Report: Platform Workers Winning Rights in Courts, Parliaments

Report: Platform Workers Winning Rights in Courts, Parliaments

Solidarity Center
Solidarity Center
Report: Platform Workers Winning Rights in Courts, Parliaments
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Workers on digital platform companies who are pursuing their rights at work through courts and legislation are making significant gains, especially in Europe and Latin America, according to a new report by the International Lawyers Assisting Workers Network (ILAW Network).

ILAW, Taken for A Ride 2, platform workers, gig workers, worker rights, Solidarity CenterA key finding of Taken for a Ride 2: Accelerating Towards Justice shows that major companies like Uber, Deliveroo, Glovo and others often are losing in their efforts to intentionally misclassify workers, with Australia as an exception.

When gig workers like platform-based drivers are misclassified as independent contractors, they are not covered by labor laws that mandate a minimum wage, safety and health protections, paid sick leave, and the right to join or form a union and bargain collectively.

As the report notes: “The principal problem, the denial of workers’ employment status is not the sole issue when it comes to the exploitation of these workers. The denial of decent wages and working hours, unfair dismissals, and some union busting to boot, are all part and parcel of the [platform companies’] modus operandi.”

“The leading digital platform companies were well aware that their model was illegal from the start and used their money and influence to ensure that regulators would treat their ‘innovation’ otherwise. At long last, courts and regulators are coming around, though after undermining an industry and the livelihoods of drivers worldwide,” says Jeffrey Vogt, rule of law director at the Solidarity Center.

The Solidarity Center launched the ILAW Network in December 2018 as a global hub for worker rights lawyers to facilitate innovative litigation, help spread the adoption of pro-worker legislation and defeat anti-worker laws. The network now has more than 900 members from 80 countries.

Platform Workers Organizing and Mobilizing

The ILAW report analyzes 30 recent employment cases across 18 countries and builds on the network’s March 2021 Taken for a Ride report which found that app-based companies “go to extraordinary lengths to construct an impenetrable legal armory around themselves, requiring workers, unions and/or the state to overcome innumerable hurdles should they wish to impose any employment obligations on the companies acting as ‘employers.’”

Even as they advocate for laws ensuring their full rights as workers and challenge exploitative company practices in courts, platform workers also are standing up for their rights around the world by taking collective action to strike and form unions and associations.

Taken for a Ride 2 asserts that collective action is key to advancing their rights. In one of its key recommendations, the report states: “Independent, democratic trade unions and worker organizations which represent ‘gig economy’ workers must be provided a seat at the table. They also hold more expertise than legislators, lawyers and academics about what ‘gig economy’ workers need from the law.”

In addition, the report notes that enforcement of laws covering platform workers is crucial because “this is an industry in which employers have demonstrated over and over again that irrespective of what judges say, or the extent to which they are lambasted in the press, they are willing to flout laws unfavorable to them. Because the price of doing so has not been high enough.”

Read the full report.

High-Level, Global Initiative: Worker Rights Fundamental to Democracy

High-Level, Global Initiative: Worker Rights Fundamental to Democracy

Solidarity Center
Solidarity Center
High-Level, Global Initiative: Worker Rights Fundamental to Democracy
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In a powerful demonstration of support for strengthening worker rights to ensure thriving democracies and prosperous economies, representatives from governments, unions and philanthropic organizations met in Washington, D.C., yesterday to renew their commitment to the global initiative, M-POWER (Multilateral Partnership for Organizing, Worker Empowerment, and Rights).

US Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh attends the global launch of the Multilateral Partnership for Organizing, Worker Empowerment, and Rights (M-POWER) at the US Department of Labor.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh makes the connection between worker rights and democracy. Credit: Department of Labor / Alyson Fligg

“Labor rights are fundamental to democracy,” said U.S. Labor Secretary Martin Walsh, opening the event before a packed room. “The collective voice of workers is fundamental to democracy. And strong labor movements are fundamental to democracy,” he said, remarks echoed by participants throughout the event.

