Victory for 311 Tunisian workers

TunisiaEconomic, social and cultural rightsNews

Tunis/Monastir, 16 June 2014 – Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) welcomes the recent judgments of the Monastir trial court, which require five companies to pay compensation to 311 female workers who were wrongly dismissed in 2013. This judgment emphasises that respect for workers’ rights is obligatory for all employers operating in Tunisia, including multinational companies established in the country.

On 5 June 2014, the Monastir trial court ruled against five Tunisian companies (SUNCO, THT, JJ Fashion, Liatex and JBG), all members of the Belgian textile group Jacques Bruynooghe Global (JBG), for non-compliance with social legislation.

Wrongly dismissed in 2013, 311 workers had filed a complaint against the companies they worked for. They won their case and were granted almost all of the benefits owed to them: back-pay, bonuses and compensation for unfair dismissal, for a total amount of four million Tunisian dinars, equivalent to 1.8 million euros.

These workers were assisted in their efforts by attorney Charfeddine Kellil, mandated by ASF to defend the economic and social rights of vulnerable persons in the Monastir regions and the mining area (Gafsa). Funded by the European Union, this project is conducted in partnership with the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES).

The Court acknowledged the wrongful nature of the workers’ dismissals by a company which had filed for bankruptcy. This court ruling is to be welcomed for two reasons: it files against member companies of a foreign group and the amount of the compensation awarded is substantial. “It sends a strong message to employers in the textile sector (national and foreign): economic and social rights of workers, the social legislation and the commercial code must be respected”, said attorney Kellil, praising the judgement.

More generally, this type of judgment gives hope to thousands of workers from the most underserved areas of Tunisia. “The protection and implementation of human rights must be guaranteed. This case highlights how access to justice allows those rights to be asserted”, noted Martin Causin, ASF Head of Mission in Tunisia.

“The challenge will be to ensure that these rulings are implemented and that, despite the bankruptcy of the companies concerned, the compensation is actually paid.”

According to a study by FTDES, 87 factories in the textile industry in the Monastir region have had to close between 2007 and 2012, leaving some 4,500 people without work. Poorly educated women are the main victims, with eight out of ten finding themselves unemployed. This situation increases their insecurity and hinders any improvement in the living conditions of thousands of households.

Picture : « Jacques (Bruynooghe) pretends to be bankrupt to wrongly dismiss his workers », points out this sign during a demonstration, Ksar Hellal, July 2013 © FTDES – A. Allagui