A hidden video-surveillance camera discovered on Monday was recording the entrance of the central office of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU)—an act described by the organization as illegal and a possible attempt to interfere with trade union activity.
“The KVPU is deeply concerned about possible negative consequences for people, especially for activists and whistleblowers who visited our [Kyiv] office,” says KVPU Chairperson Mykhailo Volynets. Visiting diplomats and politicians may also have been illegally surveilled.
Describing the discovery as “alarming,” KVPU International Secretary Olesia Briazgunova says the organization is demanding a thorough police investigation and the opening of a criminal case.
“A lot of people come here to get legal assistance, discuss trade union activities or inform about corruption,” says Volynets, who fears for those helping KVPU prevent the adoption of draft laws that narrow worker rights in contradiction of international labor standards and those who are highlighting corruption in the coal industry and state-owned transport enterprises.
The recording of people without their consent, except in specific cases established by law, is prohibited by Article 307 of the Civil Code of Ukraine, says KVPU.
Legal experts supported by Solidarity Center partner Labor Initiatives (LI), an organization representing and advancing worker rights in Ukraine, contributed recommendations that were incorporated into the country’s latest National Human Rights Strategy. The 2021–2023 strategy—a legally binding document to be implemented by state authorities in accordance with United Nations International Standards and Principals and Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the European Union—was signed into force by President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier this year.
Up to 100 action points are listed in the new strategy, including several advanced by LI lawyers Inna Kudinska, George Sandul, Katia Shvets and Nadia Yolkina in sections on freedom of association, worker rights, social protections, business and human rights, and anti-discrimination.
“The increasing significance of the LI team’s expertise is reinforcing its ability to make workers’ voices heard,” says Solidarity Center Ukraine Country Program Director Stanislaw Cieniuch.
Action points successfully advanced by LI to promote gender equality include: 1) Ratification of Convention 190, a new global International Labor Organization (ILO) treaty to prevent and address violence and harassment in the world of work that includes gender-based violence and harassment; 2) Amendment of the national labor code on equal pay and reduction of the gender pay gap; and 3) Development of national policies to shift the burden of proof in discrimination cases—including gender-based cases—from the employee to the employer.
LI’s lawyers also advanced action points for amending the country’s law on collective labor disputes, including ways to improve dispute resolution procedures and remove bureaucratic barriers preventing workers from exercising their right to strike.
“Labor is the defining part of life for every person,” reports LI. “[S]trong labor rights protections and rule of law are core safeguards to avoid catastrophic consequences for the people of Ukraine.”
Ukraine’s National Human Rights Strategy—first developed in cooperation with international organizations and civil society in 2015—is intended to develop a document that outlines citizens’ legal protections and to unite society around a common understanding of the value of human rights and freedoms to be protected equally and without discrimination.
On June 16 International Domestic Workers Day, domestic workers are celebrating a landmark legal win by South Africa’s domestic workers for colleagues who die or are injured in their employers’ homes. For the first time, starting this year, domestic workers who suffer injury on the job are eligible for compensation for temporary and permanent disability, medical expenses, funeral costs and survivor benefits.
Until last year, South Africa’s approximately 1 million privately employed domestic workers suffered deaths and crippling injuries without access to compensation for themselves or their dependents because domestic workers were excluded from South Africa’s Compensation for Occupational Injury and Illness Act (COIDA). With Solidarity Center support, the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU) and human rights organization Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) litigated and won a long-denied claim for the dependent daughter of Maria Mahlangu, a privately employed and partially sighted domestic worker who had fallen into her employer’s swimming pool and drowned in 2012. The historic judgment, made by the South African Constitutional Court in mid-November, recognized that injury and illness arising from work as a domestic worker in a private home is no different to that occurring in other workplaces and thus equally deserving of COIDA coverage.
Myrtle Witbooi, general secretary of SADSAWU and the first president of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), said in addition to the last year’s court ruling, South Africa’s domestic workers can also celebrate this year’s hard-fought win under revised compensation rules of three years of retroactivity to submit claims.
Under the new rules, all employers of domestic workers must register with the Compensation Fund or face penalties, and make annual payments to cover their employees. SADSAWU is focusing its efforts on educating employers and domestic workers about their obligations and rights under the new rules, says Witbooi. SERI made a new domestic worker compensation information fact sheet available to domestic workers, paralegals and community advice offices this month, while SADSAWU is producing and distributing an educational WhatsApp video and pamphlet and translating the amendment into local languages.
