‘TELEWORK IS NOT A SEPARATE FORM OF EMPLOYMENT,’ SAY UNIONS

‘TELEWORK IS NOT A SEPARATE FORM OF EMPLOYMENT,’ SAY UNIONS

Only a worker rights-based approach can ensure that Europe’s growing numbers of teleworkers can fully exercise their fundamental labor rights—including to decent work, which includes safe working conditions—said International Lawyers Assisting Workers Network (ILAW) members Mihail Cebotari, Inna Kudinska, George Sandul and ILAW Europe and Central Asia Regional Coordinator Tamar Gabisonia during the launch of three new ILAW telework reports last week.

The webinar, centered on three new ILAW reports, surveyed the regulatory environment impacting teleworkers in MoldovaPoland and Ukraine.  Poorly regulated telework tends to shifts financial and labor rights risks onto workers, who can experience longer work hours and burnout, unsafe working conditions, and constant employer surveillance. Isolation, meanwhile, can increase workers’ vulnerability to exploitation, discrimination, harassment and other abuse, including domestic violence. And, say unions, without proactive measures teleworkers will likely have fewer opportunities to participate in union activities and develop the sense of solidarity that builds and supports collective power. 

“ILAW’s research findings allow all of us the opportunity to pursue better protection of teleworkers in our own countries and, through our participation in the network, to work on similar issues collectively,” says Georgian Trade Unions Confederation (GTUC) Deputy Chairman and founding ILAW Board member Raisa Liparteliani.

“Telework is not a separate form of employment relations and, therefore, all workers should enjoy all labor rights equally.”

Due to the COVID-19  pandemic—and, in Europe, the war in Ukraine—the share of the employed population working from home has increased exponentially. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that approximately one in six jobs at the global level, and just over one in four jobs in advanced countries, could be done at home, including telework. By the end of 2022, an estimated 31 percent of all workers worldwide were to be fully remote or hybrid.

Report recommendations include:

  • In Moldova, to bring national regulations on remote work into line with the European Union Framework Agreement on Telework, ensure that telework is voluntary and reversible, and that teleworkers be adequately protected by effectively enforced health and safety regulations.
  • In Poland, to prevent the misuse of civil law contracts to deny teleworkers their rights under law, adopt clearer health and safety protections that balance the employer obligation to ensure worker safety with the privacy rights of workers, adopt provisions to address overtime work and ensure the right to disconnect, and institute mechanisms to tackle the systemic discrimination, violence and harassment often directed at remote workers.
  • In Ukraine, to implement and enforce regulations in conformity with the best European and world legislative practices on telework and remote work—including fully incorporating the principle of voluntariness in remote and home-based work, adequately addressing discrimination and health and safety risks, and protecting workers’ right to privacy.

The new reports are part of an ongoing ILAW research series on telework and worker rights, which includes a regional report on telework in the Americas, along with ten national reports on Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay, released in 2022. Research on telework in Mauritius and South Africa is forthcoming this year. The ILAW Network’s Future of Labor Law Wiki also contains model legislative language and analysis of how to regulate telework.

The Solidarity Center’s ILAW Network is a forum for labor and employment law practitioners who grapple with the legal and practical issues that directly affect workers and their organizations.

Fierce and Beloved Labor Leader Myrtle Witbooi Passes Away

Fierce and Beloved Labor Leader Myrtle Witbooi Passes Away

Solidarity Center
Solidarity Center
Fierce and Beloved Labor Leader Myrtle Witbooi Passes Away
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The global labor movement lost a bright light and a pioneering leader on January 16 when Myrtle Witbooi, general secretary of the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU), and president of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), passed away after a long and valiant battle with cancer. 

Myrtle Witbooi accepts ALF-CIO George Meany–Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award for IDWF.

Myrtle began her career in the 1960s as a domestic worker in apartheid South Africa. A newspaper article about domestic workers moved her to write a letter to the editor. Myrtle was just 18 when, with the help of a local journalist, she convened the first meeting of domestic workers in Cape Town in 1965. 

“As I entered, I saw about 350 workers all looking at me, and I said to myself, ‘Oh Lord, what now?’” Myrtle recalled in an interview

“And I went up to the stage and I said, ‘Good evening. I am a domestic worker, just like you. I think we need to do something for ourselves because nobody is going to do anything for us.’ And they all started clapping and said, ‘You are going to lead us.’” 

It was the beginning of a lifelong fight to secure rights and protections for domestic workers. 

At that time, domestic workers in South Africa were not allowed to move freely and needed identification to enter the White neighborhoods where they worked. 

We needed an ID to identify that we were allowed to come to the White area to work. But we could go to church,” Myrtle said. The workers formed a committee in 1979 because they could not form a union. Their church meetings served as cover for committee meetings, even after the government banned all labor organizations in 1986 for fear they were ANC-affiliated.

