Countries violating the right to collective bargaining increased from 63% of countries in 2014 to 79% of countries in 2023.
In 2023, serious restrictions to collective bargaining were recorded in 118 countries. The lack of good faith bargaining by employers illustrates the broken social contract. The Global Rights Index has recorded a sustained attack on collective bargaining, a fundamental right for all workers, in the 10 editions of the index. Restrictions have been recorded in all regions and in both public and private sectors, reflecting a concerted attempt by employers, at times hand in hand with governments, to curtail the rights of workers.
100% of countries in the Middle East and North Africa violated the right to collective bargaining.No change from 2022
On 9 December 2021, the president of Tunisia issued a circular (No. 20) to all ministries and government institutions prohibiting anyone from negotiating with the unions without the formal and prior authorisation of the head of government. The circular was still in force in 2023.
In Oman, some employers adopted delaying tactics to avoid negotiation with workers’ representatives, including by not responding to invitations to hold joint meetings or delaying responses to the demands of workers’ representatives.
In Lebanon, independent trade unions regularly faced a refusal to negotiate from employers. Employers used various anti-union tactics including questioning a trade union’s representativity, creating a negotiating committee with no genuine workers’ representation, or referring a dispute to the courts to delay the negotiation process.
In Israel, the Histadrut declared a labour dispute in April 2022, following unilateral actions of the Minister of Transport, which led to the privatisation of several wharves. The Histadrut denounced the government’s unilateral action in bad faith and in violation of social dialogue, with these privatisation measures following years of understanding between the parties.
In Iraq, labour legislation did not sufficiently protect the right to collective bargaining. In an overall repressive climate for trade unions, including for the General Federation of Iraq Trade Unions, it was increasingly difficult for workers’ representatives to engage in collective bargaining. Employers seldom respected collective agreements.
Employers in the garment sector in Egypt often did not respect the provisions of concluded collective agreements.
93% of countries in Africa violated the right to collective bargaining.No change from 2022
In 2023, workers at the Sheraton Grand Conakry in Guinea were engaged in an ongoing labour dispute over the firing of two elected trade union leaders.
After a year of actions demanding their reinstatement, on 26 October 2021, workers submitted a strike notice demanding their representatives were rehired and a renewed respect for freedom of association from management. When negotiations between workers and management faltered, union delegates announced their intent to declare a strike on 7 December 2021. Three days later, on 10 December, the management of the hotel announced to workers that, due to an alleged mould contamination, the entire hotel would close for repairs, and this would necessitate worker lay-offs.
While initially the hotel supplied no information about the terms of the lay-offs, after protests and press coverage, the management agreed to pay 30 per cent of the workers’ wages during the closure. Subsequent mobilisations pushed management to increase pay to 50 per cent during the closure, but workers continued to mobilise for full pay.
After an initial six-month period of closure, in August 2022, the Sheraton Grand Conakry's management announced its plan to terminate most workers’ contracts until the hotel reopened. In government-mandated negotiations over the planned retrenchment, the hotel owner, Palma Guinea, and the operator, Marriott, refused to provide workers’ union FHTRC-ONSLG, or the Guinean government, with documentation that outlined the alleged mould problem or the timeline for its remediation. Despite the Guinean Labour Inspector and Ministry of Labour’s proposal to preserve employment by extending the ‘temporary unemployment’ period for up to two years while the hotel was renovated, hotel management refused to engage in good faith negotiations.
The government of Zimbabwe announced a raft of economic stabilisation measures in May 2022 without consulting with partners at the Tripartite Negotiation Forum (TNF). The TNF is a social dialogue platform that brings together government, business and labour representatives to establish common ground before enacting key public policies. Yet in the case of these latest policy announcements, there had been no social dialogue. The government also refused to publish the US$150 minimum wage agreed at the TNF in September 2022.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) was highly critical of the measures, warning they could trigger massive job cuts and more inflation. Zimbabwe already has the second highest annual inflation in Africa, after Sudan.
In Mauritius, the transport company United Bus Service (UBS) unilaterally decided in July 2022 to cut workers’ benefits. A trade union front organised, including the Transport Workers’ Association (ATTA), the United Bus Employer’s Union (UBSEU), the Bus Industry Traffic Officers Union (BITU) and the Mauritius Labour Congress (MLC), to protest this management decision and to demand that social dialogue be restored. However, negotiations with management in the framework of collective bargaining remained fruitless.
