In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the Solidarity Center supports democratic unions and civil society organizations as they defend the human right to freedom of association, promote worker equality and raise awareness of the global economic context in which they labor.
|Jalila al-Salman, vice president of the Bahraini Teachers Association. Photo: EI
The rich history of union activism in much of the MENA region goes back to the 1920s, when labor movements formed the working-class base of the struggle against colonial authorities. Today, global economic and political dynamics are eroding the universal human rights that democratic trade unions defend. Government efforts to liberalize come at a great cost: the erosion of worker rights and economic fairness.
While in some MENA countries, cumbersome laws facilitate government intervention in trade union operations, generally excluding or discriminating against certain workers based upon political ideology, gender, national status or job class. The Solidarity Center partners with the many regional trade unions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to improve domestic labor law and its implementation, and to give workers a voice in shaping the economic and political development of their countries.
Region-wide programs strengthen workers’ political and economic rights by promoting rule of law, defending freedom of association, building capacity and internal union democracy and encouraging trade union organizing. Dedicated to advancing the workers’ human rights, each trade union and civil society organization in the MENA region grows stronger through alliances with each other and with the global labor movement. This strategic approach is an element of all the Solidarity Center’s work in the MENA region.
Iraqi Workers Sharpen Organizing Skills, Gain Rights on the Job
. November 25, 2014—Transport workers at Gulftainer in the Iraqi port of Om Qasr port formed a union committee in November following a three-year organizing effort that involved raising awareness among workers about their rights on the job.
Unions Urge ILO to Take up Gender-Based Workplace Violence
. November 25, 2014—Violence against women takes many forms, and can happen in the home, in public spaces—and on the job. At the workplace, 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced violence.
Iraqi Workers Rally over Months of Unpaid Wages
. November 17, 2014—The Iraqi government’s offer of partial payment to workers in several industries who have not received salaries for months “is unjust” and should be amended to include all unpaid back pay, says the General Federation of Iraq Trade Unions (GFITU).
Jordanian Union Leader, Arrested for Union Action, Back at Work
. November 17, 2014—Tayel Alkhamayseh, president of the Independent Union of Phosphates Workers in Jordan, returned to his job this month after worker and human rights organizations denounced his November 6 arrest and suspension, pressed for his reinstatement and decried his arrest as a move to prevent unionization at the plant.
Iraqi Oil Workers Push for More Jobs, Better Pay
. November 7, 2014— Some 2,000 workers recently took part in a rally in Basra organized by the Southern Oil Workers Committee, after the government refused to negotiate over issues such as jobs for unemployed workers, skills training and higher pay for hazardous work.
Morocco Workers Wage One-Day General Strike
. October 31, 2014—Thousands of workers in Morocco’s three trade union federations waged a general strike Wednesday to protest the government’s refusal to discuss fundamental worker issues such as working conditions, pensions and other benefits.
Moroccan Port Workers Win Hard-Fought Rights in New Pact
. September 25, 2014—Dock workers in Tangiers, Morocco, successfully negotiated a collective bargaining agreement yesterday after a two-year struggle for worker rights that involved the wrongful arrest of union leaders for union activity and an international campaign to free the two men.
Gaza's Unions Under Fire
. July 23, 2014—As the Palestine-Israeli conflict rages, activists from the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU)-Gaza are checking on families and injured persons, talking with employees and owners of razed workplaces, trying to provide assistance and helping to get people to United Nations aid organizations.
Report: Tunisia’s Informal Sector Workers Lack Decent Work Conditions
. July 14, 2014—A new study by the Tunisian General Labor Union (Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail
, UGTT) and the Solidarity Center looks at factors fueling the expansion of Tunisia’s informal economy and offers recommendations for helping workers in the informal sector get job security and social protections.
Forced Labor: Panel Spotlights Migrant Worker Plight in Mideast.
July 10, 2014—Migrant workers to the Arabian Gulf states are rarely covered by labor law and generally denied the ability to exercise fundamental human rights, including freedom of association, which makes them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, said panelists at a standing-room-only Capitol Hill briefing Tuesday.
Take Action to Support Recognition of Algerian Union
. June 3, 2014—One year after the General Autonomous Confederation for Algerian Workers (Confédération Générale Autonome des Travailleurs Algériens
, CGATA), submitted a registration application to the government, the confederation still is waiting for its application to be confirmed.
Moroccan Workers Beaten After Forming a Union
. May 29, 2014—Several workers in Tangiers, Morocco, were beaten as they protested the firing of union leaders at a packing factory in recent days.
Women at Forefront for Rights in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco.
May 13, 2014—In Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, women are taking concrete steps through unions to achieve social and economic justice and decent work, achievements possible when women are substantively involved in decision-making in their unions, their community and civil society.
Iraq Unions Continue to Press for Passage of Labor Law
. April 21, 2014—Iraqi trade union leaders and members are keeping the spotlight on Parliament, urging lawmakers to pass a trade union law that has been pending since January.