As general secretary of SADSAWU, Myrtle fought for a national minimum wage increase and compensation for domestic workers injured on the job. In 2011, she helped lead an international coalition of domestic workers to secure passage of the ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (C 189), which ensured domestic workers the same basic rights as other workers. The convention marked the unprecedented involvement of informal women workers in setting ILO standards.

Myrtle became the first chair of the International Domestic Workers’ Network—and when the network formalized as a federation, Myrtle was elected the first president of the International Domestic Workers’ Federation, the only global union founded and led by women of color.

Myrtle was often recognized for her work on behalf of domestic workers. In 2013, she accepted the AFL-CIO’s George Meany–Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award, which recognizes international leaders and organizations who have overcome significant hurdles in the fight for human rights. In 2015, she was awarded the Fairness Award, which honors outstanding leaders dedicated to bringing economic justice, fairness and equality to poor and marginalized communities.

Myrtle was serving her second term as IDWF president when she passed. Under her leadership, the federation expanded to 87 affiliates in 67 countries, representing 670,000 domestic workers. Their “nothing about us without us” motto that achieved ILO Convention 189 served as the clear model for the fight to eliminate violence and harassment in the world of work, resulting in the passage of ILO Convention 190 in 2019—an effort led by affected workers, largely women workers and informal workers.

Upon news of her passing, tributes came in from domestic workers around the world, sharing stories of how Myrtle inspired courage among workers who have been made invisible by employers and governments to raise their voices and stand firm together in their demands for dignity and respect.

“Myrtle was bold, had a clear moral vision and was relentless in building up alliances to see a vision of equal rights for domestic workers to fruition. Myrtle’s legacy of courage, justice and sisterhood will live on for generations,” said Alexis De Simone, global lead for domestic worker rights at the Solidarity Center.

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.

Beloved Labor Movement Leader, Moussa El Jeries ‘Abu George,’ Passes Away

Beloved Labor Movement Leader, Moussa El Jeries ‘Abu George,’ Passes Away

On Thursday, December 22, the global labor movement lost a giant.

Moussa El Jeries, affectionately known as Abu George, was a Palestinian refugee who was forced to leave his small village Al Bassah in 1948 at the age of 4. He fled with his family to Lebanon and later joined the Palestinian trade union movement in the diaspora. Mirroring the story of so many Palestinian refugees, he moved again with his family in the 1980s before finally settling in Norway with his family—his wife, son and five daughters.

Abu George was a tireless champion of working people around the world and a committed trade unionist. In the 1990s he focused his efforts on encouraging European unions, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and global union federations to support trade union programs aimed at promoting women’s equality and leadership in the labor movement. He also became the global labor movement’s leading voice advocating outreach and support and connection to the Palestinian labor movement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Said Abla Masrujeh, country program director for the Solidarity Center in Palestine and former Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) activist: “I met Abu George for the first time in 1995 when he visited his homeland for the first time as an ILO Norway staff person and respected Arab leader, to discuss how he could help the women’s movement within the PGFTU. Within a few weeks, he came back with a generous grant that enabled unions to build women’s structures that soon became a model for unions to emulate across the region.”

Abu George worked relentlessly in solidarity with women’s movements and for women’s equality. Among other good works, in 1996 he brought labor leaders from Norway to an important women’s conference in Nablus, Palestine, where nearly 130 women trade unionists from across Palestine gathered to discuss and advance women’s rights in the movement. He was often found in conversations with feminists and women’s rights advocates, listening and learning and helping plan for change, even where it was not “acceptable” for men to do so. Masrujeh recalled this time: “I traveled with him to help sister unions across the Arab world establish women’s committees and departments and advance women’s voices. He was a courageous colleague and a great mentor for many union brothers and sisters, including me. I will always remember him.”

El Jeries struggled with illness in his retirement but never stopped championing the causes of equality, justice and humanity for the Palestinians and for all people. He was known for his wonderful sense of humor and capacity for love, friendship, poetry and storytelling. He leaves behind his wife, children and grandchildren, and thousands upon thousands touched by his leadership and his friendship across the trade union movement. The Solidarity Center joins in commemorating the life and legacy of Moussa El Jeries, Abu George.

GLOBAL PLASTICS TREATY MUST NOT LEAVE WORKERS BEHIND

GLOBAL PLASTICS TREATY MUST NOT LEAVE WORKERS BEHIND

Solidarity Center
Solidarity Center
GLOBAL PLASTICS TREATY MUST NOT LEAVE WORKERS BEHIND
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Workers in the informal waste and recovery sector (IWRS)—such as collectors, traders and waste pickers—help recycle almost 60 percent of the world’s plastic waste and, in some countries, provide the only form of municipal solid waste collection. This service financially supports millions of workers who are already facing social marginalization, poverty, appalling working conditions and minimal local government support. The rights of these workers, who contribute significantly to their communities and the environment, must be protected under the proposed new global plastics treaty, say worker rights advocates—including just transition policies that enable IWRS workers to upskill or shift to alternative livelihoods.

