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Tunisian garment workers strike over dismissals of union leaders

18 May, 2020Management at the Gartex factory, which produces ready-made clothes, is failing to apply labour laws and regulations and is violating collective agreements signed with IndustriALL affiliate Fédération Générale du Textile, de l'Habillement, Chaussure et Cuir (FGTHCC-UGTT).

Workers at Gartex in Tunisia went on strike for two days in May, as attempts to solve a wide range of labour issues have been stonewalled by the employer for more than two years.

In 2018, the union general secretary and assistant general secretary were dismissed after a meeting with workers to discuss problems in the workplace.

Due to poor health and safety in the workplace, the union requested a visit from the medical labour inspection in June last year. Various health and safety violations were confirmed and a long list of recommendations was issued.

FGTHCC-UGTT has repeatedly asked management to discuss the union’s demands. Management asked the union to send the list of demands, claiming it had no power to negotiate as the power lies with foreign investors. The union submitted details of demands and workplace issues in December 2019, but received no response. The union followed with various official requests for negotiations, which were all ignored.

On 20 February, 56 workers, including the elected leadership of the company union and members of the advisory committee, were dismissed. As attempts to resolve the conflict were unsuccessful, workers led by FGTHCC-UGTT organized a strike on 13 and 14 May, protesting against the violation of the right to organize and the dismissals.

Habib Hazami, FGTHCC-UGTT general secretary, says:

“Despite the goodwill and flexibility showed by the union to maintain the company’s sustainability and to defend workers’ rights, management continues to ignore the union on crucial issues and tries weaken its role among the workers.

“The company has not responded to any of our legitimate demands and we were forced to go on strike, which will be followed by other actions. We call on management to reinstate the 56 dismissed workers, including the union leaders.”

In a letter to the company, IndustriALL is voicing its concern over the serious problems faced by the workers and is urging the emplyoer to respect fundamental labour rights including the right to organize, and to immediately reinstate the dismissed union leaders and members.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan says:

“It is crucial that Gartex Tunisie strictly abide by national and international labour law. We expect the company to immediately take corrective measures and without further delay establish a productive dialogue with FGTHCC-UGTT.”

Gartex employs around 1,000 workers and is owned by German garment manufacturer Gardeur, which in its turn is owned by the Dutch Duijndam Group.