Morocco: 300,000 March for Economic and Social Justice
. April 9, 2014—Calling for greater economic and social justice, more than 300,000 working people marched in Casablanca, Morocco, to protest official indifference to reduced consumer purchasing power and increasingly degraded public services.
Algeria: Cement Workers on Hunger Strike.
March 28, 2014—Seventeen workers were suspended from a cement factory in Algeria after they protested redundancies.
Iraqi Workers Rally for Passage of New Labor Law
. March 18, 2014—The Iraqi Parliament is currently voting on a new labor law after union members waged protests around the country in recent days urging lawmakers to act on the bill.
Morocco: Fired Call Center Workers Gain Global Support
. March 6, 2014—Five workers fired from their jobs last month at a call center in Casablanca, Morocco, are receiving strong support from their co-workers and their global union movement.
Bahrain’s Sad Anniversary: Three Years of Worker Repression
. February 14, 2014—Three years after the people of Bahrain stood up for a more participatory government, the crackdown on dissent and rampant discrimination in the workplace continues.
Iraqi Parliament Debating Worker Right Legislation
. January 10, 2014—The Iraqi Parliament is currently debating legislation that for the first time could contain worker rights protections in line with core labor standards, including freedom of association.
Union Playing Big Role in Tunisia’s Transition to Democracy.
December 19, 2013—After months of mediation, participants in Tunisia’s National Dialogue selected a caretaker prime minister just a few days before the third anniversary of the country’s revolution.
Algeria: Autonomous Workers Confederation Files ILO Complaint.
December 5, 2013—
The autonomous Algerian Trades’ Union Confederation—the Confédération Générale Autonome des Travailleurs en Algerie (CGATA), or Autonomous General Algerian Workers Confederation—filed a complaint with the International Labor Organization (ILO).
Algeria: Reinstate Rachid Malaoui, End Union Rights Violations Now
. November 8, 2013—All unions and international organizations defending human rights are called upon to support SNAPAP by sending letters to the President of the Republic of Algeria, demanding that Rachid Malaoui be reinstated as soon as possible
Organizing Women Workers in Palestine
. October 30, 2013—amam Abdel Hafiz and three other members of the organizing team of the Qalqilia branch of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) each day talk with some of the more than 4,000 workers who head for jobs from Palestine to Israel and the West Bank.
Morocco Textile Workers: Low-Paid and Almost Always Female
. October 4, 2013—In Morocco, the precarious working conditions of female garment workers involves “low wages, long, unpredictable hours and the lack of possibility for upward mobility,” conditions that “often keep workers within a vicious cycle of poverty,” according to a new report.
Women Unionists Meet in Morocco to Strategize Gender Equality
. September 27, 2013—Nearly two dozen women trade unionists from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia and Palestine are set to meet next week for a unique skills-building and strategy conference in Casablanca, Morocco.
Iraqi Workers Wage Nationwide Protests.
September 17, 2013—Iraqi workers and their unions recently took part in nationwide protests to demand better wages and working conditions and improvements in essential services, such as electricity and infrastructure.
Tunisian Labor Federation Calls Strike After Lawmaker Murdered
. July 25, 2013—The Tunisian Labor Federation (Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail, UGTT) is calling for a general strike on July 26 to protest the assassination today of Mohammed Brahmi, a deputy in the National Constituent Assembly.
Morocco: Police Assault Bus Employees Seeking Worker Rights
. July 12, 2013—The Moroccan workers federation, UMT, is condemning an attack on workers and their families in Fez during a peaceful sit-in this week.
Women's Economic Empowerment in the Middle East.
June 26, 2013—Michelle Kaminski writes: "Funny isn’t it – the vast majority of humans I’ve met in my life either are, were, or will be workers. And half of them are women. So, if human rights don’t apply to women or to workers, just who do they apply to?"
Egyptian Court Overturns Verdict Against Trade Unionists.
June 18, 2013—An Egyptian court overturned jail sentences for five trade unionists arrested after they went out on strike at the Alexandria Container & Cargo Handling Company, according to the Egyptian Democratic Labor Congress (EDLC).
Qatar Foundation Releases Standards for Migrant Workers
. May 16, 2013—The Qatar Foundation recently unveild a set of detailed standards for the treatment of the potentially hundreds of thousands of migrant workers hired by the foundation, its contractors, and all subcontracting agencies to build the infrastructure for the event.
Jordanian Unions Establish Independent Federation.
May 15, 2013—Nine unions representing more than 7,000 workers recently held the founding congress of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Jordan (FITU-J), demonstrating a concrete commitment to independent trade unionism.
Report: Most Palestinian Workers Paid Less than Minimum Wage.
May 7, 2013—More than half of Palestinian workers—59 percent—earn less than the national minimum wage established in October 2012, and women workers are paid half as much as male wage earners, according to a new report.
Bahrain: Medics, Patients Persecuted in Ongoing Repression
. April 11, 2013—For sick or injured Bahrainis, going to the hospital means risking a prison term—or even death.
