Report: Collective Bargaining Transforms Workers’ Lives

Report: Collective Bargaining Transforms Workers’ Lives

Solidarity Center
Solidarity Center
Report: Collective Bargaining Transforms Workers' Lives
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A powerful new report shows that collective bargaining changes work and workers’ lives for the better. According to the report, workers in Honduras with collective bargaining agreements are less likely to feel compelled to migrate, less likely to face verbal abuse and earn more than workers without collective bargaining agreements. The Solidarity Center-supported report, “Bargaining for Decent Work and Beyond: Transforming Work and Lives Through Collective Bargaining Agreements in the Honduran Maquila Sector,” was published by the Center for Global Workers’ Rights.

“Collective bargaining ultimately is about transforming lives,” said Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau, who moderated a panel discussion launching the report. “Not only do better wages and working conditions result from collective bargaining, but workers report dignity and respect on the job for the first time through collective bargaining and unions.”

Report author Mark Anner, director of Pennsylvania State University Center for Global Workers’ Rights, highlighted some key findings of the report. He said: 

  • Workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement are 25.3 percent less likely to feel compelled to migrate than workers without a collective bargaining agreement.
  • Honduran garment workers with a collective bargaining agreement are 67 percent more likely to always have the choice to work overtime or not.
  • Workers not covered by a collective bargaining agreement are 20.3 percent more likely to face verbal abuse.
  • Female workers without a collective bargaining agreement are 10.7 percent more likely to face sexual harassment on the job.
  • Workers with collective bargaining agreements earn 7 percent more than workers without collective bargaining agreements. 

“Workers experience tangible and intangible benefits from having collective bargaining agreements,” Anner said. He quoted some workers as saying, “We are listened to now” and “Management shows us respect as workers.”

The report documents the expansion of collective bargaining agreements in the maquila sector, following a 2009 binding agreement between workers and a garment manufacturer. As of last year, 50,625 workers, mostly in the garment industry, were covered by 21 collective bargaining agreements in the Honduran export assembly sector.  

Bader-Blau emphasized that the report shows the importance of worker-driven research, as suggested by the Solidary Center.  “Unions lead and show outcomes to the rest of the world through the power of their own stories,” she said. 

Union leaders like Eva Argueta, a leader in organizing tens of thousands of garment workers in Honduras, led the process of connecting with workers to help them share their work experiences. 

Speaking on the panel, Argueta, representative for the General Workers Central (CGT, Honduras) and Maquila Organizing Project coordinator, described the process. “The person responding is much more likely to trust someone that they know who is doing the survey,” she said. “It can be a delicate thing because of the fear the boss might find out.”

Worker-leaders interviewed a total of 387 workers with and without collective bargaining agreements. 

Other panelists included Joel López, general secretary of the Independent Federation of Workers of Honduras (FITH), Tara Mathur, field director for the Americas at the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), and María Elena Sabillón, Solidarity Center senior coordinator in Honduras. 

As Sabillón shared in her remarks, “Collective bargaining agreements allow for real progress in both labor and human rights. CBAs today go beyond economic clauses. Unions are winning clauses on gender equality, combating gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work and respecting the dignity of each person. These CBAs are validating a broader rights-based approach.”

 

Amid War, Platform Workers in Ukraine Demand Decent Wages

Amid War, Platform Workers in Ukraine Demand Decent Wages

Platform delivery workers in Ukraine, many of them displaced from their homes, are demanding decent wages as they continue to work in the midst of war. 

On May 12, delivery drivers in Lviv went to Bolt Food’s headquarters to deliver their suggestions and seek an open dialogue with the company. Participants dressed to conceal their identities because they say the company has punished workers in the past with “robo-firings” and “robo-suspensions” by excluding them from the app. 

Many of the delivery riders in Lviv have fled cities impacted by the war in Ukraine. In several cases, they are homeless or the only breadwinners left for their families. 

In a video produced by Ukraine’s Labor Initiatives, workers describe their situations. 

“I am from Mykolaiv,” says one worker. “Mom and Dad lost their jobs there. I don’t have a place to live here and I don’t even have enough money to eat. Bolt … said they would support favorable conditions. Both for themselves and for couriers. But they simply did not warn anyone, removed the minimum pay, lowered all the ratios.”

“How are the IDPs supposed to live,” he asks, “who have no housing, no work [and] don’t have anything to eat?”

Another worker describes the deterioration in pay. “They took away the minimum payment for delivery. And the ratios were reduced by almost half. Here a colleague has calculated that it, approximately, will give a reduction of wages by 52 percent.”

Workers said the company has failed to explain the reasons for the changes. Meanwhile, workers who rely on cars and motorcycles and have to keep their vehicles fueled in order to work face rising gas prices. 

