One of my regular readers has reminded me that I don’t cover trade unions enough.
I thought I would have a look at trade union rights in the Middle East, as it’s not a topic covered much in the Western media.
In the West, we take for granted what we have, and what others fought for, 8 hour working day, holidays, etc, the basics, so the Middle East, with its untold wealth and resources is a good starting place.
Despite a massive population, maybe as much as 300 million, we hear little news of the situation of ordinary people and workers in the Middle East.
Not unsurprisingly trade unions and trade unionists have many difficulties in the Middle East, their legal rights are often nonexistent, they are persecuted, attacked and even assassinated.
Attitudes towards trade unions and the treatment of workers is always a good indicator of the health of a society and we find a rather mixed picture when we consider the Middle East.
More often than not ordinary people in the Middle East don’t even have the basic right to join a free trade union, defend their working conditions, let alone strike.
In the end, the picture of workers’ rights in the Middle East is frequently bleak, as the International Trade Union Confederation 2009 survey relates:
“In Lebanon, Iraq, Israel and Palestine, the political tensions and violence are having a negative impact on trade union activities. The offices of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, and some of the houses of its members, were destroyed by bombardments. In Lebanon, the government called on the army after a general strike was called in May that coincided with the aggravation of internal political tensions.
Changes in legislation have continued, but rather slowly. The effective exercise of union rights has accordingly been restricted or non-existent. In Iran, a new law enabling the establishment of free trade unions is being discussed. Promises of new laws guaranteeing increased trade union freedom have still not been kept in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar. In Iraq, the new labour code has not been presented to the Parliament; as a result, laws dating back to the former regime that severely restrict trade union activities remain in force.
As a general rule throughout the region, migrant workers have no trade union rights. In Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, the governments have brought in measures or proposed reforms aimed at improving the lot of migrant workers, however.
Trade unions are still banned in Saudi Arabia (where only the national workers’ committees are allowed to be set up in companies with over 100 workers), Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Despite the fact that trade union rights are enshrined in constitutions, restrictions remain and trade union pluralism and collective bargaining are virtually non-existent in the region. In Bahrain, for instance, although the government committed itself in 2007 to adopting a law allowing collective bargaining, the law has still not been adopted.
The right to strike remains limited in Oman, Qatar, Syria and Yemen, whilst it is totally banned in Saudi Arabia and banned in the public sector in the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Kuwait and Qatar. In addition, in many cases the list of essential services in which strikes are banned goes beyond the ILO definition.”