[Documents menu] Documents menu

New Trade Union Law threatens trade union rights in Tanzania

ICFTU Online..., 042/000301/DD, 1 March 2000

Brussels March 1 2000 (ICFTU OnLine) A new trade union law which is due to come into force in the near future gives the government far-reaching powers to interfere in and to supervise trade union activity. The Act would seriously threaten the current trade unions’ existence, as well as their freedom to bargain with employers, says a new ICFTU report on the country’s labour rights, brought out to complement the WTO’s trade policy review of Tanzania.

Calls by unions for the new law to be further discussed and amended have so far been ignored.

Tanzania has ratified ILO Conventions 87 on Freedom of Association, and 98 on the Right to Organise. Its labour law is in a state of flux, as the new Trade Union Act, with draconian powers over trade unions has still to come into force, yet the current single trade union law dating from the days of monopoly trade unionism has not been repealed despite the fact that the national trade union centre changed its name in 1995!

Furthermore, the existing national trade union centre could be dissolved to make way for a new one when the Trade Union Act comes into force.

Labour law is dealt with on a territorial basis, so separate laws exist for mainland Tanganyika and the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba. The new law dealing with the mainland, will give the Trade Union Registrar extensive powers to interfere into trade union affairs. Unions that fail to register face massive fines, imprisonment or both. Moreover, the Registrar has wide powers to suspend trade unions.

Only one trade union can exist in any establishment or trade or industry. Where there is more than one union, the smaller one can be de-registered. International trade union affiliation could be declared invalid if unions failed to follow certain internal procedures, or if the Registrar decides that the union was working outside the remit of employer-worker relations. The law is also silent about the right of trade unions to federate and confederate.

In Zanzibar and Pemba a new Labour Bill was introduced in 1999, which only applies to private sector workers, and places severe restrictions on trade union registration. It fails to protect trade union members against anti-union discrimination or from interference from employers’ organisations.

The ILO has criticised current legislation because collective agreements must be submitted to the Industrial Court for approval, so that agreements, which are not in line with the government’s economic policy, can be thrown out. Furthermore, going on strike involves such a complicated mediation process that disputes drag on for months, often forcing frustrated workers to go on illegal wildcat strikes and walkouts.


Women workers are discriminated against in Tanzania, as strong traditional norms divide workers along gender lines, and place women in a subordinate position. Discrimination against girls begins at school.

Women make up 80 per cent of public sector workers, where they are forbidden to undertake certain jobs or to work certain hours because of their sex. In the countryside, men take the few paid jobs available leaving women to farm and raise the children.

Child Labour

While legally children should receive seven years of compulsory education up to the age of 15, and are not allowed to work in the formal sector under 12, many primary-age children work on farms, and children aged 12 to 15 may be employed between the hours of 6am to 6pm. The ILO estimated that in 1995 almost 30 per cent of children aged 10 to 14 were economically active, at least 5,000 of them were seasonally employed on sisal, tea, tobacco and coffee plantations, and 3,000 were working in unregulated gemstone mines.

Many girls work as domestic servants in towns, where they are often abused or exploited. In the urban informal sector children work in unregulated manufacturing.

Child prostitution is on the increase.

The ICFTU study notes that Tanzania has been criticised by the ILO because there are certain laws and practices in some rural areas that force villagers to undertake work in gardens, or on small construction projects.


The ICFTU says that in order to bring its observance of labour standards into compliance with international norms, the government must discuss amendments to the new Trade Unions Act in mainland Tanzania as well as to the 1999 Labour Bill in Zanzibar, with its social partners, The law which gives the Industrial Court power to overturn collective agreements for political reasons should also be amended.

The ICFTU says that to prevent discrimination at work, Tanzania must ratify ILO Conventions 100 on Equal Remuneration and 111 on Discrimination, and should revise laws, which place limits on women’s ability to take certain jobs.

Finally, given the high percentage of child labourers, there should be increased labour inspection to prevent the employment of children, and more money should be channelled into education, says the ICFTU.