“Fuel is among my expenses,” said one worker. “Now I don’t know if I can even pay for it.”

The demands of these workers clearly show that platform-based companies abuse worker rights in extreme environments using the technology the companies have set up to maximize profits.

Delivery companies are “not regulated properly,” one delivery rider said. “Each service acts as they want. Some platforms employ people as ‘private entrepreneurs,’ some just saying ‘You are plugged into the platform” and you should be grateful for it. Because of that, many issues arise. 

“And if after all this,” he continued, “some trade unions … will be formed, that will be great. People should have the instrument to solve the issues. Strange as it may sound, that may even be worth their lives.”

Leaders: Gender-Based Violence and Harassment Requires Worker-Led Solutions

Leaders: Gender-Based Violence and Harassment Requires Worker-Led Solutions

Labor leaders, policymakers and stakeholders from around the world discussed efforts to prevent gender-based violence and harassment at the workplace at a panel discussion, “Ending Violence and Harassment in the World of Work” on Thursday, April 7. The panel was part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Global Deal conference, “A Better Future for Essential Workers.” 

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Sabina Dewan, president and executive director of the JustJobs Network moderated the panel. Speakers included: Philippe Symons, Sodexo chief ethics officer; Claudio Moroni, Argentina Minister of labor, employment and social security; Sandra Hassan, Canada deputy minister of labor; Shawna Bader-Blau, Solidarity Center executive director; Frances Onokpe, Federation of Informal Workers Organization of Nigeria program officer; and Joaquin Pérez Rey, Spain’s vice minister for employment and social security.

Moroni began the discussion by describing Argentina’s efforts to address workplace violence and harassment. “Argentina has a long history of confronting violence and harassment in the workplace,” Moroni said. “The labor ministry believes there’s no such thing as an effective standard unless it includes behavioral results.” 

To that end, Moroni said the ministry is working with female union leaders to include language in collective bargaining agreements to counter violence and develop a law to regulate the implementation of International Labor Organization Convention 190 (C190) in Argentina. Moroni closed his remarks by re-emphasizing the importance of concrete results. “Laws are not effective unless they are translated into concrete action. We are working to make sure these efforts are translated into specific conduct.”

Hassan said that Canada is in the process of C190, “One of our priorities is to continue making sure workplaces are safe and inclusive for everyone,” she said. “The ratification of C190 is a top priority of the government of Canada.” A year ago, Canada brought forth groundbreaking legislation to prevent violence and harassment in federal workplaces. “We also developed a fund that supports partner organization projects that develop sector-specific tools and practices to prevent violence and harassment in the workplace,” Hassan said. 

Bader-Blau described the Solidarity Center’s partnership with Lesotho-based trade unions and women’s rights groups, global fashion brands and international rights organizations to secure a safe and dignified workplace for women employed in the country’s predominantly female garment sector. The partnership resulted in a  precedent-setting program to comprehensively address rampant gender-based violence and harassment in garment factories.  The program was established by two negotiated and enforceable agreements to mandate education and awareness trainings for all employees and managers, an independent reporting and monitoring system, and remedies for abusive behavior.

“These agreements were signed among apparel brands to combat violence and harassment in Lesotho’s garment sector,” Bader-Blau said. “The agreements link businesses to a commitment to eliminate gender-based violence and harassment.

“The program is also focused on culture change,” Bader-Blau said. “Thousands of workers have participated in two-day training sessions about gender-based violence and harassment.” As part of the program, Workers Rights Watch “trains intake counselors who listen with empathy and are empowered to take action.” As a result, “workers are starting to believe that employers are committed to ending gender-based violence and harassment. “The lesson we learned is that worker-led solutions matter.”

Bader-Blau also described what’s needed to replicate the success in Lesotho. “We need to move from good global framework agreements to negotiated solutions that hold suppliers and buyers accountable, not voluntary codes of conduct. We need to hear from global brands if that’s what they want to do. We need to invest in systems that recognize that abuse is common, and we need to invest in systems that establish third-party interventions.”

The Global Deal is a multi-stakeholder initiative for social dialogue and inclusive growth–a partnership of governments, businesses and employers’ organizations, trade unions, civil society and other organizations. The aim of the Global Deal partnership is to benefit from and contribute to, a platform that highlights the value of social dialogue and strengthens existing cooperation structures.

Labor Leaders, Activists: Women Workers Critical in Driving Inclusive Climate Solutions

Labor Leaders, Activists: Women Workers Critical in Driving Inclusive Climate Solutions

Climate change and environmental degradation have exacerbated gender inequality and worsened existing inequities resulting from resource scarcity, conflict and climate-related shocks. Women workers—particularly those in the informal economy—bear significant burdens due to the impacts of the climate crisis.

