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World's Trade Unions Under Siege

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  • Dan Clore
    IPS World News LABOUR: World s Trade Unions Under Siege By Marwaan Macan-Markar [See also Compilation of annual reports to the ILO; URL:
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 2 2:24 PM
      IPS World News
      LABOUR: World's Trade Unions Under Siege

      By Marwaan Macan-Markar

      [See also Compilation of annual reports to the ILO; URL:
      x.htm for set of items in Acrobat - .pdf format ]

      MEXICO CITY, May 28 (IPS World Desk) - The lot of workers
      around the globe is a sorry one, with many intimidated,
      threatened and even murdered if they attempt to form trade
      unions to bargain for their collective rights, states a new
      report released by the International Labour Organisation

      This is largely the result of the failure of the ILO's 175
      members to meet their commitments to protect such fundamental
      rights as the freedom of association and the effective right
      to collective bargaining, adds the report, titled 'Your Voice
      at Work.'

      'We are still a long way from universal acceptance of these
      fundamental principles and rights in practise,' the Geneva-
      based body observes, adding that governments, as guardians
      of democracy, need to do more than 'pay lip service' to
      these ideals.

      For Juan Somavia, the director general of the ILO, such a
      global reality leads to one conclusion. 'A global economy
      in which people do not have the rights to organise will
      lack social legitimacy,' he says. After all, he points out,
      people organise themselves to make their voices heard so
      they can express such fundamental rights as their human
      rights and their developmental rights.

      This report, the first-ever global study conducted by the
      ILO on the freedom of association and the right to collective
      bargaining, comes out strongly against oil-rich Arab nations
      such as Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for
      the 'outright prohibitions on trade unions ..' In nearby
      countries such as Bahrain and Qatar, it adds, government
      constraints have denied committees of workers or labour
      councils the opportunity to form independent workers'

      Violence against labour rights activists, on the other hand,
      has prevailed in several developing countries. In countries
      ranging from Ecuador and Guatemala, in Latin America, to
      Zimbabwe and Sudan, in Africa, 'physical assaults' have been
      a common form of intimidation.

      While in 20 other countries - China, El Salvador, Morocco
      and Pakistan including - 'arrests and detention' have been
      evident, in seven others, among them Nicaragua, Lebanon and
      Senegal, trade union premises and property have been attacked.

      During the past 10 years, the report declares, the ILO has
      also documented the allegations of murder of trade unionists
      in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala and

      According to the authors of 'Your Voice at Work', equally
      disturbing has been another global trend to deny a large
      category of workers any form of legal protection due to the
      type of their labour or their legal status. They include
      agricultural, domestic and migrant workers.

      In the United States, India and Honduras, for instance,
      national legislatures have either failed to 'legally
      protect agricultural workers or (denied) them the right
      to organise', the report says. And domestic workers, who
      are overwhelmingly women, have been denied the right to
      organise in countries like Brazil, Jordan and Canada.

      Migrant workers, furthermore, have been 'seriously
      restricted in forming or joining trade unions in Kuwait,
      effectively prohibited from holding office in Mauritania,
      Nicaragua, Rwanda and Venezuela, and not covered by
      labour legislation in Kyrgyzstan'.

      The current crop of export processing zones (EPZs) also
      came under the critical gaze of the ILO report for anti-
      union acts, which include 'harassment, blacklisting and
      massive dismissals' of the labour force.

      EPZs in Bangladesh, the Philippines and Sri Lanka were
      singled out for going against the grain of labour rights
      in an effort to attract foreign investments.

      But while local authorities may believe that very low
      wages and no labour regulations will attract business,
      'the investor may well be ready to accept higher costs
      if there is political stability, infrastructure,
      domestic demand for produced goods and services, and
      well-functioning industrial relations', the report says.

      The impact of the prevailing trend on women working in
      both the formal and informal global economy was not lost
      on the authors, either. 'These changes have had an
      inherent gender dimension,' they say.

      Surveys done for this report reveal that women form 'the
      majority of workers in subcontracted, temporary or casual
      work, part-time work and informal occupations'. As a
      result, 'more women than men are in unorganised and
      unprotected jobs which lack security of tenure',
      perpetuating poverty in families.

      But for that to change, the report calls for two immediate

      Firstly women must be granted the right to join trade
      unions, to have their interests represented on par with
      their male colleagues, and to enable them to 'take their
      place at the negotiating table' during the collective
      bargaining process.

      Likewise, in addressing the broader global picture, the
      report advocates change in three areas to ensure that the
      right to trade union activity is guaranteed across the
      globe. Such action, it stresses, requires collective
      effort on the part of workers, employers and governments.

      These changes are: a guarantee that all workers can form
      and join a trade union of their choice without fear of
      intimidation or reprisal; the need to encourage an open
      and constructive attitude by private business and
      public employers to freely choose worker's representatives;
      and the recognition by public authorities that good
      governance of the labour market, based on respect for
      fundamental principles and rights at work, makes a major
      contribution to stable economic, political and social

      This report, which forms part of the follow-up to the
      ILO's Declaration on Fundamental Principles of and Rights
      at Work, adopted in June 1998, is the first in an annual
      series to provide a global picture of core labour
      standards. It will be followed by a report on forced
      labour in 2001, child labour in 2002, and discrimination
      in employment in 2003.

      According to Somavia, the strength of this inaugural
      effort is the evidence it provides to expose the
      oppression workers around the world have been subject
      to. 'Workers in many countries continue to face
      intimidation or reprisals should they exercise (their)
      rights by joining a trade union of their choice.'
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