Right to strike

women striking in India
63%87%

Countries violating the right to strike have increased from 63% of countries in 2014 to 87% of countries in 2022.

Right to strike

Increasing criminalisation of the right to strike

In 2022, strikes were severely restricted or banned in 129 out of 148 countries. In a number of these countries, industrial actions were brutally repressed by the authorities, and workers exercising their right to strike often faced criminal prosecution and summary dismissals. Violations of the right to strike are grouped into two categories: prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes and cases of dismissals for taking part in strike action.

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

Africa

95%

95% of countries violated the right to strike.

No change from 2021

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

In November 2021, nearly 100 teachers were arrested in Sudan as two days of civil disobedience and strikes in protest at the military coup began. Security forces used tear gas against workers protesting outside the education ministry building for Khartoum state. Many were beaten and at least one, a head teacher, had her leg broken.

Eighty-seven teachers were arrested and taken to the military headquarters after prosecutors refused to release them on bail.

In Neyala, the capital of South Darfur, unknown men in plain clothes raided teachers’ houses and arrested another five teachers, including Gamal Margan, who is in charge of the education of the shepherds. On 8 November 2021, military forces also stormed the Secondary Education Department in Karray in order to install a new, pro-military management.

Middle East and North Africa

95%

95% of countries violated the right to strike.

Compared with 94% in 2021

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

On 5 October 2021, on the occasion of the World Teachers’ Day Celebrations, the Jordanian security forces arrested and detained fourteen leading members of the Jordanian Teachers’ Association (JTA). Riot police were deployed to stop peacefully demonstrating teachers denouncing the crackdown on trade union rights. The fourteen members were: Ahmad Ali Ahmad Alzaboun, head of the JTA; Nasser Nawasra, vice president of the JTA; and the following members of the JTA Council: Ghaleb Mansour Abu Qudia; Nidal Awwad Al Hisa; Kifah Suleiman Abu Farhan; Feras Awad Shteiwi Al Sarhan; Basil Mahmoud Al Houroub; Sulaiman Farhan Jaber Al Hayyer; Ibrahim Shaker Khalaf Assaf; Adbassalam assan Moussa Ayasra; Mustapha Annabeh; Iyad Albustanji; Moatassem Abdelrahman Beshtawy; and Noureddin Yusuf.

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

In August 2021, employees at Pelephone and Bezeq International, two Israeli telecommunications companies, organised a strike near the controlling shareholder's house. They were forcibly expelled by the police, who also arrested several striking workers.

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

On 28 September 2021, Egyptian security forces cracked down on a peaceful strike at Universal for Electrical Appliances. Ten days before, about 2,000 workers had begun a sit-in at the company’s headquarters following the death of a colleague from a heart attack after working overtime because of financial pressure. The workers had not been paid for two months.

On 28 September, security forces surrounded the sit-in, closed the gates, and prevented workers from going out even to buy food. Hours earlier, security forces raided the houses of three workers: Saeed Abdel Qader, Said Mohamed Abdel Latif and Mahmoud Ahmed Haridy, who was recovering at home after having fallen into a diabetic coma. The three were taken into custody. Haridy’s daughter followed her father to the Warraq police station and inquired after her him, but officers who were at her home less than an hour earlier denied knowledge of the incident. A non-commissioned officer advised her to go to the Imbaba police station, where she was told that her father had been taken to the headquarters of the National Security Agency, a special police force, notorious for human rights violations, involved in policing so-called “national security threats”, including independent labour movements.

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

On 14 February 2022, people in the Karma Bani Saeed district, Iraq, demonstrated in front of the governorate building, demanding the provision of health services. Police forces dispersed the protest, using excessive force and leaving several demonstrators with severe injuries. The negotiating delegation was arrested, including trade unionist Muhannad Al-Saeedi, a member of the Dhi Qar Oil Company workers union and a member of the General Union of Oil and Gas Workers in Iraq of the General Federation of Trade Unions.

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

In May 2021, Algerian firefighters went on strike to demand an increase in their wages and an improvement in their working conditions. The Ministry of Interior announced the suspension of 230 firefighters and their immediate prosecution, considering their protests "a betrayal of the duties and responsibilities entrusted to them".

Americas

92%

92% of countries violated the right to strike.

Compared with 88% in 2021

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

On 8 October 2021, the workers at General Motors' Chevrolet in São Caetano do Sul plant in Brazil were on strike after negotiations with the employer on wage adjustments broke down. After the union decided to launch the strike, a conciliation hearing was held at the Regional Labour Court. However, no agreement was reached between the parties. On 21 October, the Regional Labour Court declared the strike illegal. The trade union assembly decided to continue with the action. However, because of possible legal actions against the strikers, the workers had to reincorporate to work with no solution to their demands.