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Trade union women, activists and advocates gathered on March 17 for a virtual panel to discuss the impacts of climate change on women workers and the importance of their inclusion in developing climate solutions. The panel was sponsored by HomeNet International, HomeNet South Asia, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Rutgers Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL), StreetNet, Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers and the Solidarity Center.

Sonia Mistry, Solidarity Center Global Lead on Climate Change and Just Transition, moderated the panel. She framed the discussion, saying, “There is no denying that the impacts of climate change are already being felt around the world, with many of the worst impacts being experienced by those who have contributed least to the problem.” Mistry outlined the panel’s objectives, including highlighting the impact of climate change on women workers, emphasizing the role of workers and their organizations as critical partners in driving worker-responsive climate solutions, and recognizing that climate action requires coalition-building across social movements. 

Navya D’Souza, Regional Coordinator for HomeNet South Asia, spoke about how climate change affects women workers in South Asia, where her organization represents 900,000 workers, 95 percent of whom are women. “Climate change is also a very, very gendered issue,’ she said. And home-based workers are seeing “an exponential increase in their already unfair burden of care work. This affects their ability to participate in the labor market.”

D’Souza said climate change also means more dangerous working conditions for home-based women workers. “Heat is rising, and because heat is rising, it affects our productivity,” she said. “We cannot work when it is too hot, and in urban settings, we live in crowded slum settlements. There is no respite from the heat, and we can’t go outside and work because it’s hot outside as well.”

D’Souza said HomeNet South Asia studied the impacts of climate change in South Asia by reaching out to 200 women across five locations in Bangladesh, India and Nepal. The study found that: 

  • 66 percent reported a loss of income due to heat and water stressors.
  • 33 percent reported health implications, such as waterborne diseases, and increased healthcare spending.
  • 47 percent reported an increase in unpaid care work, making it difficult for them to operate in the labor market.

A home-based worker focused on tailoring, pearl stringing and applying Kundan stones on fabric work, Sushma Mishra spoke of how climate change has impacted her work. “The roof of my house is made of cement, so it is very hot,” she said. “We face a very difficult situation in cold weather. It is very cold so we have to use electricity when working inside the house. We have to use lights. And there is no ventilation. There are no windows in the house. So that is a major challenge we are facing.”

Due to climate change, the frequency and severity of natural disasters also impact women workers. Albertina Simango, Vice President of Associação da Economia Informal de Moçambique (AEIMO) said, “Here in Mozambique particularly, because of the country’s geographic location, we have been suffering many natural events provoked by climate change. Just to give you an example, in less than 20 years, we have been hit by more than 15 climate events.”

Natural disasters, Simango said, have caused a steep increase in the growth of the informal sector. “Unfortunately, women are the base of the pyramid. The vulnerability of informal women workers is so bad that even children are affected,” she said. “I feel very sad to see women who lose everything they had because of climate events, and afterward they have to have their children negotiate and do business to help support the families.”

Additionally, women workers often work longer hours and face violence and harassment due to traditional gender roles.”They have to work very, very long hours to support their families. Some of them have to work 18 hours a day. This means getting up at 5 a.m. when it’s still dark and going back home at 9 p.m.”

According to Rina Begum, President of the Bangladesh Waste Pickers Union, environmental workers like waste pickers get short shrift. “Waste pickers keep the city clean, but they don’t get good prices. We have no value. If the government provided jobs, we could have a better life.” 

In Brazil, Carmen Helena Ferreira Foro, secretary-general, Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), said that the effects of climate change are exacerbated by industrial projects that do not consider the impact and are slow to benefit indigenous populations. “Everything is interconnected,” Foro said, “deforestation, water problems, rains — all the causes and effects of climate change impact the livelihoods of indigenous populations.”

“I am a family farmer from a part of the Amazon. I have to daily live with large projects in the Amazon region. They do not consider people’s lives. They exploit them and never redistribute the meaning of this energy,” she said.

“It took us 20 years to get any energy after they built a dam,” she said. “And now we are undergoing a new phase of building a waterway in the same river that was already affected.”

Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls, Regional Manager of the Shifting the Power Coalition, wrapped up the discussion by emphasizing the importance of including women workers in planning responses to climate-related disasters. “We’ve been working to ensure that women who have the knowledge, skills and capacity can articulate their needs and be at the table as they want to, and to be able to lead in disaster planning and response.

“The response aspect of disaster management is critical because the economic strategy, the recovery strategy, is vital at that stage,” Bhagwan-Rolls said. “The post-disaster needs assessment requires the feminist analysis, requires the visibility of women, particularly women workers in all the diversities presented by the speakers today.”