Policymakers, civil society and industry representatives met in Uruguay last week for the first of five meetings through 2024 to prepare a treaty that aims to eliminate plastics pollution by 2040—stopping the conveyor belt of what the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) says is a garbage truck of plastic dumped into the world’s oceans every minute.

Elements under discussion included global, collaborative measures to reduce hazardous chemicals in plastics production, transitioning to plastics that are more easily recyclable, reducing the supply of plastics by capping plastics production—thus making recycling more economically viable—and fairly addressing the fate of waste pickers and others informal workers associated with the waste and recovery sector.

Climate and labor justice requires that all workers impacted by climate change mitigation measures have a meaningful say in the process to ensure that a greener economy is also one that protects worker rights and advances decent work,” says Solidarity Center Climate Change and Just Transition Global Lead Sonia Mistry, who helped review a UN-Habitat global plastics treaty report, “Leaving No One Behind.” Other report reviewers included Solidarity Center allies Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) and WIEGO network partner International Alliance of Waste Pickers (IAW), which represents thousands of waste picker organizations in more than 28 countries, mostly in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Recognition and inclusion of IWRS voices in the development of solutions to end plastics pollution are key to ensuring that such solutions align with UN Sustainable Development Goal 8 promoting labor rights, safe and secure working environments, productive employment, decent work and equal pay for work of equal value, concluded the report.

“Fairness demands that the needs of all workers and their communities be at the center of climate-responsive policies and practices, including those negotiated through a global treaty to reduce plastics pollution,” says Mistry.

Climate justice grassroots organizations and their advocates globally are demanding together that nations, governments and companies enriched by practices leading to climate degradation do not shift the costs of climate change mitigation policies to the most vulnerable, most of whom live in countries subjected to the worst forms of historical and contemporary racial and ethnic subordination.

 

UKRAINE: ESSENTIAL INFRASTRUCTURE WORKERS ENDANGERED

UKRAINE: ESSENTIAL INFRASTRUCTURE WORKERS ENDANGERED

Solidarity Center
Solidarity Center
UKRAINE: ESSENTIAL INFRASTRUCTURE WORKERS ENDANGERED
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Flagging a high number of work-related deaths and life-altering injuries in the country during the first ten months of this year, Solidarity Center partners Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU) and Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FPU) are educating their members and leadership on how to better protect themselves at work despite an erosion of worker rights under martial law—and monitoring and pushing back on any further deterioration of the country’s labor legislation. While the increase in work-related deaths and injuries endangers all workers, those charged with restoring or rebuilding essential infrastructure destroyed during Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine are especially at risk.

“We support the Ukrainian government and people as they defend against Russian attacks, but weakening worker rights will not make that defense stronger,“ says Solidarity Center Europe and Central Asia Regional Program Director Rudy Porter.  “If workplace safety standards are ignored or not enforced, the increase in unnecessary workplace deaths and injuries will make defending the country more difficult.”

ILO member states, including Ukraine, are required to respect and promote all five ILO fundamental principles and rights at work, regardless of their level of economic development and whether they have ratified relevant conventions.

In the first nine months of 2022, 474 workers died in the workplace—half in war-related incidents—and 4,426 workers were injured in work-related accidents, according to data from Ukraine’s Social Insurance Fund. Even before the war, Ukraine had a high number of occupational injuries: On average, 4 000 employees suffer from work-related accidents in Ukraine each year, of which almost one in 10 dies.

Should workers be injured or killed, they and their families will struggle to access compensation from Ukraine’s Social Insurance Fund due to significant delays in the investigative process required to trigger payouts, say Ukraine’s unions. Although the State Labor Service (SLS) has proposed remedial measures to speed up such investigations, martial law provisions this year have reduced the SLS to an advisory-only entity that cannot effectively require employers to comply with remaining occupational health and safety protections, such as provision of adequate safety training and personal protective equipment. Under martial law, for example, and by order of the Ukraine Cabinet of Ministers starting in March, the SLS was required to suspend all unscheduled occupational safety and health inspections.

In heroic acts, especially on the front lines, Ukraine’s workers are risking life and limb to restore infrastructure such as electricity, roads, buildings and bridges. For example, last month a team of five repairmen in Ukrenergo reportedly worked more than six hours while suspended at a height of more than 300 feet in freezing cold, while risking artillery fire, to repair damage to a high-voltage overhead line.

To achieve European Union (EU)membership, which Ukraine is currently seeking, the country’s EU association agreement requires that the country fulfill several obligations, including occupational safety and health reform to ensure compliance with International Labor Organization (ILO) health and safety conventions 81 and 129.

In a significant assault on worker rights, Ukraine’s parliament earlier this year moved forward with legislation that deprives around 73 percent of workers of their right to union protection and collective bargaining during martial law, despite strong national and international condemnation on the grounds that it violates key ILO Conventions.

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