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

Clashes erupted between police and workers who came out to demonstrate on 26 October 2021 in at least three parts of Ecuador as part of the national strike against the government. In Imbabura, in the canton of Peguche, security forces threw tear gas to disperse the citizens. The demonstrations were called by the United Workers' Front (FUT), the Popular Front (FP) and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie). Among the demands were a freeze on fuel prices and support for the draft labour code recently presented to the legislature by the FUT, and rejection of the proposed Law for the Creation of Opportunities. At least 37 demonstrators were arrested throughout the country.

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

At the end of 2020, workers at the Ash Grove cement plant in Joliette, Quebec (Canada), were informed that two of the four kilns would be closed, putting at least half of their jobs at risk. Despite the fact that collective bargaining was still ongoing, members of the workplace union Unifor were illegally locked out of the plant on 22 May 2021. Unifor, along with the Quebec Federation of Labor and their members across Quebec, organised a series of solidarity actions.

In response to the union mobilisation, Ash Grove management obtained a new injunction limiting union actions. The employer also filed a CA$2.6 million (about US$2.1 million) management grievance for lost production and equipment breakdown and dismissed two members of Local 177, including a member of the bargaining committee.

Ash Grove cement is owned by CRH Canada, which employs 4,000 people in 100 production facilities. Worldwide, the global giant employs more than 76,000 people in over 3,000 locations in 29 countries.

Asia Pacific

87%

87% of countries violated the right to strike.

No change from 2021

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

In 2022, Sawit Kaewvarn, president of the State Railway Union of Thailand (SRUT), and twelve other national and local union leaders remained wrongfully imprisoned. The SRUT workers had been ruthlessly pursued by the State Railway of Thailand through the legal system for carrying out a national rail safety campaign following a fatal train derailment in October 2009 at Khao Tao Station. The Thai authorities pursued a vendetta against the workers. Since November 2018, the monthly salaries of seven SRUT leaders have been deducted to pay fines of 24 million baht (US$726,116) to SRT based on the decision of the Supreme Labour Court in 2017. The thirteen trade unionists were currently serving a three-year prison sentence.

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

Forty-four employees of a pasta-making company in the Philippines, Soft Touch Development Corp., were arrested on 15 December 2021 for going on strike. They were charged with illegal assembly, disobedience to a person in authority and “alarm and scandal”. They were released from jail after 36 hours, pending further investigation. The firm maintained that the employees were prohibited from forming a trade union because their employer was the manpower agency that hired them. The strike was called after workers learned they would be laid off on 24 December. It was brutally repressed by the police, who used water cannons and truncheons on the strikers, dragging them into a police van.

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

Around 150 unemployed teachers were detained while over a dozen received minor injuries as police baton-charged them twice during a protest near Punjab’s chief minister’s residence in Patiala, India, on 8 June 2021, in a repeat of incidents earlier in the year.

Despite multiple assurances, the government had failed to provide them jobs in government schools. The five unions involved were frustrated at delays in meeting with the government officials and dealing with their demands. The teachers clashed with police as they were marching towards the chief minister’s residence. Those detained were later released without charge.

Europe

72%

72% of countries violated the right to strike.

Compared with 73% in 2021

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

In Belgium, article 406 of the penal code allows for prosecution and sentencing for “malicious obstruction of traffic” in the context of a strike movement. This provision, which has already been applied twice in the last two years to condemn seventeen FGTB members to suspended prison sentences and heavy fines, severely hampers possibilities to organise strikes in the country.

While an appeal has been lodged by Belgian trade unions to reverse the sentences, in 2022 another trade unionist was prosecuted under the same provision for a picket line organised in 2016 at the Lantin prison facility. A criminal complaint was filed by the municipality against CGSP members for littering, alleging damages to the tarmac where a brazier was lit. While the public prosecutor requested a dismissal of the case, it was still pending at the time of writing.

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

On 8 June 2021, the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, signed new legislation that punishes those accused of participating in unauthorised demonstrations with imprisonment of up to three years. Those who are found to have participated in or promoted "extremist activity" face up to six years in jail. The definition of “extremist activity” is not clearly defined in the new legislation, and there is fear that the new provisions will be used to suppress any dissent. This new law follows laws enacted on 24 May 2021 making it compulsory to obtain a permit from the authorities to organise mass events.

Dismissals for participating in strike action

Africa

95%

95% of countries violated the right to strike.

No change from 2021

Dismissals for participating in strike action

Following a 48-hour teachers' strike in Togo, demanding that the government respect the reimbursement of their exceptional bonus, 1,192 school principals were downgraded. An order was issued on 4 November 2021 by the Minister of Primary, Secondary, Technical Education and Handicrafts to replace just over 1,000 public school principals and ask teachers to resume their place in the classroom.

