Tag Archives: international

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.

UK Feminista takes on Nike’s exploitation of female workers

9 May

Yesterday women and men from UK Feminista took to the high street to protest against the exploitation uncovered in factories Nike - Don't Do Itsupplying Nike.

The actions, taking place outside Nike stores in London and Glasgow, saw campaigners “cheat” their way through a series of races and hold a medal ceremony where Nike was awarded the title of “biggest cheat”.

The demonstrations are a response to new research(pdf) published by War on Want which has uncovered the systematic violations of workers’ rights in Bangladeshi factories supplying garments for Nike, Puma and Adidas.

Their findings, while depressingly familiar, are still shocking: all factories visited were illegally employing staff for more than 60 hours a week, and five of the six failed to pay the legal minimal wage.

But UK Feminista’s protest demands that we rethink Nike’s exploitative practices as an explicitly feminist issue.

Eighty five per cent of Bangladesh’s garment workers are women, and as such they experience distinct rights abuses as factory workers; 1 in 10 women workers are threatened with being made to undress, with 1 in 10 workers experiencing other sexual harassment.

Many are refused maternity rights or simply fired when discovered to be pregnant, an indication of the profound disregard by firms like Nike for women’s reproductive labour.

These statistics are enough to send any feminist out onto the street in protest. But an interrogation of the reasons why these low paid jobs are consistently filled by women reveals a web of structural and cultural relations of power that are built gender norms.

Women lack other employment opportunities due to poor access to education, and are affected by entrenched gender stereotypes around what constitutes ‘women’s work’. These include assumptions around their primary roles as carers rather than breadwinners, stereotyping women as supplementary earners and so excusing the payment of low wages.

In this way firms like Nike are able to profit from gender inequality through utilising a cheap, female labour force subsidised by stereotypes.

But should we be turning attention to women in Bangladesh at a time when life is so grim for women in the UK? The 2012 budget is set to hit women much harder than men by hacking away at the social services and benefits that women (particularly the poorest) rely on.

I would argue that we must keep our focus global, because the sexism underlying the labour market in Bangladesh, from which firms like Nike profit, is the same sexism that ensures George Osborne’s austerity measures will hit women hardest.

Assumptions about women’s roles as carers run right into the heart of the current global economic system. It is a system that relies on women’s unpaid caring labour, by seeking a society where government and corporations refuse responsibility for human need and the caring work it requires.

While Nike sources from factories that refuse to pay a living wage that can sustain life, and while they fire pregnant women, the UK government is demolishing the hard-won social services and benefits that recognise how society as a whole is responsible for caring labour, since society as a whole fundamentally relies on it.

The budget’s proposals to means test child benefit (not to mention Osborne’s vision of a deregulated labour market) are particularly stark rejections of responsibility for caring and reproductive labour. In both the UK and Bangladesh care is being shifted into the domestic sphere to be picked up by women.

Yesterday’s protest was not asking for boycott. Neither did it aim to ladle guilt onto women as consumers over where they shop. Instead it is a protest in solidarity with garment workers in Bangladesh which aims to spotlight how the ability of firms like Nike to reap huge profits relies on gender inequality and demand that Nike takes positive steps to end this.

And in highlighting Nike’s activities as a feminist issue, the protest is a call for more collective and transnational feminist action against a deeply sexist global economic system.

 Fiona Ransford, UK Feminista 

May Day – a day to reflect on what workers have won and to focus on the future fight

1 May
Workers, Unite!
by Hannah Blythyn
Today is international workers day or May Day as it is often more commonly known here – a day that will witness rallies and marches around the world. Events that take on special significance across Europe as unions, grass-roots groups and the public gather together to call time on the economic agenda of austerity that is making working people and the most vulnerable pay the highest price.
At home and abroad workers are facing the biggest battles and challenges of a generation – from cuts to the public sector to attacks on employment rights.
Here in the UK, the coalition government is hell-bent on chipping away at health and safety protection, with Cameron declaring that his new year’s resolution was to kill of health and safety culture for good.
But the Prime Minister does not live in the real world nor does he have any experience of a real workplace. The reality is that to kill off health and safety at work would result in more workers being killed whilst just doing their job – even with the protections we currently have around 20,000 people die every year in the UK as a result of their work.
This clampdown on health and safety is part of a wider attack on workers’ rights by the coalition government – from rolling back the right to access unfair dismissal, to right-wing Tory assaults on trade union facility time and introducing charges for taking cases to employment tribunals.
This Conservative led coalition government has even gone as far as to previously suggest that the May Day bank holiday be moved – making their feelings on workers’ rights all too clear.
But it also right that on this day we take time to reflect and commemorate all that has been achieved by the trade unions for working people – the weekend, statutory paid holidays, the national minimum wage, health and safety legislation and much, much more.
We know that there are tough times and great fights ahead but lest us not forget on today of all days that we have won in the past and together we will win for working people in the future.
Are you marking May Day 2012?
If you are taking part in any May Day activity this coming weekend or know of any events near you then let us know and we’ll make sure we give you a mention.
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