Launched in December 2021, M-POWER is part of the U.S. Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal involving a partnership of governments, global and national labor organizations, philanthropic institutions and civil society stakeholders cooperating to advance freedom of association and collective bargaining in the global economy through actions such as standing up for and standing with labor activists and worker organizations under threat.

“When workers have a seat at the table, trade unions can advocate for better protections, better wages better and better laws that protect them,” said USAID Director Samantha Power. Speaking via recorded video, Power said USAID is contributing $25 million to the initiative, which, at $130 million, is the largest the U.S. government has made to advance worker rights globally.

“The M-POWER initiative lifts up the voice of workers who are fighting on the front lines for democracy,” said Cathy Feingold, deputy president of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) which, along with the U.S. Labor Department, is M-POWER co-chair. The initiative creates “the power to shape policies that affect workers and their environment. Protecting that power has never been more important,” she said, citing examples of brutal government attacks on workers and their unions in countries such as Belarus. Feingold also is AFL-CIO International director.

Another country where workers have been under brutal assault is Myanmar, following a government takeover by a military junta in February 2021. Speaking from outside the country in one of several video clips of workers shown throughout the event, Khaing Zar Aung, president of the Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar (IWFM), said “freedom of association is very important for Myanmar, for workers.

“If we don’t have freedom of association, we cannot organize and hear the voice of the workers.”

Commitment to Action

Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau moderating an M-Power panel in Washington, DC

Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau moderates a panel on putting M-POWER into action. Credit: Department of Labor /Alyson Fligg

Leaders of global unions and representatives of the U.S. government and philanthropic organizations turned to concrete examples of worker power in the panel, “Commitment to Action: the M-POWER Agenda for Worker Empowerment.”

“While human rights has long been considered a bedrock of democracy, worker rights has not received credit for the part it plays in ensuring more democratic societies,” said Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau, panel moderator.

Zingiswa Losi, president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), shared the union’s efforts for adoption of Convention 190, the International Labor Organization (ILO) treaty to end gender-based violence and harassment at work, and its successful efforts to push the South African government to ratify it.

“We strongly believe if we are to transform the workplace, we must ensure that when women go to work, women must be empowered equally as men,” she said. Losi discussed how South African unions work with government and business to improve worker rights, a model like M-POWER in which “through collaboration, we can meet challenges.” COSATU is a long-time Solidarity Center partner.

Describing the struggle of domestic workers to win their rights on the job, Elizabeth Tang, general secretary of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), said the first hurdle is getting lawmakers and the public to recognize them as workers. “They don’t think of domestic workers as workers because they are so invisible, and so just as they don’t think of them as workers they don’t think of them as eligible for labor rights.”

Tang outlined how domestic workers came together from around the world to create IDWF, which has grown from tens of thousands of members to some 650,000 in the past 10 years. This experience showed that workers having “a seat at the table is vital to see worker rights advancement,” a goal M-POWER has made central to its outreach.

Philanthropy & Government Working Together See Big Results

Sarita Gupta, vice president of the Ford Foundation, said combing philanthropic work with government resources was essential given the growing threats to the right of freedom of association and collective bargaining. “Achieving change at scale is impossible without the government,” she said.

Ford is among philanthropic organizations working together through FORGE, Funders Organized for Rights in the Global Economy, to support worker rights. “We have long known that democracy is incomplete if workers lack a say in their workplace,” Gupta said. “Worker voice is democracy.”

Erin Barclay, senior bureau official in the U.S. State Department’s Democracy, Human Rights and Labor division, said the appointment last week of Kelly Fay Rodriguez as special representative for International Labor Affairs was among the commitments the U.S. government has made in its global labor rights efforts. Rodriguez’s experience working in the international labor movement includes the Solidarity Center.

The initiative also includes an urgent action component to protect labor activists and organizations facing threats, because the variety of threats workers face mean they are most effectively addressed by a “diversity of tools,” said Molly McCoy, U.S. Labor Department assistant deputy undersecretary of international affairs.