Dismissals for participating in strike action

Four members of the National Emancipated and Allied Workers’ Union of South Africa (NEAWUSA) were suspended on 2 May 2021 by the OVK, a milling company, in Tweespruit, South Africa, following a month-long strike over unsafe conditions in the workplace. The workers were attempting to raise safety concerns with the employer after several serious incidents and injuries had occurred.

Dismissals for participating in strike action

In South Africa, 500 workers were terminated by the Steve Tshwete Local Municipality for allegedly taking part in illegal strike action. The public employees were demanding the implementation of the adjustment of their salaries across the board and commenced strike action on 21 September 2021. The workers had been given a 48-hour return-to-work ultimatum on 8 November, and when they failed to return, they were given notice of the termination of their employment. The workers were reinstated a week later after the intervention of the SA Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) and COSATU.

Dismissals for participating in strike action

In November 2021, the Employment Placement and Services Namibia (EPSN) dismissed 43 workers who had been on strike since 12 October, deeming their action illegal.

Dismissals for participating in strike action

Dockworkers in Liberia remained out of work for seven months after the management of APM Terminals Monrovia (APMT) suspended 24 employees and locked them out of the company’s facilities in October 2020 following their protest action over working conditions. With support from the Dock Workers’ Union (DOWUL), workers had been demanding better working conditions, including unpaid leave allowances, working hours, medical insurance and food allowance.

The struggle went on for over months, with many other workers supporting their suspended colleagues and echoing their demands.

On 21 April 2021, the Liberian Ministry of Labour announced its decision that APMT had “failed to prove its accusations against the 24 suspended workers” and called for the workers to be reinstated. APMT still refused to reinstate them, and on 4 May 2021 another letter from the Liberian minister of justice was sent, warning APMT to comply immediately and unconditionally with the government’s decision. On 7 May 2021, APMT finally conceded, and the workers returned to work with the clear understanding that the government expected APTM to seek to resolve all their concerns.

Middle East and North Africa

95%

95% of countries violated the right to strike.

Compared with 94% in 2021

Dismissals for participating in strike action

In Iran, 700 workers at a Tehran Oil Refining Company were fired on 22 June 2021 for participating in workplace strikes, which were part of a sweeping strike action occurring across Iran in which an estimated 20,000 oil and petrochemical workers took part across 11 provinces. Many workers from various industrial centres had joined the “1400 Campaign”, demanding higher wages, an increase in leave and holidays, and better health and safety conditions. These were longstanding demands that have so far been ignored by management and the Iranian regime’s authorities.

Dismissals for participating in strike action

On 2 August 2021, Egyptian razor manufacturer Lord International Co. terminated 38 workers who took part in a strike involving 2,000 workers at the company that began in late July 2021 and brought production in two out of the company’s three factories to a halt. In a statement, the company also said that it had referred some of the striking workers for internal investigation.

The striking workers were calling for a minimum profit share rate and for their annually renewable contracts to be changed to permanent ones. They also demanded that management guarantee protesting workers would not face disciplinary action or dismissal. Instead, the company announced that workers who had been identified as the “instigators of the strike” would be fired or suspended, and that those suspended could also face disciplinary measures and further investigation.

Dismissals for participating in strike action

In April 2021, the Algerian Post Office threatened the workers on strike in Algiers with dismissal without notice. The postal employees had organised a one-week strike to protest against the government’s delay in fulfilling its promises regarding the disbursement of grants and incentive bonuses to workers.

Americas

92%

92% of countries violated the right to strike.

Compared with 88% in 2021

Dismissals for participating in strike action

In early 2022, Centri Group S.A. in Haiti dismissed some 60 workers for protesting at unfair wage practices in the garment sector. In January 2022, a coalition of unions had called on the prime minister to increase the minimum wage in the garment industry from 500 gourdes a day (US$4.80) to 1,500 gourdes. The protests were brutally repressed by the police, who fired tear gas and beat protestors with batons outside the SONAPI free trade zone in Port-au-Prince.

In recent months, inflation in Haiti has reached 23 per cent. In the garment sector, wages have stayed the same for the past three years, and workers earn less than a third of what they need to in order to survive.

Dismissals for participating in strike action

In Canada, the governments, federal and provincial, frequently used back-to-work legislation to end strikes. For instance, the federal government passed back-to-work legislation to end a strike by dock workers, represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), at the Port of Montreal on 30 April 2021. The union had been unable to secure a new collective bargaining agreement after nearly three years of negotiations. The union called the strike after the employer, the Maritime Employers’ Association, notified the union it would no longer honour collective agreement provisions related to job security and began unilaterally imposing overtime at the port.