In Mauritania, authorities and employers regularly refused to enter into collective bargaining and unduly delayed negotiations.
In Lesotho, construction workers, represented by Construction, Mining, Quarrying and Allied Workers Union (CMQ), went on strike on 15 March 2022 to demand payment according to the international standard in their industry, as opposed to the domestic one. CMQ were striking against China Geo Engineering Corporation (CGC), which had been awarded a 900 million loti (US$49 million) tender to construct a road. The union had tried to get the Directorate on Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR) to force the CGC to address their concerns, but no agreement could be reached.
In response to the announcement of the industrial action, the Chinese company filed an emergency petition in the Labour Court attempting to block the workers from striking, as well as declaring the strike illegal. The Labour Court denied these claims, arguing that the case was still in the hands of the DDPR. After two days of striking, the CGC, CMQ and government officials were able to meet a temporary agreement to hold the strikes for two months to give the CGC time to address workers’ demands. However, the CGC left the bargaining table in May, which led to the workers striking once again in June.
On 4 August 2022, workers at Bank of Africa (BOA-Mali) protested with a sit-in in front of the bank’s headquarters in Bamako to demand the cancellation of a company memo that increased staff loan rates. According to Saouda Sow, secretary general of the BOA-Mali trade union committee, this note was issued without prior consultation of the staff or the union, which undermined achievements made through social dialogue.
83% of countries in Asia-Pacific violated the right to collective bargaining.No change from 2022
In Nepal, health workers at the Manipal Teaching Hospital in Pokhara began forming a union, the UNIPHIN, which formally submitted a demand for recognition with the Labour Office in April 2022. Despite meeting all the legal requirements of the registration process, the hospital refused to recognise the union or to engage in collective bargaining over workers’ demands for better working conditions. Prior to their official recognition, the workers had faced police intervention and management suppression when they had voiced their concerns to management.
Faced with management’s refusal to negotiate, in June 2022, the union organised a strike in which more than 500 hospital workers participated. In the wake of the 28-day strike, union and management found an agreement on several of the workers’ demands.
On 26 July 2022, 350 construction workers building a coal power plant in South Sumatra, Indonesia went on strike, after company PT Shenhua Guohua Lion Power Indonesia (SGLPI) refused to recognise the workers’ trade union or to apply Indonesian statutory labour protections. Their demands were backed by the labour inspectorate which reminded the SGLPI that it must follow national laws on health and safety, working conditions and freedom of association.
The strike, which lasted four days, was successful, and the SGLPI finally agreed to recognise the trade union and to engage in collective bargaining.
At the end of September 2022, Qantas unilaterally reissued a Notice of Employee Representational Rights (NERR) to its workforce. The airline flagged ‘‘two streams” of bargaining and proposed to remove the Senior Professional Group from the coverage of the next enterprise agreement. Doing so would exclude 1,300 workers from the collective agreement and push them onto individual contracts.
The Australian Services Union (ASU) wrote to Qantas, raising concerns about the airline’s proposals. It also repeated a request that, during the bargaining process, Qantas disclose relevant information, as required by the Fair Work Act to make bargaining more efficient. Qantas did not supply all the requested information, which was denounced by ASU as bad faith bargaining.
On 11 October, cabin crew affiliated with the Flight Attendants Association of Australia (FAAA) filed a dispute in the Fair Work Commission over Qantas’ approach to good faith bargaining and sought a protected action ballot, after workers faced threats of outsourcing to coerce them into working much longer hours, with no extension of rest breaks.
76% of countries in the Americas violated the right to collective bargaining.No change from 2022
The Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) criticised the government after the unilateral restructuring of the state-owned company Lake Asphalt of Trinidad and Tobago in April 2022. The bitumen mining company was transferred from the Ministry of Energy to the Ministry of Works and Transport, with plans to create a new business model, without any consultation of the majority union, the Contractors and General Workers’ Trade Union (CGWTU). While the CGWTU was aware of the financial struggles of the state company, they had been in contact with the appropriate minister, two weeks before the announcement, who had given no indication of the planned reconstruction. The JTUM denounced the government’s disregard for the basic principles of industrial relations and social dialogue.
