Cablegate: Labor Rights in Yemen: Law Versus Reality

Published: Mon 1 Nov 2004 01:07 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. Summary. As is common to poor underdeveloped countries
with former socialist influences, Yemen has many laws on the
books to protect the rights of workers. In practice,
however, the ruling General People's Congress (GPC) party has
neutralized the major trade unions by placing party-appointed
leaders in their ranks. This summer the ROYG resorted to
using police force to shut-down unionization efforts. End
The Labor Code: What's on the Books
2. A 1995 Presidential Order and a major 1997 amendment to
the Labor Code provide for the collective agreements,
termination of contracts, wage determination, penalties and
disciplinary measures for violations of the law. The Code
applies to all workers except public servants, foreigners,
"casual workers" (day-laborers), and domestic servants.
Article Five states that "work is the natural right and duty
of every citizen on the basis of equal conditions and
opportunities, without discrimination on the grounds of sex,
age, race, color, beliefs or language."
3. According to the Labor code, non-Yemenis may not
constitute more than 10 percent of any employer's workforce.
In practice, not all firms can abide by this provision,
particularly in sectors where skilled and technical labor is
required such as oil exploration, and service and hotel
industry. Yemen lacks a skilled, technically proficient,
English-speaking native labor force. The literacy rate in
Yemen hovers around 65 percent for men and 35 percent for
women. Most foreign companies make separate agreements with
the ROYG to keep their predominantly foreign technical
workforce and agree to slowly convert foreign held jobs to
Yemenis by implementing training and skills-building
programs. The ROYG enforces government regulations
sporadically and often for political reasons -- particularly
where oil revenues are involved. The paucity of skilled
labor effects government and private businesses. Businessmen
complain that this is one of their biggest challenges in
4. Article 42 of the Labor Code stipulates that women are
equal to men in conditions of employment and employment
rights. However, women activists and NGOs report that
discrimination is a common practice in both the public and
private sectors. Mechanisms to enforce equal protection are
weak or non-existent.
5. Under Article 32 of the Code, the ROYG may invalidate any
collective agreement "damaging the economic interests of the
country." This article gives the government wide leeway to
interfere with or discourage collective agreements and
unionization. If a labor dispute cannot be settled amicably,
the law calls for the dispute to be submitted to an
arbitration committee for resolution. If arbitration fails,
workers may strike under specified conditions. Each worker
must announce his/her intention to strike by wearing a red
armband for three consecutive days before the commencement of
the strike (Article 146).
6. The Labor codes cover a great diversity of additional
labor issues including:
- Wages and allowances, including minimum wage and overtime
- Hours of work
- Work discipline and penalties
- Vocational training, including apprenticeships
- Occupational safety and health
- Health insurance
- Labor inspection
- Workers' and employers' organizations
- Freedom of association
Recent Episodes Illustrate ROYG Intervention
7. In reality, the labor situation in Yemen is much bleaker
than the laws suggest. Two recent incidents illustrate the
ROYGs willingness to manipulate or circumvent the Labor Code.
On July 5, a disagreement between management of the
government-owned Yemenia airlines and its pilots erupted into
a full-blown strike. An undisclosed agreement was reached
between management and the pilots, but subsequently pilots
complained that the administration did not honor their
commitments. The pilots further allege that the airlines
instructed its physicians to find the strike leaders "unfit
to fly."
8. In another recent incident, Sanaa Airport technicians
decided to unionize to protect themselves from what they saw
happen to the Yemenia pilots. Deputy Minister of Labor
Muhammed Ali Ba-Musallam agreed to be present at the
technicians' vote for unionization. News articles and other
sources reported that Prime Minister Abdul Qadir Ba-Jammal
instructed airport police to block Deputy Labor Minister
Ba-Musallam from reaching the meeting site. Ba-Musallem
called the technicians to meet him on the airport road to
conduct the vote. The result of the vote for unionization
was never made public. Ba-Musallem fled to his home province
for "vacation," has subsequently been sidelined, his
responsibilities delegated to other officials, and he is
expected to resign or be fired for his unionization efforts.
9. Comment: Many labor unions in Yemen are under the
indirect authority of the ruling GPC party. They do not
function as a check on the government authorities or on
management practices. Even in Aden, which enjoys a long
tradition of workers rights, beginning with the establishment
of the first Yemeni labor union in the 1880s, the port
workers' union, the GPC has placed party loyalists in union
leadership positions. The only organized professional group
that has shown significant independence from the GPC is the
Yemeni Journalists Syndicate (YJS). The YJS has been vocal
in condemning recent ROYG actions to close several
publications and to jail an editor for publishing articles
critical of President Saleh. End Comment.
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