The number of countries which impeded the registration of unions increased from 89 countries in 2020 to 109 in 2021.
The right to official recognition through legal registration is an essential facet of the right to organise, since that is the first step that workers’ organisations must take in order to be able to function efficiently and represent their members adequately.
Between April 2020 and March 2021, authorities impeded the registration of, de-registered or arbitrarily dissolved unions in 109 countries out of 149.
All 18 countries impeded the registration of unions.
In Egypt, all independent unions were dissolved in March 2018. Since then, they have faced countless administrative hurdles, and many of them are still seeking official registration with the authorities.
On 13 December 2020, the president of the Trade Union of workers in Gharbia directorate’s real estate taxes – whose status has been pending since April 2018 – presented a file requesting the license for establishment. Documents were received informally by the Manpower Directorate, and no official acknowledgment of receipt was given. On 31 December 2020, members of the trade union committee were stunned to be addressed a letter from the Directorate stating that it was forbidden to establish another union committee in the same enterprise and claiming that there was already one holding the same name. Moreover, the Directorate informed the independent union that the membership of workers would be automatically transferred to the already existing committee.
Since 2020, all independent unions in Iraq are unable to operate. On 12 October 2020, the Iraqi Ministry of Labour published letter No. 11367 imposing a trade union monopoly in Iraq and instructing government administrative bodies not to deal with any union other than the officially recognised General Federation of Iraqi Workers.
In 2020 and 2021, the Jordanian Teachers’ Association (JTA) has been the target of multiple attacks by the authorities, including the arbitrary dissolution of the organisation on 31 December 2020 and the prosecution of its board members.
Independent unions have faced hurdles to register in Behera (trade union of workers in Behera directorate real estate taxes), in Cairo (union committee of workers of the Egyptian Company of Communications), in Damietta (union committee of fishermen) and in Qalioubia (union committee of drivers).
91% of countries impeded the registration of unions.
In Afghanistan, the authorities have relentlessly targeted the National Union of Afghanistan Workers and Employees (NUAWE) since 2018, effectively preventing the union from operating. In September 2020, the Ministry of Justice issued a second ban on the trade union congress due to be held on 5 September 2020. An earlier attempt by the organisation to hold its congress in February also met with a government ban.
Furthermore, the government reneged on its pledge to unblock the organisation’s bank account and refused to return confiscated union’s properties “until a congress has been held”.
On 19 January 2021, NUAWE finally managed to hold its congress and later sent the list of new elected leadership to the government for registration, but their attempt was met with a flat refusal. To this date, the government still refuses to renew NUAWE’s registration or return its offices, properties and unfreeze its bank accounts.
The Union for New Civil Servants, a Hong Kong civil servants union formed during the 2019 pro-democracy protests, was disbanded in January 2021. The decision came a day after the government set a four-week deadline for its workers to declare allegiance to the city and vow to uphold the Basic Law. The union chairman, Michael Ngan, announced that the group decided to dissolve in light of the impending loyalty pledge, which raised serious concerns about its members’ safety and could lead to the ousting of some of its members from the civil service.
88% of countries impeded the registration of unions.
In 2021, many unions in Haiti could not operate pending the long-awaited issuance of their registration certificate, including the two CODEVI workers' unions (SYNTRAC and USOCO); the Syndicat des Travailleurs-euses du Ministère de la Santé Publique et de la Population (STMSPP) and the Syndicat des Employés de l'Institut Haïtien de Statistiques et d'Informatique (SEIHSI); the Syndicat des Ouvriers MAS-AKANSYÈL (SO-MA-AKAN); the Syndicat National des Employés de la DGI (SYNATE-DGI); the Syndicat des Employés du Ministère de l'Agriculture, des Ressources Naturelles et du Développement Rural (SEMARNDR); and the Syndicat du Personnel de la Primature (SYPP).
In October 2020, a group of people violently broke into the headquarters of the Asociación General de Empleados Públicos y Municipales (AGEPYM), a union that brings together state and municipal workers in the city of San Salvador. The intruders proclaimed themselves as the "new" board of directors and evicted the legitimate board members.
In 2021, the government of El Salvador increased pressure against trade unions, ultimately deciding in March 2021 to revoke the credentials of all democratic unions and effectively blocking their participation in all tripartite consultations. This arbitrary cancellation deprives unions from any rights and prevents them from operating normally in the country.
