Brazilian Union Leader Alexsandro Faria Assassinated

Brazilian Union Leader Alexsandro Faria Assassinated

Afro-Brazilian union leader and city councilman Alexsandro Faria was murdered on October 13, 2021. Known as Sandro do Sindicato–or Sandro from the Union–Faria was on his way to a worker assembly when he was shot dead while driving a van in Duque de Caxias, the section of Rio de Janeiro where he lived.

Faria was the third city councilor in Duque to be killed this year. In 2018, Marielle Franco, a progressive Afro-Brazilian and lesbian city councilor representing one of Rio’s poorest districts, was assassinated, leading to global denunciations.

Faria’s union issued the following statement concerning his murder:

SITICOMMM (Union of Workers in Civil Construction, Industrial Assembly, Furniture, Marble and Granite and Wicker), repudiates the cowardly murder of fellow union leader and city councilor Alexsandro Silva Faria, Sandro do Sindicato.

All SITICOMMM leaders are in solidarity with his family and friends and deeply regret the loss of their loved one.

We emphasize the daily struggle of our comrade Sandro in defense of workers, especially in our city of Duque de Caxias, while he was acting as Union Director.

We also highlight his brief role as elected councilor with the support of 3,247 voters. In a short time in office, he was already bringing changes to the entire city, especially to the Pilar neighborhood.

Comrade Sandro is the third city councilor murdered this year in our municipality. These and other crimes need to be elucidated by the police, as they are a serious attack on the rule of law and democracy. These barbaric crimes cannot go unpunished!

Black, humble, who fought tirelessly for the workers, Sandro do Sindicato.

We want an answer! #SandroVive #SandroVive #SandroVive

“This is a huge loss,” says Solidarity Center Brazil Country Program Director Gonzalo Martinez de Vedia. “Sandro was a worker who moved up to lead a union, an Afro-Brazilian whose connections to the grassroots brought him to public office. That his career ended this way and that he is the third not to finish his term in that same position due to murder sends a troubling message to others aspiring to that path who come from similar backgrounds.”

The union is following the investigation into Faria’s murder closely. The International Trade Union Confederation ranks Brazil among the 10 worst countries in the world for worker rights, noting two murders of union leaders in 2020 as one of the drivers of this ranking.

Faria was buried at the Nossa Senhora do Pilar Cemetery, in Duque de Caxias, Thursday, October 14, 2021.

‘Climate Justice Is for Everyone,’ Say Unions

‘Climate Justice Is for Everyone,’ Say Unions

Climate justice activists are increasingly under attack across the globe by governments acting in concert with private interests, a trend that threatens civic freedoms for all, says the United Nation’s special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association in a new report.

UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and of association Clément N. Voule

UN Special Rapporteur Clément N. Voule delivered the report to the UN General Assembly last week and then discussed its findings at a virtual side event October 15.  At the event, Voule outlined the escalating threats to climate activists and their organizations, including criminalization of peaceful protests—the foundation of grassroots human rights advocacy campaigns. Of special concern, he said, are the use of state agencies and legislatures by private interests to impede or eliminate environmental defenders through physical attacks, intimidation, imprisonment and other judicial harassment, as well as restrictions on funding and travel to international climate justice venues.

More than 70 percent of human rights defenders killed each year are standing up for the environment, he said.

The report found a pattern of escalating threats that are undermining the effectiveness of environmental activists and their organizations worldwide, such as:

  • Violence and intimidation
  • The use of national security laws to surveil, charge or imprison environmental activists
  • An increasing number of bans and restrictions against formerly legal protest methods, such as road blocking
  • Ramped-up public smear campaigns that destroy activists’ reputations by painting them as extremists, foreign agents or terrorists

The report cited “powerful actors, including transnational fossil fuel, extractive, agribusiness and financial institutions,” that are pressuring governments to weaken their climate response and which “have supported parastatal organizations engaging in a variety of campaigns against climate justice activists, including online and direct violence.”

