Middle East Trade Unions

by | August 19, 2020


According to Countryaah.com, Qatar is a country located in Middle East. Qatar became a member of the ILO in 1972, but has not ratified the conventions giving workers the right to form trade unions. In 2004, the emir enacted a new labor market law that gives workers the right to form trade unions and to strike. Furthermore, the law stipulates that the working day shall not be longer than 8 hours. In reality, however, the repression against trade union work has continued and there is no evidence to suggest that there are any trade unions in the country. However, the country’s regime has promised that the first trade union in the country will be allowed to start in connection with the 2022 World Cup.

For migrant workers, on the other hand, it is still forbidden to organize a trade union or strike. According to the criticized Kafala system, migrant workers are also not allowed to change jobs or leave the country without permission from their “Kafeel” – a kind of sponsor of the migrant worker’s residence permit who is usually the employer himself. If a migrant worker wants to change jobs, he or she must return to his or her home country or become paperless.

The Kafala system is criticized for opening up to forced labor and slavery. Even if there are laws that regulate working hours and other conditions, the employer can in principle make any demands without the employees having the opportunity to say no. Migrant workers are also subject to widespread discrimination, are forced to live in special labor camps with often very poor standards, are not allowed to live in the same areas as citizens and are not allowed to stay in the central parts of the capital Doha.

Most of Qatar’s migrant workers work in the construction industry, which has grown enormously since Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup and new arenas, hotels and infrastructure have begun to be built. Since then, the slave-like conditions and many deaths in the construction industry have received much attention. At least 1,200 construction workers are estimated to have died so far in the preparations, and the World Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has estimated that if nothing is done about the miserable conditions, as many as 4,000 workers could die in accidents before 2022.

Another vulnerable group is the household employees. At least 52 cases of trafficking, assault and sexual harassment against domestic employees have been reported according to official figures since 2012. In none of the cases has the employer been brought to justice. If a household employee leaves his employment, even after being abused, the employer can report the employee as “absent”. The employee can then be arrested and deported by the police.



At present, there are no official trade unions in the country. On the other hand, there are underground unions among migrant workers.


Saudi Arabia is one of 16 countries in Middle East. In Saudi Arabia, all unions are banned. According to a report from the International Trade Union Confederation (IFS), there are no unions in the country either. On the other hand, employees can belong to so-called “workers committees”, a kind of workplace-based committees that are controlled by employers and the state.

Saudi Arabia is home to more than 8 million migrant workers, mainly from the Philippines, Indonesia, Nepal and Bangladesh. Many of the migrant workers are exploited and subjected to violence and degrading treatment. It is also common for migrant workers not to receive the payment they have been promised. But migrant workers are in principle lawless and it is very difficult for a migrant worker to be entitled to an employer.

Saudi Arabia


Trade unions are banned.


Today, the trade union activity in the country is virtually non-existent. Before the Civil War, there was a functioning trade union organization, the state-controlled central organization General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU).

Although the GFTU called itself “independent”, it was funded by the government and had strong ties to the ruling Ba’ath party. The Ministry of Labor even has the right to decide on the finances of the trade union movement. GFTU still exists on paper, but there is no information that any activities have taken place.

Labor legislation is also vaguely worded and allows employers to dismiss employees on loose grounds.



Trade unions: On paper, the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) exists. It belongs to the former communist international WFTU. There is no trade union organization in the country that is a member of the World Trade Union ITUC.


Trade union rights are severely curtailed, but teachers, lawyers, construction workers and domestic workers, among others, have tried to form trade unions. In all cases, the unions have been banned by the regime. It is also forbidden to strike. Employees who have taken part in strikes have been fired.

The world trade union ITUC has on several occasions protested against the restrictions on trade union rights.

United Arab Emirates


Central trade unions: Attempts to form trade unions have been thwarted by the regime.


Due to armed violence and political chaos, the trade unions have been torn apart. Strikes are allowed by law, but are surrounded by strict restrictions. It is also common for private employers to prohibit employees from organizing in a trade union. The world trade union ITUC has reported on restrictions on trade union rights.

In Yemen, two former trade unions merged into a state-controlled central organization in connection with the unification of North and South Yemen. The new organization General Federation of Workers’ Trade Union of Yemen (GFWTUY) states that it has about 350,000 individual members. However, the figures are several years old and it is uncertain whether there is still any trade union activity.



Central trade unions: General Federation of Workers’ Trade Union of Yemen (GFWTUY). The paper also includes another organization, the Yemeni Confederation of Labor Unions (YCLU). GFWTUY belongs to the world union ITUC and YCLU the communist trade union international WFTU.