AFT President Randi Weingarten, whose U.S.-based teachers’ union has long been committed to advancing global labor rights, put it this way: “Our responsibility as a global labor movement is to do more than speak, it is to act” to defend “fundamental rights like the right of association, like the right to collectively bargain.”

Labor ministers from Argentina and Canada joined the event to highlight how their governments are supporting and enhancing worker rights. Their countries are among Germany South Africa and Spain taking part in the initiative.

Lesotho Garment Workers Stand Up to Gender Violence at Work, Communities

Lesotho Garment Workers Stand Up to Gender Violence at Work, Communities

Solidarity Center
Solidarity Center
Lesotho Garment Workers Stand Up to Gender Violence at Work, Communities
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Thousands of mostly women garment workers in Lesotho who produce jeans and knitwear for the global market are standing up to gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) at their factories, homes and communities after participating in education and awareness training, part of a pathbreaking, worker-centered program negotiated in part by the Solidarity Center. And, as a result of the trainings, they now are taking on new leadership roles in their unions.

“What we’ve seen is workers not just talking about what’s happening in the workplace but taking those conversations to the community and being involved in conversations around changing laws governing marriage and property,” says Solidarity Center Africa Regional Director Chris Johnson. “Since the workshops and investigations of misconduct, workers see that this is real, and also have demanded more from their own unions.”

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Lesotho unions and women’s rights organizations joined with the Solidarity Center, NGOs and the employer and brands in Lesotho to achieve a dignified workplace for women garment workers. Credit: Solidarity Center / Shawna Bader-Blau

The program stems from an unprecedented 2019 agreement in which Lesotho-based unions and women’s rights groups, major fashion brands and international worker rights organizations, including the Solidarity Center, negotiated an agreement with the factory owner, Nien Hsing Textiles, to end rampant GBVH at multiple factories in Lesotho. 

As part of the program, which launched in 2021 following pandemic-related delays, garment workers also helped craft a Program Code of Conduct and have access to a complaint and investigation process independent of the employer.

The agreement is legally binding, a key reason for its success. Crucially, it recognizes that the freedom to form unions and act collectively is a prerequisite for other elements of the program. It protects union organizing and prohibits anti-union retaliation, addressing years of hostility by management toward the factory unions, which are one of the most powerful tools to combat GBVH. 

Garment Workers in New Roles as Community Activists

The interactive workshops, led by union leaders and women’s rights advocates, facilitated discussion of GBVH and workers’ role in changing the culture in the factories to end harassment and abuse. Some 6,500 workers, managers and supervisors in several factories have participated in the education and training sessions.

The training process itself was transforming, says Nhlanhla Mabizela, Solidarity Center field program specialist for Lesotho.

Some of the union women trainers had never spoken before a group, “but through this program, we were asking them to facilitate and talk about something that was very difficult and we were also asking them to stand in front of people and talk about a very closed issue,” Mabizela says. Now, they “have gained confidence through this program.

“They can stand in their full presence and be able to address people and talk about fundamental issues that need to be addressed.”

Even as the incidence of GBVH in the factories has been substantially reduced and perpetrators punished, garment workers have taken the information beyond their workplaces to their homes and communities, where they are championing their right to safe environments. They have internalized the curricula and make examples that people can relate to in their own communities, Mabizela says.

Says Johnson: “Women are saying, ‘We are employed by largest private-sector employer in the country that recognizes our humanity. That should not stop once we go past the gates of the factory.’”

Women garment workers are now publicly linking the scourge of gender-based violence and harassment at the workplace with a 1903 law that defines women as minors with no inheritance rights. “They took this issue—in a conservative, very patriarchal society—and went on a radio show to talk about how bad the law is,” he says.

Mabizela says he has heard garment workers talk about how the process has given them a voice, telling him, “I am a person today because of this program.”

“Now they see themselves as worthy,” he says. “They are now comfortable dressing the way they dress, walking the way they walk. They were used to conforming to how ladies are supposed to be. Now they are embracing who they are.”