However, said Voule at the side event, “We must change the narrative. Environmental activists are not the enemy.”

The side event was led by Voule in cooperation with Earthrights International, European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL), Geneva Academy, Greenpeace International, International Center for Not-For-Profit Law (ICNL), International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and the Solidarity Center. The event was moderated by Greenpeace International Legal Counsel Daniel Simon. Presenters included Permanent Mission of Costa Rica to the UN in New York Ambassador Rodrigo Carazo; Permanent Mission of Ireland to the UN in Geneva Ambassador Michael Gaffey; Earthrights International Climate Change Policy Adviser Natalia Gomez; First Nation Couchiching and U.S.-based Giniw Collective Founder Tara Houska; economist and Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) Labor Market Policy Coordinator Lebogang Mulaisi and Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth Jayathma Wickramanayake.

COSATU Labor Market Policy Coordinator Lebogang Mulaisi

COSATU is joining the climate justice fight, said panelist Lebogang Mulaisi, because working people—especially those in the informal sector unfairly unprotected by labor laws and excluded from social safety nets—are the group most impacted by climate change. Unions are natural allies of defenders of community environmental rights because workers are from communities, she said.

“Climate justice is for everyone, and climate justice is now,” she said.

Unions will ally with the environmental justice movement to defend everyone’s rights, Mulaisi added, because they can only fight effectively for decent jobs while retaining the right to legally mobilize “mass social power” when negotiations at the conference table fail.

All states must ensure that all workers are guaranteed the right to associate, including the right to strike, and to bargain collectively at all levels, including over matters related to climate change and just transitions, recommends the report.

Unions Are Integral to the Climate Justice Movement

The report finds that unions are integral to states’ efforts to meet the objectives of the legally-binding Paris Agreement, which calls for states to “respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights” and rights of indigenous peoples, as well as to take into account “the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities.”

Unions are helping states achieve these objectives by:

  • Advocating for a just-transition agenda, which is a worker-led framework demanding a fair and democratic approach from governments that are shifting their economies to sustainable production—including application of a range of social interventions that are needed to secure worker rights and livelihoods
  • Advancing a climate justice agenda and influencing employers at workplace, sectoral, national and international levels to transition to clean energy and address environmental degradation.

The effectiveness of workers and unions to drive inclusive climate solutions is being hampered by issues that must be addressed and resolved, including:

  • Regular exclusion of unions and workers from critical climate discussions and policy design and planning, such as those associated with nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and job-loss mitigation projects developed under the Paris Agreement
  • Through the exclusion of large swaths of workers from labor laws, barriers to those workers’ right to exercise freedom of association and peaceful assembly—with migrant workers and those employed in agricultural or informal sectors, or by foreign investors, being especially vulnerable.

Governments and employers must engage with workers and their organizations to develop climate and just transition policies, says the report because “[a]ddressing the climate crisis and ensuring a just transition require the existence of a vibrant and dynamic civil society.”

Podcast: Jordan Agricultural Workers Win Rights@Work!

Podcast: Jordan Agricultural Workers Win Rights@Work!

Some of the most essential workers are also among the most overlooked—the women and men who plant, harvest and transport our fruits and vegetables, ensuring our tables are full every day, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Worldwide, they also are among workers with the fewest legal protections and rights on the job. On the latest Solidarity Center Podcast, Hamada Abu Nijmeh describes how agricultural workers in Jordan collectively campaigned for—and won—a landmark law that will bring them safer jobs, overtime pay, 14 days annual paid leave and 14 days paid sick leave.

The workers, the majority of whom are women, also won 10 weeks paid maternity leave. Significantly, the legislation also covers migrant agricultural workers, who frequently are not protected by countries’ labor laws.

Abu Nijmeh is director of the Jordan-based Workers’ House for Studies, and with the Agricultural Workers Union, led the campaign for this first-ever legislation.

