The War Abolishes Trade Unionism and Wastes Workers' Rights in Yemen


Ashraf Al-Rifi

Protests gradually subsided until they faded because of the war that imposed a hostile atmosphere to trade unionism and labor in Yemen.

Violations against workers and trade unionists have increased during the four years of war, some of whom have been imprisoned, stalked, assaulted or killed.

It is no longer the usual violations of the right of workers in the natural circumstances that prevail today. The war created a harsh atmosphere against workers and trade unionism in the country and deepened the scale of violations.

The trade unions in the areas controlled by the Houthis have closed their doors and exercised their functions remotely. Unions in the areas controlled by the government complain of injustice and denial to workers and employees, and all deny rights under the pretext that the country is living in conditions of war and fighting.

 Mohammed Al-Hamzi, the leader of the Trade Union Committee in the Sana'a Oil Company, was arrested more than once because of his union activity and his detection of corruption and misconduct in the company.

Last year, he was suspended from work by the leadership of the company appointed by the Houthis on the pretext of publishing news in the means of social communication which the leadership of the company considered offensive to it and to the public interest.

Last April, four leaders of the Oil Sector Syndicate in Sana'a were arrested, against the backdrop of their refusal to accept salaries in e-rials.

This has reached a number of the leaders of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate who have been expelled and left the country since the beginning of the war because of the security pursuit.

Nabil Al-Asidi, a member of Journalists Syndicate, said that the war reached every place and destroyed the situation that existed before; it reached the civil society institutions, especially the trade unions, and foremost among which the Journalists Syndicate, one of the first organizations

that were targeted by stopping the financial provision, as well as attacking its headquarters in Aden and grabbing it for a long time before it was restored.

"The war has gripped journalists violently, their salaries were suspended, they were arrested, assassinated, threatened with death and assault, and many violations that have afflicted the press and journalists," Al-Asidi added

He explained that the war stopped all activities associated with trade union work and dispersed members of the union council at home and abroad, so that the council was not convened during the war.

Al-Asidi believes that the trade unionists in the country are facing considerable pressure because of the enormous risks that surround them.

It should be noted that the union was harassed in the vigils it was carrying out in its headquarters in early 2015 to reject the violations that affected the journalists and the media, forcing it to close the union headquarters in Sana'a due to the lack of a safe environment for trade union work.

For months, the union, the workers and employees of the General Insurance and Pensions Authority in Aden have carried out vigils to demand the 30% approved by the prime minister for all employees, to condemn the delay of the payment of their salaries, and the inaction of the branch management with respect to their dues and legal demands like the rest of the Authority's facilities.

However, the authorities did not give them any attention and overlooked their demands. Workers in Aden, controlled by the legitimate government, have carried out several protests, starting from vigils to raising red flags and carrying out a partial strike.

These protests were met with harassment of trade union leaders where the Director General of the branch of the General Insurance and Pensions Authority  in Aden, made the head of the Trade Union Committee of employees of the branch, Mervat Salam, choose between her position as a director in the Authority or her leadership position in the Trade Union Committee.

work of labor and production facilities and various state institutions.

The war that destroyed ports and infrastructure and stopped commercial activity created a difficult situation for unions and labor rights in the country.

Perhaps the most serious violations that affected the workers in Yemen is the killing, whether by bombing by the coalition or Houthi missiles because the belligerents did not abide by the protection of civilians, and the content of international humanitarian law.

Four cleaners, for example, were martyred, including three during the bombing of the City of Workers in the area of Saouan, in addition to a driver in the bombing of Atan area in Sana'a, according to a source in the Fund of Cleanliness in Sana'a City.


The war imposed a tragic situation on the workers, the work was stopped, as did the health insurance system for the majority of employees, and the salaries were stopped, which was disastrous.

One of the most serious violations that inflicted workers and employees in Yemen is the stoppage of salaries due to the war and the resulting tragedies that have anguished millions of families whose breadwinner income is ceased.

In total, the trade union and civil work were disrupted and weakened and the rights of employees and their salaries were wasted. This adversely impacted more than one million employees, and their dependents who range between 3-5 million families, according to some sources.

From Fragility to Elimination:

The prominent trade unionist Abdalbari Taher says that the reign of Ali Abdullah Saleh weakened the trade union, civil, political and partisan action. With the coup d'etat of September 21, 2014 by Saleh and the Houthis, they found the structure fragile and weak, and they were able to eliminate it very easily.

Tahir, a former head of the journalists’ syndicate, told reporters that the period of fragility and weakness that Saleh's rule paved the way to in political, trade union and labor life was followed by the period of the Huthis who came and had an absolute enmity for political, partisan and trade union work.    

Moreover, Tahir confirms that the de facto authority of the "Houthis" in the northern provinces abolished trade union and political action in general. The authority of legitimacy in Marib and the South completely underestimated and did not care about it, and relied only on armed militias, military action and insistence on the abolition and weakening of any manifestations of civil, trade union, press and political issues.

Taher sheds light on the trade union situation by saying,"We are talking about the breakdown of the trade activity associated with trade union work. The work in the ports is the basis, but it is disabled in the north and the south.".

"Fishing and businesses that formerly existed were also disrupted and therefore it is difficult to talk now about a composition that would face these difficulties or to talk about legislation because everything is marginalized and canceled,"he adds

He also refers to the tragedies of the fishermen by mentioning the event of bombing 40 boats of fishermen at the beginning of the war and how fishing became risky even in areas near the sea.

Fishermen issues were not limited to that; many of them were kidnapped and bombarded, fishermen in the south and the north were disrupted, and they were at risk. They support hundreds of thousands of families. Large areas especially in Tihama, Aden and Hadramout depend on fishing for living, according to Taher.   

This situation has primarily affected workers whose work is linked to public employment, business and economic activity.

Betting on Suffering:

Tahir believes that the de facto authority of the "Houthis", and the legitimate government, are betting on the suffering of the people. The Arab coalition has doubled this disaster by bombing and destroying the fragile and weak infrastructure in the institutions, roads and ports. Everything in Yemen was vulnerable to ravage and destruction.

This situation has been evident in the news of international agencies and organizations that say that Yemen is living the worst disaster on the face of the earth, that has affected life and the different categories of traders, the middle classes, the poor and the marginalized. However, the suffering of the poor, workers and vulnerable groups at the lower levels is the most tragic because they have lost their ability to live and to leave the country.

The pain is compounded when we know that there are about four million people from agricultural areas displaced on the outskirts of cities, and this is also a heartbreaking picture of the situation of workers in the agricultural field.

We asked Tahir about the status of public freedoms, including freedom of unions and freedom of expression. He replied that the margin of limited freedoms under Salih's rule and legislation was not enough. People continued to demand improved conditions and legislation, removing restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression and public and democratic freedoms. The coup d'etat of September 11 and the war in Yemen wiped out these simple possibilities. Taher believes that talking about freedoms and freedom of expression and democracy during the war is meaningless.

This was manifest in the apology of a number of union leaders to make press statements about the situation of labor and trade union during war, a fear that we appreciate its grounds and circumstances.

This is a mini tragic picture of the situation of trade unionism and labor rights in war-ravaged Yemen, which is destroyed by the warlords, and which is in dire need of support for the restoration of the trade union and workers' role to regain the rights and defend the gains of workers, employees and civilians and restore peace and stability in a country where war is waged every moment..