters also report having been pressurred to join an in-house union and to leave their existing union. They also report cancellation of 'check-off'.

Fiji has ratified both of the core ILO Conventions protecting freedom of association and trade union rights, but long running problems concerning trade union rights have seen processes activated within the ILO, including an official Article 26 Complaint lodged in 2013, though this closed in 2016.

ICTUR letter ILO Complaint (closed 2016) ICTUR Profile (Fiji)
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Argentina: November 2016
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Teaching unions have reported acts of interference and harassment by the police, including posting officers outside union meetings, and harassing those posting union flyers. The union also reported that those posting its flyers were assaulted shortly after the police intervention.

Argentina has ratified both of the core ILO Conventions protecting freedom of association and trade union rights. The country has a strong trade union movement that emerged from corporatism, and it is relatively free from the violence reported elsewhere on the continent, though anti-union actions are reported, as are arrests and harassment of trade unionists.

ICTUR letter
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Italy: November 2016
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A striking worker has been hit by a vehicle and killed while on a picket line. The local union reports that the vehicle was moving at speed and that managers had instructed the driver to cross the lines.

Italy has ratified both of the core ILO Conventions protecting freedom of association and trade union rights and is characterised by generally good levels of protection for trade union and labour rights. The country has a strong - if politically divided - trade union movement. The union concerned, USB, is one of several that emerged from a tradition of grassroots workplace committees.

ICTUR letter Reply from USB
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Philippines: November 2016
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An activist with the SENTRO trade union has been shot and killed outside his home.

The Philippines has ratified both of the core ILO Conventions protecting freedom of association and trade union rights. It has a vigorous and growing labour movement, however, political violence is a regular problem, including threats and murders of trade unionists.

ICTUR letter
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Sudan: November 2016
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Several doctors and the leader of their union have been arrested during a strike.

Sudan has ratified ILO Convention 98 on Collective Bargaining but not Convention 87 on Freedom of Association. The main trade union centre is close to the ruling party (one of its senior officiers is also the Foreign Minister). Independent unions have at times faced very serious threats to their security and are regarded as 'at risk' by Amnesty International.

ICTUR letter
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The International Centre for Trade Union Rights

Established in 1987, ICTUR is a non-profit organisation
based in London, promoting international trade
union rights through research and advocacy services.

UCATT House, 177 Abbeville Road, London SW4 9RL
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7498 4700 Fax: +44 (0) 20 7498 0611
Email: ictur@ictur.org / Web: www.ictur.org