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Tunisia – Trade Unions Welcome New Constitution

30 January, 2014Tunisia's National Assembly has approved the final articles of the country's new Constitution that enshrines freedom of association, right to strike, gender equality and women's protection against violence.

This important development comes three years after an uprising against autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali that inspired a wave of Arab revolts. The country’s largest trade union center UGTT and its member unions, including three IndustriALL affiliates, have played a crucial role in its development.

Largely applauded for its modernity, the new Constitution had been delayed by near political deadlock as different political parties argued over the role of Islam in one of the most secular Arab countries. Finally it was passed with an overwhelming majority in the National Constituent Assembly by 200 votes of the total 216. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hailed the agreement as an "historic milestone", stating, "Tunisia's example can be a model to other peoples seeking reforms."

Important principles of the Constitution include an emphasis on a civil state and democracy, freedom of worship and the independence of the three powers, the Executive, Legislative and Media. Of crucial importance to the trade union movement is that the constitution now enshrines the right to freedom of association, for unions to organise and the right to strike.

IndustriALL Global Union’s Executive and Finance Committee member and General Secretary of the FGME-UGTT, Tahar Berberi stated,

On Sunday, three years after the outbreak of the revolution, the Constituent Assembly in Tunisia adopted the new constitution of the second republic. Also, a new independent government was formed with the main task of preparing for the elections this year to be overseen by the newly elected Independent Electoral Commission. We now only need to specify the dates of the elections. These three tracks constituted the pillars of the UGTT's Road Map as the platform where the political parties can meet in order to achieve a democratic transition.

IndustriALL General Secretary, Jyrki Raina in passing his congratulations to all the three affiliated trade unions in Tunisia said:

The role of UGTT and member unions, including yourselves, has not only been of crucial importance in achieving this constitution you have been a shining example of how the trade union movement can push for democracy and help change society.

Tunisia's new constitution could also make a momentous change for women, following the adoption of a clause that guarantees gender equality in legislative assemblies and for steps to be taken to protect women against violence, a first in the Arab world. By law Tunisian men and women have been equal since the 1950s, when President Habib Bourguiba passed the Personal Status Law of 1956. However if put into practice, clauses such as Article 45, which requires the government to create parity for women in all legislative assemblies in the country, are bound to make history.