Survey: Africa’s Domestic Workers Demand Urgent Reform in Pandemic Crisis

Survey: Africa’s Domestic Workers Demand Urgent Reform in Pandemic Crisis

The International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) is urging more than 25 Africa-based affiliates to use the results of a new survey documenting the suffering of Africa’s domestic workers and their dependents during the pandemic to lobby their governments for urgent reform. Conducted by domestic workers with 3,419 of their peers in 14 African countries from November 2020 through January 2021, the survey found that only 17 percent of respondents received emergency income, food or other state-provided social support—and that most of that number received such support through another household member because they were not themselves eligible.

“It’s one thing to lose your job, it’s another thing to lose your job in a context where you don’t have access to unemployment benefits, social security or any income support,” says IDWF Lead Research Associate Louisa Acciari and post-doctoral researcher at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. “I think this is something where the unions can really campaign at the national level to get more inclusive social protection policies.”

Only 6 percent of those unable to work received employer-provided wages, while almost one-third of survey respondents were laid off—85 percent of whom were the main family breadwinner. They received no severance pay and remained out of work for up to six months. Nearly half of survey respondents suffered income reduction that had a dramatic impact on their household and was exacerbated by rising food and transportation costs.

During a recent event, IDWF leaders urged affiliates to use survey data in national campaigns lobbying their governments for inclusion of domestic workers in unemployment, health insurance, injury and illness compensation, and pension schemes, and for ratification of ILO Conventions ILO Conventions 189 on Domestic Workers and 190 on Violence and Harassment.

“Now we have an additional tool to fight until we get our rights, our social protections. People will remember what we say if they hear us saying [it] with numbers,” said IDWF General Secretary Elizabeth Tang.

More than 25 IDWF affiliates conducted peer-to-peer surveys in English, French, Portuguese and multiple local languages in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique Namibia, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania Togo, Uganda and Zambia.

“Through it all, the IDWF has shown the world that we are united,” said IDWF President and General Secretary of the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU) [NAME?]. “There is much more to be done.”

Based on survey findings, IDWF recommendations include that governments:

  • Conduct awareness-raising campaigns regarding occupational health and safety standards, worker rights and employer responsibilities
  • Distribute personal protective equipment at key access points such as bus and taxi stands
  • Introduce price controls
  • Expand income-support measures to domestic workers
  • Extend contributory social insurance to domestic workers
  • Where absent, introduce contributory unemployment benefits for domestic workers
  • Ratify ILO Conventions 189 and 190 and adopt complementary national legislation for implementing an appropriate enforcement framework
  • Adopt legislative reforms to ensure effective expansion of social protection to domestic workers.

“The Impact of COVID-19 on Domestic Workers of Africa” survey is part of a global IDWF research project that includes Latin America and the Middle East and North Africa. Around the world, the pandemic has vastly widened gender, racial and economic divisions. CEOs have raked in record profits during the pandemic, and 8 of the 10 wealthiest people in the world have grown billions of dollars richer over the past year. On the other side, domestic workers, agricultural workers, trash collectors, street vendors and a growing number of gig workers employed through app-based services were recognized as essential over the last year and hailed as heroes, yet are among the most economically undervalued and underserved. The COVID-19 crisis cost women around the world at least $800 billion in lost income in 2020, equivalent to more than the combined GDP of 98 countries, said Oxfam last month.

The Solidarity Center partners with the IDWF around the world, supporting domestic workers’ efforts to access their rights. As of April 2021, the IDWF has 81 affiliates from 63 countries.


Report: Risks to Women Workers Pervasive in South African Mines

Report: Risks to Women Workers Pervasive in South African Mines

Women working in South African mines “at times confront danger, violence and indignity in their work environments,” where gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) appears both widespread and normalized, according to a new report from the Solidarity Center and South Africa-based Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR).

The report, “What Happens Underground Stays Underground: A Study of Experiences of Gender-Based Violence and Sexual Harassment of Women Workers in the South African Mining Industry,” found that while verbal harassment is most common, women mineworkers also face requests for sexual favors in exchange for physical labor or for promotions, transfers or changes in work schedules. And sexual assault and harassment can occur both above and below ground at mines.