The unions and SERI continue to press the government for more time for domestic workers to submit claims and increase retroactivity. “We must remain that beacon of hope for workers,” says Witbooi.
Meanwhile, another domestic worker, Nobuhle Ndlovu, drowned in her employer’s swimming pool last month.
Ten years after the adoption of an International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention confirmed their labor rights, domestic workers across the globe are still fighting for recognition as workers and essential service providers, as documented by a new ILO report. And, although 32 countries have ratified Domestic Workers Convention 189, and 29 have entered the convention into force, most of the world’s 75.6 million domestic workers are still being denied social protection rights, including access to national health insurance, pension schemes and compensation funds.
A police crackdown against Lesotho garment workers protesting a two-year delay in scheduled minimum wage increases resulted in two fatalities in Maseru, the capital, last week. Pitso Mothala and Motselisi Ramasa died as police fired into the crowd. Many more workers were injured.
The deaths come after two weeks of escalating state-sponsored attempts to use shootings, beatings and arrests to force thousands of the country’s 50,000 garment workers to return to their factories. Meanwhile, government ministries have rejected union attempts to negotiate an end to protests and are still refusing to provide garment workers with the wage increases they need to sustain themselves and their families through the COVID-19 pandemic, reports United Textile Employees (UNITE).
“We want justice for our brutal[ally] killed comrades and we shall forever make sure that their blood is not in vain,” says a UNITE media release that identifies the two slain garment workers by name. Garment workers remain at home this week while the country’s armed forces continue to patrol the industry, reports the union.
The country’s unions are refusing to return to work until the government makes good on two missed incremental minimum wage increases—for 2020/2021 and 2021/2022—that have been delayed indefinitely.
Lesotho has a long history of human rights violations against political and labor activists, including police violence against peacefully striking factory workers rallying for fair wages last year. The 45th annual U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Human Rights report on Lesotho found that members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service and Lesotho Defense Force last year committed numerous human rights abuses, including “unlawful or arbitrary killings; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions [and] arbitrary arrest or detention.”
In a demonstration of Lesotho’s widely reported troubled human rights record, peacefully protesting garment workers rallying since Friday for two promised, but indefinitely delayed, minimum wage increases were met on Monday in the capital, Maseru, and surrounding areas with police violence and intimidation.
“Eight workers today were hospitalized after being shot at with rubber bullets and—in one instance—live rounds,” reported National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union (NACTWU) General Secretary Sam Mokhele to the Solidarity Center.
Unions say the government deployed special forces, with police shooting 12 people—including two children, ages 7 and 9—in Maputsoe and Maseru, and beating and arresting others.
“Our garment worker members, with whom we are already addressing rampant gender-based violence in their factories, want the world to know that their peaceful rallies in support of scheduled wage increases were met with outsize police violence,” says Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL) Deputy General Secretary May Rathakan.
Lesotho’s unions, including garment workers, are imploring the government to make good on two missed incremental minimum wage increases—for 2020/2021 and 2021/2022—that were due to be implemented by government gazette publication on April 1 but have been delayed indefinitely.
“These acts had exposed the workers to absolute poverty because their current salaries cannot address their needs,” says United Textile Employees (UNITE) General Secretary Solong Senohe in a media statement.
Six private-sector Lesotho unions warned almost two weeks ago of a possible work stoppage starting last Friday should promised minimum wage increases continue to be delayed. In addition to IDUL, NACTWU and UNITE, the Construction, Mining and Quarry Trade Union (CMQ), Lentsoe La Sechaba Trade Union (LESWA) and the Lesotho Workers Association (LEWA) also protested.
Lesotho has a long history of human rights violations against political and labor activists, including police violence against peacefully striking factory workers rallying for fair wages last year. The 45th annual United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Human Rights report on Lesotho found that members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service and Lesotho Defense Force last year committed numerous human rights abuses, including “unlawful or arbitrary killings; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions [and] arbitrary arrest or detention.”
Solidarity Center Africa Regional Program Director Christopher Johnson says: “State violence in response to garment workers’ legitimate and peaceful demands for a livable minimum wage flies in the face of human rights norms.”
The right to strike has been enshrined in the constitutions of at least 90 countries and “has in effect become customary international law,” said UN rights expert and former UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai in 2017, citing global and regional instruments that include ILO Convention No. 87 (Articles 3, 8 and 10), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 8), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 22), the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 11), and the American Convention on Human Rights (Article 16).