View the webinar in English, French, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Hindi.

 

Women Leaders at Forefront of Key Worker Rights Struggles

Women Leaders at Forefront of Key Worker Rights Struggles

Solidarity Center News
Solidarity Center News
Women Leaders at Forefront of Key Worker Rights Struggles
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As the world commemorates International Women’s Day, women workers around the world are leading struggles to safeguard democracy and improve wages and working conditions, often facing arrest or violence.

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Haiti

Women garment workers are on the front lines of the fight for a living wage in Haiti, where four-fifths of their day’s earnings are wiped out by necessities like food and transportation. This year, after not receiving an increase for more than three years and despite punishing inflation,  workers took to the streets to peacefully demonstrate for a minimum wage increase. They were met with police violence, including tear gas and live ammunition.

Berinette, a worker who was part of the February 9 and 10 demonstrations, spoke about the shocking police violence. “We thought they were protecting us and they were destroying us,” she said. “They shot rubber bullets and they fired tear gas at us. They beat us but, despite this, we didn’t fear and we were never afraid.”

Mexico 

In February, General Secretary María Alejandra Morales Reynoso led the National Independent Union for Workers in the Auto Industry (SINTTIA) to a landmark election victory in Mexico, when the independent union won the right to represent over 6,000 workers at a truck plant in Silao. 

In a union election with a 90 percent turnout, SINTTIA won with 4,192 votes out of 5,389 valid ballots. SINTTIA defeated the entrenched CTM labor group that had held the contract at the plant for 25 years and derived its strength from cultivating relationships with politicians and corporations while keeping wages low.

SINTTIA General Secretary Maria Alejandra Morales Reynoso Credit: Solidarity Center

Workers succeeded in making their voices heard despite attempts to buy votes and threats of violence against union leaders and activists. Just before voting began, three individuals threatened Reynoso and her family with harm if she showed up to vote. 

“They just came by my house, two men and a woman, telling me to send a statement saying neither I nor any other worker should show up tomorrow, or if not there will be problems,” said Morales Reynoso.

In a podcast interview with Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau, Morales Reynoso said the union’s victory “gave people hope, hope that it was possible to represent workers freely.

“We proved it’s possible to get organized and to fight for our rights and to leave behind the fear that we’re going to lose our jobs,” Morales Reynoso said. 

Myanmar

On February 1, one year after the overthrow of Myanmar’s democratically elected government by a military junta, Phyo Sandar Soe, general secretary of the Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar (CTUM), was among five-member presidium elected by the First People’s Assembly of the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC). Sandar is the youngest person and the only woman elected to the presidium.

Women workers played a leading role early on in the protests against the Myanmar coup, in which the country’s 450,000 garment workers were especially active in organizing civil disobedience and factory shutdowns. They have asked international corporate fashion brands to cease doing business in Myanmar until democracy is restored.

Myanmar, Sandar, CTUM assistant general secretary, military coup, unions, Solidarity Center

CTUM General Phyo Sanda Soe, Credit: Solidarity Center

An estimated 1,500 people have been killed since the military coup, and nearly 12,000 imprisoned, most tortured. The military junta especially targeted union leaders, arresting dozens, and many others fled the country or went into hiding. Demonstrating workers continue to be arrested under the pretense of spreading Covid-19 as Cambodian authorities repeatedly abuse the country’s COVID-19 law to break up the strike

Speaking from a safehouse, in a podcast interview with Bader-Blau, Sandar spoke of the strength of workers standing together despite repression and personal danger.

“We are facing a bloody crackdown, but all people protect each other. We are finding solutions to fight back. That’s why I want to tell our brothers and sisters to endure this duration because we have very high motivation to fight back against the junta, she said.”

Cambodia

In early January in Cambodia, Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees (LRSU) President Sithar Chhim was one of nine union leaders arrested during a peaceful strike and was violently taken away when she attempted to join her colleagues in a picket line at the NagaWorld hotel and casino. 

Hundreds of slot machine workers, dealers, housekeepers and technicians are on strike to demand the reinstatement of 365 workers who were fired months earlier. While management claimed the layoffs were due to COVID-19, union leaders say nearly all of those laid off were union leaders or members. 

The layoffs took place shortly after the union won a wage increase that boosted pay between 18 percent and 30 percent and secured the reinstatement of Chhim, who was suspended from her job in September 2019 for defending the right of a union member to wear a shirt with a message that called for higher wages.

Striking workers petitioned several embassies and consulates to contact the government about the arrests of union leaders and urge officials to respect human rights. 

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