GBVH in the mining sector can be attributed to a range of complex political, social and economic factors, including:

  • The dark and isolated nature of underground mines makes GBVH more likely, and monitoring and supervision of workers and evidence collection more difficult.
  • South Africa’s dominant patriarchal social norms are exacerbating reporting barriers by enabling a culture of silence and victimization and the economic dependency of women on men.
  • Women working within the numerically and culturally male-dominated sector are outnumbered and often subordinated in their personal security and professional development.
  • Some business strategies are undermining the well-being of women workers in the mining industry, such as the outsourcing of female worker recruitment, which can expose recruits to sexual exploitation by gatekeepers of lucrative jobs, and the failure to accommodate women in the design and placement of facilities such as bathrooms, locker rooms, bus stops and elevators, which leaves women vulnerable to violence and harassment.

The report’s findings and recommendations are based on interviews conducted in Cape Town, Johannesburg, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Rustenburg and Wonderkop last year with former and current women mineworkers and representatives of women’s structures within mining unions, including the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the Center for Applied Legal Studies at Wits (CALS), the South African Gender Equality Commission, the South African Human Rights Commission and the Wits Mining Institute.  All women mineworker interviewees chose to remain anonymous, to protect their safety and jobs.

“Women mineworkers, striving to support their families, live a troubling reality—one that comes at great cost to their physical and mental well-being. The stakes are high, and the failure to prevent GBVH amounts to granting tacit permission to perpetrators,” according to the report.

Lead report researcher Sheila B. Keetharuth—who previously served on the United Nations team of international experts on the Kasai, Democratic Republic of Congo—says that the lower proportion of female workers in the mining sector in South Africa is, “a recipe for disaster that necessitates easily accessible and trustworthy reporting mechanisms as provided for in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”

The International Labor Organization two years ago adopted Convention 190, the first global binding treaty to address GBVH in the world of work. The treaty calls on governments, employers and unions to work together to confront the root causes of GBVH, including the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, gender stereotypes and unequal gender-based power relationships. South Africa has yet to ratify Convention 190.

“Safe and healthy jobs are among workers’ most fundamental rights,” says Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau. “As we observe World Day for Safety and Health at Work today, we must continue to reinforce that a safe workplace is one that is free of gender-based violence and harassment. And through unions, workers can achieve the strong, collective voice needed to improve safety and health on the job.”

Report recommendations include that:

  • South Africa immediately ratify ILO C190 on Violence and Harassment at Work
  • Occupational health and safety laws and policies, as well as sector-specific laws and policies, obligate employers to prevent and eliminate GBVH
  • The country’s Mining Charter extend employer obligations with respect to prevention and elimination of GBVH and require that special measures be adopted for women working in mining
  • In consultation with workers and unions, compulsory GBVH risk assessments be established for identifying safety risks.
  • Acquisition of a mining license be conditioned on right holders’ commitment to the prevention and elimination of GBVH
  • Employers adopt confidential and independent reporting system
  • Women working underground be provided with a confidential, anonymous, efficient and easily accessible incident reporting system.
  • Workers be informed that victims of sexual assault have the right to press separate criminal or civil charges against their perpetrators.
  • Mandatory and effective education and training with respect to laws and policies on GBVH be provided to workers and supervisors, and that policies addressing GBVH be printed in all official languages, displayed conspicuously throughout the mining shafts, and widely and regularly promoted through interactive workshops.
  • Policies against GBVH be included in employment contracts and clearly state repercussions for GBVH violations.
  • The mining industry provide education and counseling to rehabilitate perpetrators in cases not likely to reach the level of criminal prosecution.

“Although the report shows that GBVH is rooted in complex and deeply entrenched patriarchal social norms, it also presents fairly simple, cost-effective changes to the work environment—such as improved lighting, a buddy system and safer toilet and locker room locations—that will make women mine workers less vulnerable to crimes of opportunity,” says Solidarity Center Rule of Law Department Senior Program Officer Ziona Tanzer.

