In many countries of the world, workers are denied the right to establish and join trade union organizations. Trade unions are liable to be dissolved or suspended by administrative action, and they are not free to establish and join federations or to affiliate to international trade union organizations. Workers are not adequately protected against acts of anti-union discrimination regarding their employment, nor are trade unions protected against acts of interference by employers in their establishment, functioning or administration. Collective bargaining and the right to strike are often severely limited.
In 2003, Belarus, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Guatemala and Venezuela were among the urgent cases cited by the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association for infringements of the principle of freedom of association and violations of trade union rights. The right to strike is also seriously restricted in countries such as Algeria, Chad, Gabon, Liberia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania.
Over recent decades, in practically all Latin American countries, a large number of trade unionists have lost their lives under unexplained and unexamined circumstances. In Morocco, many workers were killed in 1981 when a general strike was violently suppressed by the authorities. In Iran in 1983 new measures of repression were used against several strikes involving thousands of workers who were beaten, arrested and in many cases dismissed. In several African countries the trade union movement has been dominated by the political party in power. In communist regimes the official trade unions were strictly subordinated to the Communist Party and act as instruments for the implementation of economic plans and for the maintenance of labour discipline. In Cuba in 1982, for example, fifty workers of the State construction undertaking were arrested for attempting to establish an independent trade union to defend their interests. In Europe, too, there have been restrictions on trade union activities. In Belgium, collective bargaining on wage increases was blocked in 1982 for a period of several years. The Canadian government adopted legislation in 1982 by which it suspended collective bargaining rights and the right to strike in the federal public service for a period of 24 months. This example was followed by several provincial governments. In Turkey the right to strike had been suspended after the military coup in 1980, but has been restored under democratic government. In Poland after a period of severe repression of unofficial trade union activities, many leaders and members were sentenced to heavy terms of imprisonment.
Freedom of assembly for trade union purposes constitutes one of the fundamental human rights. Basic trade union rights are essential to the existence of free and democratic trade unions capable of defending and furthering the workers' interests.