Tunisia has expelled the head of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), Irish woman Esther Lynch.

It happened after Ms Lynch took part in an anti-government protest organised by the country's UGTT union, one of Tunisia's leading political forces.

The UGTT said the expulsion was "shocking" and opened up a confrontation with labour unions around the world.

Tunisian President Kais Saied yesterday declared Ms Lynch "persona non grata" and said the Irish citizen must leave the country within 24 hours.

Ms Lynch's participation in the protests and remarks she made were a "blatant interference in Tunisian affairs", the government said.

Thousands of members of the UGTT took to the streets of eight Tunisian cities on Saturday to protest against Mr Saied's policies, accusing him of trying to stifle basic freedoms including union rights.

Addressing one of the protests, Ms Lynch called for the immediate release of detained union officials.

"We condemn this shocking decision ... it not only contains a confrontation against UGTT, but rather a with the international union movement", Sami Tahri, the senior official in the UGTT, told Reuters.

He added that Ms Lynch was being harassed and even prevented from leaving her hotel for dinner.

Ms Lynch arrived safely in Brussels this afternoon.

"Far from silencing me, my treatment this weekend has strengthened my resolve to stand with trade unions in Tunisia and I will raise their treatment at the highest levels of the EU," Ms Lynch said.

"Internationalism and solidarity are at the core of the labour movement, so it's entirely normal that a trade union leader from Europe should go and stand with workers in Tunisia," she added.

Ms Lynch is a former Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) official and was elected General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation in December.

The Labour Party has called on the Irish Government to condemn the treatment of Ms Lynch.

"I am horrified at the shocking news that Esther Lynch was forcibly expelled from Tunisia over her participation in a protest against a clamp down on trade union rights," said Labour's workers' rights spokesperson Senator Marie Sherlock.

"The Irish Government must condemn the Tunisian State for its actions and take a strong stance against any attempt to water down the rights of any peoples at home or abroad," Ms Sherlock added.

Additional reporting: Reuters