The number of countries which impeded the registration of unions increased from 59% of countries in 2019 to 73% of countries in 2023.
The right to official recognition through legal registration is an essential facet of the right to organise, since this is the first step that workers’ organisations must take to be able to function efficiently and represent their members adequately.
Between April 2022 and March 2023, authorities impeded the registration of, de-registered, or arbitrarily dissolved unions in 109 countries out of 149.
100% of countries impeded the registration of unions.No change from 2022
In Lebanon, the authorities severely impeded the registration of trade unions. A number of applications for registration have yet to be granted by the Ministry of Labour, including the Agricultural Workers Union, the Port Drivers Union, the Mechanical Inspection Workers Union, the Domestic Service Workers Union, and the Public Sector Workers Union.
In Jordan, the Jordanian Teachers’ Association (JTA) was shut down by the authorities in July 2020 and most of its leadership was arrested, sparking popular protests across the country with over 1,000 protesters detained by security forces. The union has since been re-opened, but its leadership has been replaced and members face restrictions in organising collective actions.
In Iraq, there is a general prohibition, in place since 1987, against forming and joining trade union organisations in the public sector. The Ministries of Industry and Minerals, of Oil, and of Electricity regularly threatened workers to refer them to the judiciary if they tried to create or join a trade union. They also transferred union members to institutions outside their field of work and outside their area of residence, including the following union leaders of the General Federation of Iraqi Trade Unions working in the companies of the Ministry of Industry and Minerals: Samira Nasser, Sabah Hassan Abdullah Ghaleb Kazem Al-Tamimi, Dhikra Khalil, Faris Mazloum, Abbas Mahmoud Mahdi.
Union activities and meetings were also prohibited within the companies. The collection of union fees was not allowed, and trade unions in the public sector were not allowed to open bank accounts.
Since 2020, all independent unions in Iraq have been 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 Egypt, all independent unions were dissolved in March 2018. Since then, many have faced countless administrative hurdles and in 2023 were still seeking official registration with the authorities. In 2023, the authorities refused to register independent unions established in the following sectors: garment, agriculture, glass industry, telecommunications, street vendors and taxi drivers.
Where a yellow union already existed in the workplace, unions met further difficulties, with employers claiming that under the 2017 law, only one trade union committee can be set up, thus preventing the formation of a new union. In 2023, this was the case for independent unions at the Library of Alexandria, the Post Office, several Teachers Local Units and unions in the judiciary.
91% of countries in Asia-Pacific impeded the registration of unions.No change from 2022
After the military coup in Myanmar two years ago, 16 labour organisations were declared illegal by the Burmese military on 2 March 2021, making it very difficult for workers to organise.
The junta continued to exert pressure on trade unions supporting the Civil Disobedience Movement, and their leaders were driven into hiding from military arrest. At least five of the regional and township level unions of the Confederation of Trade Unions, Myanmar, (CTUM) have been pressured by the local labour administrators and have returned their registration certificates.
Affiliates of the CTUM and member organisations of the Myanmar Labour Alliance were pressured by officials and employers to attend the tripartite meetings held by the ministry of labour under the junta. In a meeting on 24 February 2023 in Yangon, the ministry pressured the attending trade unions to dissociate from the so-called ‘terrorist organisations’, namely the NUG, the National Unity Consultative Council, and “collaborators”, namely Maung Maung, Khaingzar Aung and Pho Sandar Soe of the CTUM.
In Malaysia, the government proposed new amendments to the Trade Union Bill in July 2022, including a “fourth schedule” which links offences under the bill to Penal Code provisions relating to acts of terrorism and organised crime. It would mean that if a union commits any offence in the ‘fourth schedule’, the Director-General could cancel or withdraw the union’s certification or withdraw permission for affiliation to global unions. The unions feared that such provisions could cripple them.
In Hong Kong, independent trade unions have been subject to information surveillance since the enactment of the National Security Law. Since 2021, 11 trade unions have been requested by the Registrar of Trade Unions to submit detailed information to account for their activities and the Registrar could initiate de-registration procedures if their activities are considered out of the scope of the registered purposes.
The government announced new rules for the registration of trade unions on 16 September 2022. Anyone in Hong Kong planning to set up a trade union would have to sign a declaration pledging they would not threaten national security. Union founders would need to confirm the objectives of their groups are lawful and the bodies would not engage in any activities that could endanger national security or contravene any other law. Given the number of unions that had already had to disband following the imposition of the National Security Law in 2020, this latest announcement caused deep concern.
In June 2022, the Labour Department proposed creating a new chief labour officer position for three years to assume the position of Registrar of Trade Unions. The registrar would be responsible for drafting amendments to the Trade Unions Ordinance, such as refusing or cancelling the registration of organisations “in the interest of national security” and prohibiting people who had been convicted of offences from endangering national security by becoming officials of workers’ groups.
The department planned to introduce the bill to the Legislative Council in the first half of 2023.
Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021, the leadership of the National Union of Afghanistan Workers and Employees (NUAWE) were forced to go into exile. Carrying out trade union activities has become extremely dangerous for trade unionists remaining in the country, and they were under constant surveillance and faced threats to their lives.
