Benefiting hundreds of miners, forklift drivers and other workers, the United Workers Union of Liberia (UWUL) and ArcelorMittal Liberia (AML)—part of global steel giant ArcelorMittal group—signed their fourth labor contract in Monrovia December 14. The three-year contract includes a 14.5 percent wage increase over the duration of the contract as well as a sexual harassment clause to protect workers, especially women. The contract continues workers’ effort to close the wage gap between resident and expatriate workers, who can receive up to 10 times the salary for the same work.
“While these unions have very little in the way of material resources, they have shown themselves to be unstoppable when it comes to building union power and mobilizing their members,” says Fred Redmond, president of the United Steelworkers (USW), which supports organizing efforts with UWUL, a Solidarity Center ally.
According to Redmond, UWUL is having significant impact on workers in Liberia beyond its footprint through a “surge of organizing” at several new mining operations and—through a new contract—providing momentum for workers currently negotiating with Firestone Liberia and Golden Veroleum’s palm oil farms.
Two wildcat strikes broke out at an AML mine in Yekepa, Nimba County, earlier this year when workers protested low wages, wage theft, job insecurity, lack of healthcare, poor housing and lack of schooling for workers’ children. Members of the Liberia House of Representatives last month voted to audit AML to investigate its compliance with its Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) with the government of Liberia, which requires the company to establish and maintain medical and education facilities for employees, their families and the broader community, and to prioritize the employment and development of local Liberians.
In Liberia, the Solidarity Center and the USW partner with workers in key extractive industries such as mining, timber and rubber, as well as with domestic workers, to enable unions to better serve their members and organize additional workers. UWUL began organizing AML in 2008 with training and support from the Solidarity Center and USW, winning the right to represent workers in 2009. The workers’ first agreement with AML was negotiated in 2012.
Недавно опубликованное Центром Солидарности видео о гендерном насилии на рабочем месте теперь доступно на русском языке.
Двухминутное видео объясняет формы гендерного насилия на рабочем месте, в том числе издевательства, словесные оскорбления и преследования, системный гендерный дисбаланс между работодателями и работниками, который позволяет работодателям использовать небезопасные условия труда и другие нарушения в отношении работников.
Работники, работодатели и представители государств в настоящее время обсуждают предлагаемую конвенцию (положение) Международной организации труда (МОТ), которая будет касаться насилия и домогательств на рабочем месте и данное видео заканчивается призывом к действию, присоединиться к кампании.
Узнайте больше о кампании «Остановить гендерное насилие на рабочем месте»!
Charoensak led the successful 2017 struggle for collective bargaining rights for collective bargaining rights for fast food workers at one of Thailand’s largest KFC franchises, in which 3,100 workers won a contract that includes an early retirement program, 23 meals provided by the company per year and motorcycle maintenance funds for delivery workers. The workers are among 2,400 members represented by the Cuisine and Service Workers’ Union, a Solidarity Center partner and IUF affiliate.
“I am proud to have advocated for human rights for the past seven years,” Charoensak said in a statement on the award, granted to 13 human rights defenders as part of International Human Rights Day December 10.
Charoensak has been leading the struggle for fast food workers across Thailand for nearly a decade. During negotiations at KFC, she was fired from her position at Yum! Thailand, which operates some of the KFC franchises.
As a manager at the corporation where she supervised up to a dozen restaurants, Charoensak says she began union organizing to rectify what she saw as a large pay disparity between front-line workers and managers. Ultimately two unions formed, one covering front-line employees and one for supervisors. Over the years, she says management also tried to end her union activism by offering her large sums of money, which she refused, and isolated her at work, giving her little to do—time she filled by completing a master’s degree in political science and addressing union members’ concerns.
More than five years after the Rana Plaza and Tazreen Fashion disasters killed more than a thousand garment workers and injured many more, workers in ready-made garment factories in Bangladesh still struggle to make ends meet. And even now, garment workers often are forced to work in unsafe and unhealthy conditions.
Workers recently interviewed by the Solidarity Center say their employers set harsh production demands with short timelines. In fact, following the government’s recent minimum wage increase from $63 a month to $95, management in some factories pre-emptively set higher production targets. As a result, workers face unbearable pressure to work more quickly and produce more.
Verbal abuse and insults, such as name calling, is routine, workers say.
Many, like Shefali, also suffer from severe health problems after working between 10 and 14 hours per day.
Shefali, who asked that her real name not be used for fear of retaliation, says she is unable to sleep for several hours at a stretch because of pain. Other workers who stand long hours on factory lines say they are unable to sit for extended periods because of joint pain.
Putting Solidarity Center Fire Safety Training into Practice
And for many workers, fire safety is still a danger in many factories. To address the issue, the Solidarity Center’s ongoing fire safety trainings have reached thousands of garment workers, who learn how to extinguish fires, provide first-aid during incidents and safely handle chemicals. They also learn how to identify risks in building safety, abrasions in wiring and machine equipment and how to report those risks to management to help prevent their factories from becoming another Rana Plaza.
The trainings also provide workers with a platform to come together and share their workplace hardships and strategies for improving their work environment.
Lucky, who participated in one of the safety trainings, has put the lessons into practice.
“Once, there was fire in our factory and everyone rushed at the gates to escape. I saw a pregnant woman who was injured, and I could not leave her there alone. It is not by fire that people die but from the struggle during escape that causes death. So, I grabbed another colleague of mine and went to her to help. I wrapped my scarf around her as quickly as possible and pulled her out to safety,” she said.
Lucky added: “In another instance, I helped put out a fire at my neighbor’s home when no one could do it. I dipped a sack in the nearby river and threw it over the gas burner. People were amazed and said, ‘How can a woman do this?’ I learned this from all the training sessions I participated in over the years. It was really fruitful as I implemented what I learned a number of times inside and outside of my workplace.”
Globalization has enabled corporations and governments to weaken rights protections and erode decent work around the world–to the detriment of workers and their ability to feed their families, enjoy safe workplaces and have a say in policies that affect their lives. This imbalance drives inequality and exploitation, across borders and along supply chains. And it is fueled by corporate legal strategies that codify and legitimatize the disenfranchisement of working people everywhere.
Because the legal menace to workers is global, the Solidarity Center is meeting the challenge with a global response.
Today, the Solidarity Center launches the only global network of union and worker rights lawyers and advocates, International Lawyers Assisting Workers (ILAW). By uniting legal practitioners and scholars, ILAW will increase effective representation of workers’ interests across jurisdictions and economic sectors; promote the exchange of information and ideas; and provide a venue for the diffusion of successful legal strategies to help turn back regressive developments that harm the interests of workers.
“Globally, the rules governing workers—including who can be categorized as workers—and their organizations are being contested. We founded the ILAW Network to organize lawyers and advocates to help ensure that new global rules are written for workers, not employers,” says Jeffrey Vogt, Solidarity Center Rule of Law director and ILAW board chair.
Designed to the hub for worker rights lawyers across the world, ILAW will facilitate new, innovative litigation, including transnational supply chain litigation and help spread the adoption of pro-worker legislation and defeat anti-worker laws. It will focus on corporate accountability in supply chains, migrant and informal worker rights, discrimination in all its forms, transnational collective bargaining, and workers’ right to exercise collective, trade union rights. The ILAW Network is supported by an advisory board, comprised of 20 lawyers from 20 countries, with expertise on a broad range of legal matters.
“We see this network as an intellectual bulwark against employer and government attacks on workers worldwide,” Vogt says.
ILAW is a membership network. Lawyers and legal advocates who support workers and/or their organizations, are urged to join here. ILAW can be followed on Twitter at @ILAW_Network.
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