Women Now Leading Their Unions

With knowledge of their rights and their success in acting collectively to protect those rights when challenging inequality in the workplace, more and more women are taking leadership roles in their unions, standing for union election and actively participating in decision-making.

Although 85 percent of garment workers in Lesotho are women, union leadership traditionally has been comprised of male leaders with experience in mining and heavy industry. Since the training, “workers have demanded more from their own unions,” says Johnson. The three unions involved in the program all recently held elections, with women taking key leadership positions, including president and first president.

With unions more fully representative of their membership, women leaders have helped strengthen the Lesotho union movement and, in doing so, are generating stronger connections with South African trade unions.

With the Solidarity Center support, garment workers from Lesotho met their counterparts in South Africa and they will now work together to address the challenges of border factories. As companies seek to pay lower wages and fewer benefits, garment factories are setting up short-term facilities in South African border towns where regulations are minimal. By working together, unions from the two countries can build worker activism in these areas to demand decent work.

“South African unions are clear about their desire to work with their counterparts in Lesotho,” says Johnson. “That’s in response to the new level of union activism in Lesotho.”

Ending Gendered Brutality, Building Democracy

Lesotho unions report police violence against workers rallying for scheduled minimum wage increases on May 17, with police shooting 12 workers—including two children aged 7 and 9 years in Maputsoe and Maseru—and beating and arresting others.

Striking workers at Lesotho garment factories were attacked and several killed by police in 2021.

During a 2021 strike in which garment workers implored the government to make good on promised incremental wage increases, several women were killed and others, including children, injured by special government forces. For the women union members, the gendered aspect of the assault was clear. 

So, when the U.S. Embassy asked the Lesotho government about its response to state violence and human trafficking and the government did not respond, garment workers joined with the police corrections associations to meet with government officials. The stakes were high—without a response, the United States could delist Lesotho from the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a trade preference agreement covering the country’s textile industry. Their successful intervention—union members pointed out that losing AGOA would crush jobs and generate more crime—resulted in a government response and Lesotho’s continued participation in AGOA.

“In Lesotho, we are seeing that as people grow in confidence, they have conversations with their comrades that is influencing how the trade union is viewed and in the power the trade union has in society,” says Mabizela. People in communities “are witnessing how a trade union is concerned about the livelihood of society at large. That on its own is a very powerful and very significant role.”

16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence STARTS NOW!

16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence STARTS NOW!

Solidarity Center
Solidarity Center
16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence STARTS NOW!
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As the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign gets underway, women trade unionists worldwide are building on their momentum to end sexual harassment and gender violence at the workplace.

In Georgia, for instance, the Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC) “pays huge attention to awareness-raising activities on gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace,” says Raisa Liparteliani, GTUC deputy chairperson.

Gender.C190 graphic for 16 Days 2022A key GTUC focus is pushing for government ratification of Convention 190, the International Labor Organization (ILO) treaty addressing GBVH. Over the past year, GTUC, a Solidarity Center partner, created an accessible brochure explaining C190 and distributed it among workers and employers. Together with the Infrastructure Construction Companies’ Association, the confederation developed a GBVH train-the-trainer program for managers and human relations specialists in the industry.

GTUC’s work in strengthening national anti-discrimination clauses and more clearly defining sexual harassment in the country’s labor code has resulted in a big step forward for government ratification of C190, which now is in a high-level action plan.

“GTUC will continue a large-scale campaign for ratification C190, which is an efficient tool to reduce existing gender inequalities in the Georgian labor market and ensure access to equal, decent working conditions for all workers in Georgia, including those working informally,” says Liparteliani.

The annual 16 Days campaign, launched in 1991 by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL), is now an internationally recognized time to highlight gender-based violence and starts November 25. It culminates on December 10, International Human Rights Day. (Check out the organization’s Action Menu for 16 Days campaign.)

Union Activist Mobilize Around C190

Since ILO adoption of C190 in 2019, union leaders have conducted extensive education and awareness training among members, a process that has mobilized members to confront GBVH at their workplaces through collective bargaining and champion ratification of C190. The convention must be ratified by individual governments to be in force in each country. So far, 22 countries have ratified it, including Albania, Argentina, Nigeria and South Africa.