For more than five years, the Union of Workers of the Beverage and Similar Industry (Stibys) in Honduras has been fighting to reach a collective agreement with the Honduran subsidiary of the multinational Pepsi, La Reyna bottling company (CBC-PEPSI). Despite an international solidarity campaign in 2022, the company continued to deny workers’ demands and refused to engage in collective bargaining.
In the Dominican Republic, employers in several sectors did not respect the commitments agreed upon after signing a collective agreement.
At the start of 2022, Banco Itaú had around 2,300 workers in Colombia, but it is estimated that by June, around 350 workers had been dismissed through so-called “mutual agreements”. Unions also believed another 300 workers would be dismissed by this method before September 2022. Banco Itaú also threatened workers with closure, while harassing those refusing to sign a resignation agreement in return for a severance payment.
The bank clearly tried to undermine the existing collective agreement, developed over decades of union struggle, to make its retail division more attractive to potential buyers. Under the law, in case of a sale, Itaú workers should be able to keep their jobs with a new owner, as well as the terms of their existing collective agreement with Banco Itaú.
Banco Itaú has also written to the Colombian Ministry of Labour requesting authorisation of the collective dismissal of workers under the pretext of needing to modernise and increase the productivity and quality of their service. Some 31 members of the National Union of Bank Employees (UNEB) and 72 members of the Colombian Association of Bank Employees (ACEB) were given notice by the bank that they would be included in these collective dismissals.
On 27 May 2022, representatives of the Chilean Banking Confederation (CSTEBA) went to the Association of Banks (ABIF) to deliver a letter outlining the demands of bank workers and the subsequent lack of response from the Association. The CSTEBA previously raised concerns over hours and job cuts, as well as payments to workers in the sector. Despite the numerous attempts of the CSTEBA to initiate bargaining, ABIF continued to ignore the workers’ demands.
In Canada, trade unions registered significant numbers of cases of employers engaging in bad faith collective bargaining. In November 2022, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Canada filed a complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board, alleging Metrolinx, the employer of Go Transit Workers in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), engaged in bad faith bargaining.
54% of countries in Europe violated the right to collective bargaining.No change from 2022
Trade unions representing members in the National Health Services (NHS), education, and civil service in the United Kingdom were in dispute with the government over 2022-2023 pay awards. The government refused to bargain on pay, claiming that it must follow the recommendations of the pay review body (PRB), while in fact, the government has full freedom to accept, reject or implement PRB recommendations. Furthermore, PRBs has its remit set by the Treasury in advance of making its recommendations. This undermines its independence and autonomy, a claim further damaged by the fact that PRB members are appointed by government. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) deplored that the government would use such a pretext to avoid collective bargaining.
In September 2022, workers at the ETF Tekstil factory in Istanbul, Turkey, organised a picket outside the factory to protest the management’s decision to close operations at the end of July without prior negotiations with the workers’ representatives. Citing a financial crisis, the employer refused to pay the more than 300 workers according to the collective agreement. Workers at the factory are covered by a collective agreement, which entitles them to bonuses, severance and notice payment, and annual leave. The employer offered to pay 70 per cent of the severance pay, which was rejected by the union. Since then, there has been no further engagement from the employer.
The Turkish Wood and Paper Industry Workers’ Union (AGAC-IS) went on strike on 27 October 2022 as a response to the longstanding union busting and other labour rights violations carried out by ASD Laminat, a Turkish wood processing company infamous for its anti-union policies.
The company notoriously refused to recognise the trade union formed by workers, targeting and dismissing all its workers in the last five years. It also refused to engage in collective bargaining.
In June 2022, after a five-year legal battle, a court ordered ASD Laminat to start negotiations with the union. But instead of following the court order, ASD Laminat summarily dismissed 180 workers, all members of the union.
In Spain, it was common practice for employers to try to delay collective bargaining. The Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) deplored that in several sectors, employers often did not respect their obligations under collective agreements, and refused to apply the wage rates agreed in the collective agreements by applying to authorities for an exemption (descuelgue salarial).
In Serbia, national trade unions have tried to renegotiate the General Collective Agreement since its expiry in May 2011, but faced strong opposition from the Serbian Association of Employers. Although the bargaining committee of the representative trade unions was formed in time, and negotiations were initiated prior to the expiry of the Agreement, the Serbian Association of Employers interrupted the process, without an explanation, after the second meeting. There has still been no progress in negotiating a new General Collective Agreement, despite efforts made by the trade union confederations and the Social and Economic Council.