Beginning in 2014, the Solidarity Center was a core member of a global coalition of worker rights organizations led by women union activists that successfully advocated for Convention 190. We support our partners as they campaign for their governments to ratify ILO Convention 190 and recognize GBVH as a primary barrier to achieving gender equality and a key step for security of all workers’ rights and seek to enhance the voice of women and other marginalized workers in policy making at the local, national, and international levels to reduce the risk of gender-based violence at work—including through their unions.

Solidarity Center Marks Earth Day with Climate Justice Plan

Solidarity Center Marks Earth Day with Climate Justice Plan

Marking this year’s April 22 Earth Day, the Solidarity Center is launching a new, partner-informed, inclusive strategic plan to support workers and their unions around the world to address impacts and drive solutions for an accelerating climate crisis.

“The Solidarity Center recognizes that workers and their communities—especially in the global south—are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis. We are committed to directing resources and attention toward people-centered climate policy and legislative advocacy by our partners and allies in their respective countries,” says Shawna-Bader Blau, Solidarity Center executive director.

The Solidarity Center’s strategic plan—centered on ensuring decent work and a strong labor movement in the future—endorses the following program and advocacy approaches:

  • Developing worker-driven climate solutions and playing a significant role in their implementation to protect hard-fought gains and advance worker rights in changing industries
  • Using collective bargaining to advance cleaner, safer and more sustainable operations across sectors; and ensuring an inclusive process that prioritizes the needs of workers and their communities in transitioning sectors
  • Building broader coalitions, securing the mutual commitment of climate, human rights and community organizations in the fight to win decent, unionized green jobs; building healthy, resilient and sustainable communities; and supporting worker rights
  • Effectively participating in national, regional and global climate justice negotiationsand holding policymakers and employers accountable for achieving a just transition to a cleaner economy that enables workers to enjoy their fundamental freedoms and rights; and
  • Advancing an enabling legal environmentto achieve a just transition, recognizing the critical link between labor rights and environmental justice.

“On Earth Day, the Solidarity Center stands with our partners as they drive the vision for a fair or just transition to a cleaner, more inclusive, and more equitable economy,” says Sonia Mistry, Solidarity Center global lead on climate change and just transition.

Read more here.

Colombian Workers Connect Clean Energy, Good Jobs

Colombian Workers Connect Clean Energy, Good Jobs

Organizations representing Colombia’s energy and mining sector workers are supporting the country’s transition to cleaner energy while preserving decades-long, hard-fought progress in turning often unsafe and poorly paid jobs into safer, family-sustaining livelihoods.

A joint declaration signed late last year formalizes the commitment of Colombia’s national labor federation Central Unitaria de Trabajadores–CUT and three of its largest mining- and energy-sector unions—Sintracarbón, Sintraelecol and Unión Sindical Obrera (USO)—to an urgent national effort to abandon fossil fuels and adopt new technologies, assuming those policies prioritize:

  • National policies that support full compliance with Paris Agreement goals
  • Government oversite of such policies, including all climate interventions implemented by private mining and energy companies in Colombia
  • The preservation and strengthening of decent work in mining and energy sectors, and of their unions.

“Colombian energy- and mining-sector workers—and the communities they sustain—must participate in every step of the process to ensure workers’ rights to safety and good jobs are supported by the country’s energy transition policies,” says Carlos Guarnizo, Solidarity Center Colombia-based program coordinator.

“Transition to a new energy agenda should be negotiated with us and the rest of society,” to ensure a fair and democratic model of energy production, says the declaration. Energy- and mining-sector workers should be consulted because they have the knowledge and experience to conceive, propose and advance the discussions that will shape the policies on transition to clean energies. Declaration signatories will be working in coalition with one another, as well as with academics, social and environmental justice movements and the international community, to devise such a model.

