Worldwide violations of trade union rights worsen in 2011

6 Jun
March for labour rights on May Day

Courtesy of London May Day website

by Amy Jackson


The situation faced by trade unionists across the world grew steadily worse in 2011, according to the annual survey of trade union rights violations published today (Wednesday) by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

This year’s survey, examining 143 countries, found that 76 trade unionists were murdered in 2011, with thousands more dismissed and arrested. The Americas is still the most deadly region for trade unionists, with Colombia remaining the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists. Of the 76 people murdered for their trade union activities, not counting the workers killed during the Arab Spring, 29 lost their lives in Colombia. Trade unionists in Guatemala also suffered 10 assassinations, committed with impunity.

The worldwide trends highlighted in the survey include the non respect of labour legislation by governments, the lack of funding for labour inspection and workers’ protection, the lack of rights and abuse faced by migrant workers throughout the world, particularly in the Gulf States, and the exploitation of the largely female workforce in the export processing zones around the globe. Among the most vulnerable are the 100 million domestic workers.

2011 was the year of the Arab Spring and the revolutions surrounding this in North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf States. The repression of trade union rights has been particularly harsh in these regions. Trade union organisations played a leading role in the revolutions, notably in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain, and were targeted during the uprisings. Hundreds of activists were killed in the clashes and thousands were arrested.

However the road to democracy is getting smoother, the ITUC says, as seen from the massive turnout for the Egyptian elections in November and the continued protests in Syria and Bahrain. The creation of an independent trade union movement is well underway, although there is still no freedom of association in some nations, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Eritrea or Sudan.

General Secretary of the ITUC Sharan Burrow said: “The situation of hundreds of thousands of workers is very disturbing. Most of them do not enjoy the fundamental rights of collective bargaining and freedom of association, and are in precarious employment.

“Their lives are thrown into disarray because they have to work long hours in dangerous and unhealthy conditions, in return for salaries so low they cannot meet their own needs or those of their families. That partly explains the worldwide recession.”

The ITUC survey reveals how strikes are fiercely repressed in many countries, by means of mass dismissals, arrests and detention, including in Georgia, Kenya, South Africa and Botswana, where 2800 workers were dismissed after a public sector strike.

Trade union rights do not just come under attack in the developing world. As the UK government continues to preach austerity, Conservative politicians and party staff are repeatedly looking for opportunities to restrict trade union rights in the UK – which already has the strictest anti-trade union laws in Europe. Whether it be ‘fire at will’ policies, worsening health and safety or insisting on a 50% turnout in strike ballots, the Coalition will not be bucking the global trend any time soon. With many EU leaders taking a similar approach towards employment rights, Left Out predicts it will be a similar picture for the 2012 survey next year.

For more information, go direct to the ITUC survey.

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