“So I can proudly say that it is through the efforts of many that we have been able to achieve this landmark achievement,” says Abu Nijmeh. “I can say without a doubt that this is a historic achievement because since Jordan was founded, agricultural workers have not been included in the labor law until now.”

Agricultural workers won this victory despite the legally limited ability of all workers to form unions in Jordan, says Abu Nijmeh. He tells Solidarity Center Podcast host Shawna Bader-Blau that the union’s next steps include winning the fundamental right for workers to freely form unions and bargain collectively.

“The trade union of agricultural workers tried to register [with the government] and, of course, they have been denied and they took it to court,” he says. “The best way to protect the agriculture sector and any future trade union in the agricultural sector is to fix the problem with the entire system.”

Listen to This & All Solidarity Center Episodes

Listen to this and all Solidarity Center episodes here or at iTunesSpotifyAmazonStitcherCastbox or wherever you subscribe to your podcasts.

The Solidarity Center Podcast, “Billions of Us, One Just Future,” highlights conversations with workers (and other smart people) worldwide shaping the workplace for the better.

Check out recent episodes of The Solidarity Center Podcast.

Podcast: Young Workers Struggle to Find Good Jobs

Podcast: Young Workers Struggle to Find Good Jobs

Around the world, young people with few job options are forced to take whatever work they can find, no matter how low the pay or insecure the work. Many sign on with platform-based jobs to get by. Others leave their country with the hope of finding decent, secure work elsewhere, looking for a chance to fairly compete on a level playing field.

The latest Solidarity Center Podcast takes a look at what’s happening in Serbia, where one in four young people are not employed and not in school, and how unions there are meeting the challenges.

“The number one issue for all countries in the region and all young people is decent employment and the potential to find a job for each person in a way that is transparent and efficient and without corruption,” says Bojana Bijelovic Bosanac, a political scientist and expert adviser in the International Department at Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia (CATUS).

Bosanac tells Solidarity Center Executive Director and podcast host Shawna Bader-Blau about a union-lead survey among young workers in the Balkan region during the pandemic in which many reported being unpaid for their platform work as programmers, customer service reps, telecenter workers and delivery drivers, with nowhere to turn for support. Making the union their home is a key goal for CATUS and unions across Serbia.

“When we talk to young people, we want them to know that they are part of the union. They are the future of the union. We are inviting them always to approach, to come, to participate and to be leaders of the union.”

The Solidarity Podcast Available Wherever You Get Podcasts

Listen to this and all Solidarity Center episodes here or at iTunesSpotifyAmazonStitcherCastbox or wherever you subscribe to your podcasts.

The Solidarity Center Podcast, “Billions of Us, One Just Future,” highlights conversations with workers (and other smart people) worldwide shaping the workplace for the better.

Check out recent episodes of The Solidarity Center Podcast.

This podcast was made possible by the Ford Foundation and the generous support of the American people through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under Cooperative Agreement No.AID-OAA-L-16-00001 and the opinions expressed herein are those of the participant(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID/USG.

Podcast: Nigerian Informal Workers Demand Decent Work

Podcast: Nigerian Informal Workers Demand Decent Work

Worldwide, 2 billion workers perform essential work selling goods in street markets, driving taxis or cleaning homes. The vast majority of these jobs are low wage, with no security and no paid sick leave or health care.

In Nigeria, where more than 80 percent of the population works in informal economy jobs, these workers are joining together to fight for their right to decent work through the Federation of Informal Workers’ Organizations of Nigeria (FIWON), a nationwide association with hundreds of branches across the country.

On the first Solidarity Center Podcast this season, Solidarity Center Executive Director and podcast host Shawna Bader-Blau talks with Gbenga, FIWON founder and general secretary. Gbenga describes how informal economy workers are using their collective power, building coalitions with allied organizations and making key gains, like ending evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing unfair, burdensome taxation on vendors and, importantly, winning recognition by government and society that they must have the same rights and respect as all workers.