Egypt: Cement Workers Seek to Shed Low-Wage Temporary Status.
March 15, 2013—Mohammed Hamid, a cement worker in Alexandria, Egypt, has worked for the same company for 12 years. Yet he says he is classified as “temporary,” which means he makes far less than full-time workers and receives no benefits.
Working Women Empowered: Making Democracy in Tunisia.
March 5, 2013—Tunisian women helped spur protests and end autocratic regimes in Tunisia and throughout the Arabic-speaking world and today remain in the forefront of ensuring democratic change in their country during the difficult years of government transition.
On Second Anniversary of Uprising, Bahrainis Say Crisis Is Worse.
February 14, 2013—Tens of thousands of Bahrainis are in the streets today, the second anniversary of the uprising in Bahrain, to protest the government’s lack of progress in moving toward a more democratic political process.
Tunisian Union Calls Strike to Protest Murder.
February 8, 2013—The Tunisian Labor Federation (Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail, UGTT) is holding a general strike today in response to the murder Wednesday of a popular political leader.
10 Injured in Violent Attack on Tunisian Trade Union.
December 4, 2012—Ten people were injured today after they were attacked by a mob of men wielding knives, sticks and rocks at the Tunisian Labor Federation (Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail UGTT) in the capital, Tunis.
Charges Dropped Against Egyptian Trade Union Leader.
December 4, 2012—An Egyptian court late last month closed the case of trade union leader Kamal Abbas, who was sentenced in absentia earlier this year to six months imprisonment on charges he “insulted a state executive.”
Bahrain: Trade Unionist Released from Prison.
December 3, 2012—Jalila Al-Salman, acting president of the Bahraini Teachers’ Association, was released from prison Nov. 25, according to Education International (EI).
Egyptian Union Law Decree May Mean Government Interference, Unions Say.
November 30, 2012—Labor unions and worker rights organizations are decrying a newly decreed amendment to Egypt’s Mubarak-era trade union law, which threatens freedom of association and the right to organize independent and representative trade unions.
Moroccan Trade Union Leader Released from Jail.
November 29, 2012—Excellent news from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF): Mohamed Chamchati,the unjustly detained general secretary of the Moroccan merchant seafarers’ union, has been released.
Bahraini Teachers Jailed.
November 5, 2012—Mahdi Abu Dheeb and Jalila al-Salman, the president and vice president of the Bahraini Teachers' Association, were sentenced to five and six months in prison after a court in Bahrain upheld their convictions last week.
Union Members Stave off Attack on Tunisian Trade Union.
October 10, 2012—The offices of the Tunisan Labor Federation (Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail, UGTT) in Tunis, Tunisia, were attacked at 8:45 a.m. today by up to 200 thugs wielding rocks and bottles.
On World Teacher Day, Unions Back Jailed Bahraini Teachers.
October 5, 2012—Today, World Teachers’ Day, reminds us how valuable teachers are for building our future—and how fragile their profession can be.
Jailed Moroccan Trade Unionist Released.
October 2, 2012—Moroccan trade unionist Said Elhairech has been released from prison and all serious charges dropped against him, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) said today.
Human Rights Award Goes to Workers from the Arab Uprisings.
September 14, 2012--Yesterday in Washington, D.C., Hassine Abassi, Gerneral Secretary, Tunisian General Union of Labor (UGTT) and S. Salman Jaddar Al Mahfoodh, General Secretary, General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU), received the 2012 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award on behalf of their respective labor movements.
Join in Global Solidarity for Jailed Moroccan Union Leaders
. September 28, 2012—The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is organizing global support for the release of two Moroccan union leaders jailed in mid-June for defending the rights of ferry workers stranded in France and Spain after their company declared bankruptcy.
Moroccan Teachers Locked Out for Union Activities
. September 6, 2012—A lock-out is preventing recently unionized teachers and administrative staff from returning to work at the Notre Dame de la Paix, a private elementary school in Rabat, Morocco.
'Preventive Detention' for Moroccan Union Leaders
. August 28, 2012—Two Moroccan union leaders remain in jail and under "preventive detention," arrested more than 10 weeks ago as they worked to defend the rights of ferry workers who were stranded in France and Spain when their company declared bankruptcy.
One Dead and Four "Disappeared" in Algeria Following Peaceful March.
July 17, 2012—Brutal and violent government repression of worker rights activists has resulted in the death of one and the disappearance of four others in Algeria.
Union Offices in Tunisia Firebombed.
June 13, 2012—The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has issued the following statement: Tunisian Islamic fundamentalists unleashed a campaign of firebombing trade union offices around the country yesterday, as the Salafist movement challenged the emerging democracy in the home of the “Arab Spring.”
Algerian Workers Risk Health, Protest Government Crackdown with Hunger Strike.
May 31, 2012—After more than three weeks on a hunger strike to protest government repression of the independent trade union movement, six women and two men from Algeria’s National Federation of Justice Workers are increasingly frail and face grave, possibly permanent, health threats.
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