In Serbia, employers often refused to enter negotiations with the representatives of trade unions, unduly delayed negotiations, or circumvented workers’ representation by entering into individual negotiations with workers.
In Poland, violations of collective bargaining rights by employers were extremely frequent, including undue delays, refusal to negotiate or to apply the provisions of an agreement, and unilateral termination of a collective agreement. At KCP Sp. z o.o, a motor vehicle parts manufacturer, management has refused to engage in collective bargaining with the company trade union for two years. Instead, the company started individual talks with selected people. Similar anti-union behaviour was seen in CEDC International Sp. z o.o. Polmos Białystok Branch, Therma Sp. z o.o, Distribev Ltd, and Stellantis Gliwice.
In Portugal, employers often refused to negotiate or intentionally delayed negotiations without a valid motive, especially regarding wages.
It was very common in the Netherlands for digital platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo to refuse to comply with a collective agreement, despite a court ruling ordering them to do so.
In the Netherlands, The Federation of Dutch Trade Unions (FNV), has been trying for over 15 years to reach a collective agreement in the meat processing industry, especially over access of union officials to the workplace. For decades, trade union officials who have tried to hand out flyers on parking lots were met with intimidation and attacks by employers, who even declared that they would only allow access of their premises to trade union officials when legally forced to do so. The meat sector has a high percentage of migrant workers who are particularly vulnerable to abuse and precarious working conditions.
In the Netherlands, employers often negotiated with yellow unions or the companies’ works council to adopt pay cuts. For example, travel company TUI refused to enter into collective bargaining with The Federation of Dutch Trade Unions (FNV), despite a petition to do so by hundreds of workers. Instead, TUI intended to enter negotiations with its own established group. The FNV had to seek remedy in court.
There is no legislation in the country ensuring that only independent trade unions are allowed to conclude collective agreements, or that trade unions take precedence over works councils. As a result, where unions decide on a collective action in the context of a negotiation, employers can undermine the union’s position, simply by concluding an agreement with yellow unions or works councils.
In Montenegro, Crnogorski Telekom, the largest telecommunications company in the country, refused to negotiate a new collective agreement and instead unilaterally decided a number of measures, including using contracted labour to avoid the application of collectively agreed pay rates. Trade unions filed a complaint to the relevant authorities.
In Hungary, trade unions observed that some employers in the automotive sector had introduced organisational measures unilaterally, without consultation with the relevant trade unions. In the railway sector, employers purposely delayed negotiations. Rejecting or not responding to unions’ invitations for consultation on wages was also common practice in the country.
Additionally, when unions reported violations of collective agreements, employers sometimes threatened workers with the unilateral termination of established collective agreements. This was the case in 2022 where an employer renounced the collective agreement in force, which contained several provisions on dismissals, just before announcing collective redundancies.
In Greece, violations of collective agreements were common. Companies often refused to apply existing collective labour agreements. This behaviour was further compounded by Law 4808/2021, which provides that in case of challenge of a collective agreement before the courts, the collective agreement is suspended until a final court decision is issued. The law bears the risk of suspending the implementation of collective agreements for long periods of time, pending review by the judiciary, and thus depriving workers of the benefit of the negotiated provisions.
In Greece, the legislative framework adopted in the context of the bail-out agreements (Memoranda) in the past decade have severely obstructed collective bargaining in the country and the consequences were still visible in 2023. Employers often engaged in bad faith during collective bargaining processes, knowing that the legal mechanisms by which unions could appeal to arbitration in case of stalemate have been removed.
Employers often circumvented genuine representation of workers in collective bargaining processes by engaging with “associations of persons”. These associations form a caricature of trade union organisations, as their members do not enjoy protection against anti-union discrimination and, therefore, they have no real bargaining power vis-à-vis the employer.
Many employer federations in Finland have purposefully delayed negotiations on collective agreements in 2022-2023, including the employers’ federation for the retail sector, which cancelled several negotiation days already agreed upon.
In Bulgaria, employers often refused to engage in collective bargaining and tried to undercut trade unions by offering individual advantages to workers outside of concluded collective agreements.
In Armenia, there was a persistent lack of collective bargaining, and workers’ representatives in state enterprises, municipal authorities and public entities were not consulted on major labour policies. A similar disregard for collective bargaining was seen in the mining, metallurgy and jewellery industries.