“Poor working people must have access to basic social security, but it doesn’t start with that,” says Gbenga, who goes by one name. “It starts with even the right to work without fear. The right to work without harassment and unnecessary molestation. The right to access public spaces as commonwealth, as something that belongs to all of us.”

Tune In to The Solidarity Center Podcast!

Listen to this and all Solidarity Center episodes here or at iTunes, SpotifyAmazon, Stitcher, Castbox or wherever you subscribe to your podcasts.

The Solidarity Center Podcast, “Billions of Us, One Just Future,” highlights conversations with workers (and other smart people) worldwide shaping the workplace for the better.

Check out recent episodes of The Solidarity Center Podcast.

This podcast was made possible by the Ford Foundation and the generous support of the American people through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under Cooperative Agreement No.AID-OAA-L-16-00001 and the opinions expressed herein are those of the participant(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID/USG.

Unions Protect Agricultural Workers’ Rights: Report

Unions Protect Agricultural Workers’ Rights: Report

Where unions establish collective bargaining, they initiate the strongest mechanism for protecting agricultural workers’ rights, health and dignity according to a new report prepared for the Solidarity Center by researchers at Penn State’s Center for Global Workers’ Rights (CGWR).

“Fighting for Work with Dignity in the Fields: Agriculture Global Supply Chains in Morocco, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico,” seeks to understand employment relations in agricultural global supply chains and the struggle for dignity and empowerment of workers who are providing the world’s food. The report analyzes five agribusiness sectors including palm oil in Colombia, bananas in Guatemala, strawberries in Mexico, and grapes, olives and wine in Morocco.

In all four countries and five sectors, workers’ collective action has been “almost entirely responsible for increasing respect for workers’ rights” in a context where: 1) governments are constraining worker rights in favor of maximum employer flexibility in support of national, export-oriented development policies and, 2) global retailers are putting downward pressure on wages by curtailing the amount of capital that production workers might negotiate over with their employer for wage increases.

Researchers found that—where established—unions are performing the task of government to protect workers’ legal rights, increasing stability in otherwise precarious employment sectors and providing a mechanism for women to advance gender equality in job status and earnings as well as address rampant gender-based violence associated with their jobs—including transportation to and from the workplace. For example:

  • In Colombia, unions negotiated agreements that increased direct hiring by three palm oil production companies, pushing back against the sector’s rampant use of labor subcontracting, which denies subcontracted workers union representation and provides them lower pay and more precarious work.
  • In Guatemala, union representation in the banana sector means employer compliance with laws on working hours, remuneration, provision of personal protective equipment, voluntary overtime, protection from sexual abuse and freedom of association.
  • In Mexico, while not achieving collective bargaining, the 2015 strike during strawberry harvest compelled employers to increase wages and registration workers in the national social security system, e.g., toward compliance with laws requiring living wages and consistent registration.
  • In Morocco, the country’s labor law is enforced in grape, wine and olive oil production due to the agreement secured for workers by the Confédération Démocratique du Travail (CDT).

Addressing inequality and gender-based violence and harassment

Women, who comprise between 50 percent and 70 percent of the informal workforce in commercial agriculture, are especially vulnerable to sexual harassment, physical abuse and other forms of gender-based violence at work. Unions are addressing the gender-based violence that is common in all five sectors studied, as well as gendered pay discrimination and division of jobs that reduces women workers’ earnings, as follows:

  • In Guatemala’s banana sector, women workers covered by union contracts report 50 percent less incidence of sexual harassment than peers at nonunion plantations because union women “can inform the company,” a female unionist explained.
  • Women in Mexico’s strawberry sector reported that the 2015 strike helped reduce sexual abuse at work.
  • While Moroccan law does not prescribe comprehensive equitable treatment, women’s participation in CDT negotiations with Zniber-Diana resulted in clauses requiring equity.

Although union density remains extremely low in all sectors studied, the report concludes that, “[w]here workers are able to unionize and collectively bargain, conditions improve, wages increase and gender-based violence is curtailed,” and that increased union density and collective bargaining coverage will expand these improvements.

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