The ILO, which includes representatives of workers, governments and employers, adopted C190 after women trade unionists and feminist activists worked for more than a decade for its passage in a campaign led by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the Solidarity Center and other labor allies.

Solidarity Center graphic with South African gender activist Brenda Modise“With this convention, we’re trying to address violence that is geared toward workers,” says Brenda Modise. “It doesn’t matter whether you are a man, a woman, old, young, LGBTQ community or anyone, but we are addressing violence and harassment in the world of work against all workers.” Modise, a social justice officer with the domestic workers union, Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA), spoke with Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau on the latest Solidarity Center Podcast. The episode also features authors of a new book, “Stopping Gender-Based Violence and Harassment at Work: The Campaign for an ILO Convention.”

On the Solidarity Center Podcast, co-authors Jane Pillinger and Robin Runge share how union women who work at factories, on farms, in restaurants, taxis and offices successfully campaigned for C190 and describe the powerful movement they created with human rights organizations, feminist organizations, disability rights organizations and others around the world. The episode includes a clip from an earlier interview with Modise, who describes her experiences on the front lines of the campaign.

Workers in Informal Economy Most Vulnerable

While comprehensive analyses on the prevalence of gender-based violence and harassment are needed, individual studies consistently show a high rate of GBVH at work. In a recent survey in Ghana, seven out of 10 Ghanaians say they have experienced at least one form of violence or harassment at the workplace.

The survey, commissioned by the country’s Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations, found the majority of violence and harassment at work occurs in the informal sector, where women workers are especially vulnerable, working in homes as domestic workers, in markets as vendors and in agriculture.

Recent union campaigns by Solidarity Center partners among agricultural workers in Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia are seeking to end the rampant sexual harassment and violence women experience in crowded and unsafe trucks and other forms of transport they must take to reach the fields.

Solidarity Center graphic for ratification of Convention 190 to end gender-based violence and harassment at workDuring the COVID-19 pandemic, women, particularly those in the informal economy, were especially vulnerable to GBVH at the workplace. At the recent ITUC Congress, the Solidarity Center convened a panel of union activists who discussed how the pandemic affected women in the world of work and discussed strategies to increase social protections and expand them to workers who have not previously been covered, especially marginalized groups.

Speaking on the panel, Liparteliani said that in 2022, the GTUC “developed research with the support of Solidarity Center on impact of the pandemic on women in three sectors: textile, service and health care,” recommending social protection with a special focus on gender-based violence and harassment.

Caroline Khamati Mugalla, executive director of the East African Trade Union Confederation (EATUC) and Rosana Fernandes, leader of the Chemical Workers Union of São Paulo, Brazil also spoke on the panel, A New Social Contract for an Inclusive, Equitable Recovery.

Giving Tuesday: Donate $100 and Receive Free Book!

Giving Tuesday: Donate $100 and Receive Free Book!

Solidarity Center
Solidarity Center
Giving Tuesday: Donate $100 and Receive Free Book!
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When women agricultural workers in Morocco joined to form their first union and negotiate a contract that established gender equality and prohibited sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence on the job, their collective action followed years of Solidarity Center training and support.

Stopping Gender-Based Violence at Work book coverThis GivingTuesday offers a chance to support violence-free workplaces—and all Solidarity Center efforts to ensure workers everywhere have dignity on the job. Giving Tuesday is not just one day—it is a global social movement that fuels more generosity in service to building a more just and equitable world.

“All of these things depend on the support of individuals like you who believe that labor rights are human rights, that all workers deserve dignity—and that unions make this real for workers,” says Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau.

In honor of #GivingTuesday, donate $100 to the Solidarity Center and you will receive a signed copy of the new book, “Stopping Gender-Based Violence and Harassment at Work.”

DONATE

You can hear  from the authors of Stopping Gender-Based Violence and Harassment at Work on the latest Solidarity Center Podcast and find out more about our work on ending gender-based violence and harassment at work.

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