Similarly, in early November 2021, the government of New Brunswick used back-to-work legislation against striking public sector workers. Approximately 22,000 CUPE members across a range of public services were on strike in the province. The government used emergency legislation to force members of three striking health care bargaining units (CUPE 1251, CUPE 1252 and CUPE 1190) back to work. The federal government and the government of New Brunswick’s uses of back-to-work legislation infringe on workers’ right to strike, protected under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Dismissals for participating in strike action

In Edmonton, Canada, members of Boilermakers Lodge 146 have been locked out by their employer, CESSCO Fabrication and Engineering Ltd., a steal company, since June 2020. Over the past year, the employer has hired replacement workers while receiving the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, a pandemic benefit paid by the federal government to employers, ostensibly to cover payroll expenses. The continued use of replacement workers has prolonged the lockout. Before the lockout, the union had been bargaining for a contract for over two and a half years.

Asia Pacific

87%

87% of countries violated the right to strike.

No change from 2021

Dismissals for participating in strike action

In April 2021, the Korea Democratic Pharmaceutical Union (KDPU) announced that a lawsuit was being filed against Zuellig Pharma Specialty Solutions Korea for unfair dismissal.

The company had announced that it would implement an early retirement programme to lay off staff after some financial losses. It soon emerged that the staff members concerned were all members of the company workers’ union who had gone on strike on 30 October 2020 over a pay dispute.

Dismissals for participating in strike action

Around 1,400 striking workers of the National Health Mission (NHM) in India, including staff nurses, medical officers, homeopathy Ayurveda doctors and ministerial staff, were sacked by the Punjab government on 10 May 2021 for refusing to end their week-long strike. About 3,000 NHM workers walked out on strike to demand higher wages and permanent jobs. The sacked workers, who were fired through the Disaster Management Act, were from seven districts in Punjab.

Europe

72%

72% of countries violated the right to strike.

Compared with 73% in 2021

Dismissals for participating in strike action

Fiat Plastik in Serbia attempted to break a strike by its workers in the Serbian city of Kragujevac by placing the strike committee on paid leave in May 2021 and transferring some of the production away from the Kragujevac facility. Thirteen workers who took part in the stoppages, including the entire strike committee, were illegally placed on leave, and the committee locked out of the plant. Management also removed machinery from the plant.

Protests had begun in January 2021 with one-hour-per-day stoppages further to the announcement of a €300 annual pay cut.

In June 2021, management were charged with misdemeanours by the labour inspectorate over attempts to break the strike.

In August, the United Trade Unions of Serbia denounced intimidation by the Security and Information Agency of Serbia (BIA). BIA called the president of the strike committee on 11 August to invite him to a “conversation”. The Fiat Plastik union refused, announcing that it was “not interested in politics”, only with trade union matters.

The dispute continued. Negotiations with Fiat, mediated by the state Agency for the Peaceful Settlement of Labor Disputes, failed in October. At the time of writing, the dispute had not yet been resolved.

Dismissals for participating in strike action

When workers at the Upfield food company in Portugal announced a series of two-hour strikes, the company responded with a collective dismissal. The strike was called when Upfield ignored the workers’ demands for a €30 increase in their monthly pay. The strikes began on 5 July 2021.

In the days following the publication of the strike notice, the company announced its intention to make 19 workers redundant, including a member of the workers' committee and the three workplace health and safety representatives.

The workers held a meeting and scheduled an action in defence of their rights for the 15 July. On 19 July they scheduled a 24-hour strike to protest against the collective dismissal and press for pay rises and the upgrading of careers.

Upfield's relations with workers' representatives had steadily deteriorated since the company was taken over from Unilever-Jerónimo Martins Lda. by a North American financial group (KKR) three years earlier.

Dismissals for participating in strike action

In Georgia, cleaning and waste management company Tbilservice Group fired Irakli Baghdavadze for organising a strike on 6 August 2021. Fellow workers joined him to demand a pay rise, new uniforms and free health insurance. The strike ended on 9 August after Tbilisi City Hall promised a pay rise from 2022, but Irakli lost his job over the protest.

Dismissals for participating in strike action

On 22 May 2021, Kurum International in Albania dismissed 20 mechanics and electricians at the Ulëz and Shkopet hydroelectric plants in violation of their collective agreement signed in 2019 with the Trade Union Federation of Industrial Workers of Albania (FSPISH).

The workers staged daily protests and pickets, and trade union activists travelled from across Albania to join them. The company responded by harassing the union committee and suspending those who took part in strike action.

The hydroelectric plants are among four acquired by Turkish-based Kurum Holdings from the Albanian government in a privatisation deal in 2013. Since buying the power plants, Kurum has reduced the workforce by 120, leaving only 43 workers. The power plants are the only major source of employment in the region.

The right to strike was violated in India, where police violently broke up protests and detained demonstrators.Tauseef Mustafa / AFP

Nine-year trends: Right to strike

Companies violating the right to strike

CESSCO Fabrication and Engineering Ltd

Canada

Lord International Co.

Egypt

Tehran Oil Refining Company

Iran

Employment Placement and Services Namibia

Namibia