In Haiti, registration has always been an arduous process for trade unions. The Labour Directorate illegally and arbitrarily demands that the statutes of trade unions be amended before they are registered. Furthermore, the Labour Directorate informs the employer, prior to registration, of the filing of an application, asking the company to indicate whether the workers listed are part of the company. This leaves the employers ample time and opportunity to dismiss these workers before the establishment of the union. This anti-union policy has prevented many independent unions from obtaining their registration.
In Canada, the province of Alberta introduced Bill 32, an omnibus bill which makes it more difficult to form unions: the bill eliminates timelines for certification votes and removes the option for the Labour Relations Board to automatically certify unions in the case of unfair labour practices by the employer. In addition, the bill also requires unions to receive each member’s consent to collect dues that are not related to core representational activities. The bill received royal assent on 29 July 2020.
In the province of Manitoba, the government tabled Bill 16 which, among other regressive changes, would give authorities more power to refuse to certify unions, to scrutinise unions’ use of funds and to dissolve them.
79% of countries impeded the registration of unions.
On 5 October 2020, the trade union certificate of the Dockworkers’ Union of Liberia (DOWUL) at the National Port Authority of Liberia was suspended by the Ministry of labour pending the outcome of an investigation into an alleged report of instigating violence at the APM Terminals in the Free Port of Monrovia. According to the labour minister, the Ministry received calls from the management of APM Terminals informing them of a go-slow strike action from union leadership and calling on the Ministry to intervene. Meetings between DOWUL leaders, APM Terminal management and the Labour Ministry were unsuccessful, and in the days following, DOWUL organised a strike action in the Free Port. The Labour Ministry retaliated by suspending the union’s certification.
37% of countries impeded the registration of unions.
In January 2021, the authorities in Minsk, without providing any explanation, refused to register BITU-affiliated students’ and teachers’ unions at the Belarusian State University.
In 2020, the Federation of Trade Unions of Kyrgyzstan (FTUKg) has been fighting the government’s attempts to take control of its elected positions.
On 5 February 2020, the Council of the FTUKg finally succeeded in dismissing the FTUKg chair, Mirbek Asanakunov, who had been elected in 2017 with the heavy support and help of the government; the Council appointed Ryskul Babayeva as the new chair. In retaliation, the government launched a series of raids in the homes of FTUKg leaders, initiating criminal investigations on spurious charges. The FTUKg work was effectively paralysed, and their bank accounts were frozen. Its congress, to be held in December 2020, was cancelled due to an order by the deputy prime minister to suspend the impending elections. Eventually, the mandate of the FTUKg elected members expired. On 10 December 2020, a group of people led by a member of the Parliament took control of the building of the Federation.
On 24 November 2020, the authorities in Moskovsky (a district of Minsk) decided to deny registration to newly created BITU unions in two IT companies, EPAM Systems and JSC Peleng, under the pretext of the absence of common professional interests between the employees of these companies and the activities of the BITU.
For years in Belarus, the Belarusian Independent Trade Union (BITU) and its company-level organisations have been denied registration on dubious grounds. On 13 October 2021, the authorities in Polotsk illegally refused to recognise the newly formed union at fiberglass manufacturer Polotsk-Steklovolokno. Under the Belarusian law, such refusal leads to the automatic dissolution of the trade union.
In December 2020, a lawsuit was filed by the municipal authorities in Shymkent, requesting the suspension of the activities of the Industrial Trade Union of Fuel and Economic Complex Workers. This complaint was promoted by three companies, the Oil Construction Company LLP, the West Oil LLP and Bozashy Trans Kurylys LLP, which claimed that the union’s founding documents and structure failed to reflect the changes required by the new legislation. After a speedy trial, which began on 20 January 2021, the court decided to suspend the union’s registration. An appeal against this decision was lodged.
Since it was deregistered on 28 March 2017, the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (CNTUK) has been prevented by the government from re-registering under a new name and, consequently, from functioning as a union. In 2021, the issue of transferring the arrested funds of the liquidated CNTUK to another trade union remained unresolved.
In April 2020, the workers’ union within the Armenian Ministry of Economy was unilaterally disbanded by the government, which claimed that following the restructuring of the Ministry in late 2019, the number of union members had decreased and therefore the union could not be maintained. At the same time, the Ministry stopped implementing the negotiated check-off system.
The Union of State, Local Governments and Public Service Employees of Armenia (USLGPSEA) sent a written request for clarification to which the minister responded by saying that “preliminary surveys revealed that workers are dissatisfied with the effectiveness of the union”. Later in the month, representatives of the Ministry’s management paid a visit to the home of the trade union leader and forced him to sign a letter addressed to the minister notifying him of the cessation of trade union activities within the Ministry.