“On Earth Day, the Solidarity Center stands with Colombian energy- and extractive-sector unions—and all others around the world—as they drive the vision for a fair or just transition to a cleaner, more inclusive, and more equitable economy,” says Sonia Mistry, Solidarity Center global lead on climate change and just transition.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that emissions from fossil fuels are the dominant cause of global warming. Carbon dioxide emissions increased by almost 90 percent from 1970 through 2011, with emissions from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes contributing almost 80 percent of that increase. About 50 percent of Colombia’s electrical-generation capacity is in the hands of privately owned companies.

Report: Ending Bonded Labor in Pakistan Brick Kilns

Report: Ending Bonded Labor in Pakistan Brick Kilns

One of Pakistan’s most profitable sectors is also among its most prone to debt bondage, a form of forced labor considered to be modern slavery. While many administrative, legal, policy and social roadblocks prevent the up to 3 million brick kiln workers and their families from escaping debt bondage, solutions exist to end the practice, according to a new Solidarity Center report.

The third-largest producer of bricks in South Asia, Pakistan’s brick sector employs 4.5 million people producing 45 billion bricks per year in 20,000 brick kilns. Although bonded labor was outlawed in Pakistan decades ago, the practice has continued and is likely expanding during the COVID-19 economic crisis.

Bonded labor flourishes in Pakistan and other South Asian countries, particularly in agriculture and brick kilns. Vulnerable workers become bonded laborers by taking loans from their employer and being forced to work to repay the debt. Because their wages are so low, workers rarely make enough to subsist much less clear the loan, and a crisis, such as an injury or health issue, can contribute to vicious cycle of debt. Meanwhile, entire families, including children, may be pressed into work.

The risk of injury and illness for brick kiln workers is high due to adverse living and working conditions, unhygienic water and sanitation, lack of health coverage and adverse occupational health outcomes through exposure to toxic fumes and carbon particulates.

State of Compliance with Decent Work Principles in Pakistan’s Brick Kiln Center”—produced with Pakistan research partner Trust for Democratic Education and Accountability (TDEA)—provides a comprehensive review of national and local laws relevant to the sector as well as brick kiln studies by local and international organizations. The report also presents field-research findings, primarily moderator-led interviews with groups of brick buyers, brick kiln owners and workers, government officials and international funding agencies.

Although focus group interviews revealed a common understanding that workers do indeed suffer poor working conditions and unlivable wages, most also highlighted multiple roadblocks to improving these conditions. These included: Lack of social security for workers, unregulated kilns, weak labor inspection, non-functional district vigilance committees, lax implementation of regulations and no specific law for the brick kiln sector. Other significant issues mentioned include a lack of safety equipment and medical coverage. In addition, women workers reported not receiving their wages because brick kiln owners traditionally pay their wages directly to male members of their family.

To overcome documented roadblocks, the report presents the following recommendations:

  1. Stricter government monitoring and enforcement of existing laws to safeguard worker rights, including the bolstering of inspection and reporting systems in which trade unions have a significant role
  2. Formation or improved functioning of worker unions and anti-bonded-labor district vigilance committees, to be facilitated by government support for workers’ legal right to freely associate and bargain collectively for better wages and working conditions with employers
  3. Legal provisions and government incentives for buyers to purchase bricks from kilns that provide decent working environments
  4. An improved mechanism for brick kiln registration so that fewer brick kilns remain unregistered, because unregistered kilns—which are operating outside of regularized monitoring mechanisms—create challenges for their workers to report issues they may have in registering with social service agencies such as the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) and the Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI)
  5. Interventions to allow brick kiln workers to be incorporated into the country’s social security programs, which includes facilitating their registration for national identity cards
  6. Establishment of on-site or nearby schools and healthcare facilities
  7. To ensure their democratic rights as citizens, facilitation from Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to add brick kiln workers to the country’s electoral rolls
  8. Education of stakeholders about the Solidarity Center’s Decent Work Brick Kiln Framework, which provides an inspection checklist for monitoring decent work at kilns and other comprehensive tools and resources for district labor departments to report labor law violations, and which proposes interventions including labor law reform, skills development for brick kiln workers and their children, social protection expansion to informal economy workers, and promotion of formal mechanisms for dialogue between workers, employers and government


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