88% of countries in the Americas impeded the registration of unions.No change from 2022
In early July 2020, the provincial government of Alberta, Canada, introduced Bill 32 (the Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act), an omnibus bill that amended Alberta’s labour and employment legislation. In addition to provisions that limited strike activities and interfered with union self-administration, the bill made it more difficult to form unions by eliminating timelines for certification votes and by removing the option for the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) to automatically certify unions in the case of unfair labour practices by the employer. Bill 32 also requires unions to receive each member’s consent to collect dues that are not related to core representational activities.
In Guatemala, trade unions still faced important administrative obstacles for their recognition, the updating of their membership lists, and the homologation of collective bargaining agreements with the Ministry of Labour. A persisting issue in the country was the arbitrary application of criteria for recognition and registration by the administrative authorities.
74% of countries in Africa impeded the registration of unions.Compared with 79% in 2022
On 14 December 2019, all trade unions and professional associations in Sudan were dissolved by a decree of the Sovereignty Council, which also seized all unions’ properties and assets. Since then, and especially after the military coup in October 2021, independent unions have been unable to work in the country.
In Mauritania, the authorities tended to favour pro-government trade union federations, going so far as to provide them with financial support – one of them received a staggering 62 million ouguiyas (US$ 1,7 million). Workers were often intimidated into joining yellow unions and withdrawing from independent trade union organisations. There was a general lack of protection against authorities’ and employers’ interference in trade union affairs and against anti-union discrimination.
In June 2022, yellow trade unions aligned with the government of the Central African Republic presented an appeal to the Labour Minister, asking that the 2003 Decree, designating the most representative workers’ organisations in the country, be revoked. This direct appeal to the executive, which was made in total disregard of the representativity criteria and established procedures, was a clear attempt at removing genuine representation of workers in tripartite social dialogue, including at the ILO's annual International Labour Conference. Despite this, in a decision made on the 15 July 2022, the Labour Minister acceded to their request and declared that a rotation system of representation between the various workers’ organisations would be put in place.
38% of countries in Europe impeded the registration of unions.No change from 2022
In April 2022, the Certification Officer, which regulates trade union affairs in the United Kingdom, was handed extensive new powers. These included the ability to initiate investigations without a trade unionist making a complaint, the right to demand documents, to appoint outside investigators, and to impose financial penalties on unions for breaches of statute. This gives the state considerably more influence over internal trade union affairs.
State authorities in Kazakhstan have hampered the functioning of independent trade unions in the country by simply de-registering and refusing to reregister unions. In January 2021, the authorities de-registered the branch of the Sectoral Fuel and Energy Workers’ Union (SFEWU)in the Kyzylorda region, founding the decision on an alleged de-registration request made by an ex-chair. The union made several attempts throughout 2021 and 2022 to re-register but its numerous requests were denied by the authorities on spurious grounds.
Kazakh authorities further complicated the registration procedure of the sectoral union with the administrative territorial reform of 8 June 2022, which created three new regions. The Kazakh law imposes, as one of the requirements for registration, that trade unions form branches of an industry trade union in more than half of the regions of Kazakhstan. The creation of more regions therefore constitutes an additional hurdle for the SFWEU and all trade unions seeking re-registration.
State authorities in Kazakhstan have long been impeding the operation of independent trade unions in the country by simply de-registering and refusing to re-register unions. In 2017, the registration of the KNPRK, now the Congress of Free Trade Unions (KSPRK), was withdrawn by the authorities. Six years later, and despite the Government’s repeated expressions of commitment to resolving the matter, KSPRK remains unregistered.
In Greece, Law 4808/2021 provided for the establishment of an electronic general Registry of Trade Unions of Employees maintained by the Ministry of Labour. This system subjects trade unions to compulsory registration and grants legal status and the entitlement to exercise constitutional rights, such as collective bargaining, organisation of strikes, and protecting union representatives against anti-union measures, only to registered organisations. The establishment of the Registry severely hindered the functioning of trade union organisations and the exercise of their rights, as was observed by the Council of State, which ruled in 2022 (decision 2175/2022) that the suspension of these trade union rights in case of failure to properly register constituted a “manifestly disproportionate and particularly serious interference in the right to freedom of association”. The Council also took issue with the mandatory registration of sensitive personal data of trade union officials (elected or candidate), without their consent. The case is still pending before the Plenary Session of the Council of State.
In Belarus, the authorities stepped up their repression against trade unions when, on 18 July 2022, the Supreme Court decided to liquidate the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP) and its affiliates, including the Free Trade Union of Metal Workers (SPM), the Free Trade Union of Belarus (SPB), the Belarusian Trade Union of Workers of the Radio-Electronic Industry (REP) and the Belarusian Independent Trade Union (BITU).
Since April 2022, the Belarusian government has engaged in a systematic pattern of repression of the independent trade unions in the country, smearing independent unions and trade unionists as ‘extremists’ and ‘western agents’ and engaging in defamation campaigns, with a clear threat that anyone who associates with the BKDP and its affiliates risk being prosecuted.