Unions in the Honduran maquila sector bargain to improve work conditions and address gender-based violence at work, and so provide options for those who may migrate to seek jobs, a Solidarity Center report finds.
When addressing migration, governments must focus on human rights: “When you prioritize human rights, you naturally shift from criminalization and focus on rights-based approaches,” says Mishka Pillay, a migration and lived experience advocate and campaigner.
“Migration is historical, it’s natural it’s been here for centuries—and it needs to be normalized by countries.”
Approved by United Nations member states in 2018, the Global Compact for Migration reaffirms countries’ commitment to respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights for all migrants. In May, the International Migration Review Forum (IMRF) will assess progress on the compact and the Spotlight Report seeks to ensure that grassroots migrant perspectives on progress and challenges are central to the discussions.
“Morally and ethically it is imperative to listen to people’s lived experiences. Government needs to listen and learn how migration is affecting real people,” says Pillay, an author in the report.
The Global Coalition on Migration, which includes the Solidarity Center, and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung institute, released the report. Today’s launch emphasized the importance of migrants’ agency, including the agency of migrant workers, in the policy and process decisions that affect their lives, including in their workplaces.
Decent Work Key to Addressing Migration
A focus on decent work in origin countries “is necessary to break cycles of exploitation and prevent labor migration pathways from perpetuating global power and wealth imbalances,” writes Neha Misra, Solidarity Center global lead for migration and human trafficking. Misra co-authored the Spotlight Report article, “People Not Profit: Coherent Migration Pathways Centered in Human Rights and Decent Work for All.”
“For too long, failed foreign and trade policies have prioritized the interests of corporations and low-wage, export-oriented growth while actively undermining democracy and accountability, contributing to the push factors driving people to migrate,” the article states.
Shannon Lederer, AFL-CIO director of immigration policy and Yanira Merino, president of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), are co-authors.
Among the report’s recommendations:
Migrant workers, regardless of status, must have rights in line with international labor standards for all workers
Migrants must have rights at international borders
There must be alternatives to detention of migrants
Migrants must have access to public services and social protections, regardless of status
Coherent policies must be developed for those migrating due to climate related factors
Countries must adopt regularization policies and rights-based regular migration channels—that allow migrants the freedom to move, settle, work and fully participate in society—over expanding temporary or circular work programs. Countries should promote regular migration pathways that ensure full worker rights, facilitate social and family cohesion, and provide options for permanent residence and meaningful participation in civic life.
Commenting on the report during the panel discussion, Fernando de la Mora, who is part of IMRF discussions through the Economic, Social, Human Rights and Humanitarian Section of Mexico’s UN mission, reiterated his government’s support for a commitment to decent work in origin and destination countries, and summed up the report’s goals this way:
When Joe Montisetse came to South Africa from Botswana to work in gold mines in the early 1980s, he saw a black pool of water deep in a mine that signified deadly methane. Yet after he brought up the issue to supervisors, they insisted he continue working. Montisetse refused.
Two co-workers were killed a few hours later when the methane exploded. Millions of jobs around the world do not offer safe and healthy workplaces—nor do they provide wages that enable workers to support themselves and their families or social protections and the sense of dignity that allow workers to enjoy the benefits of their own hard work.
To highlight the lack of decent work, each year on October 7, unions and their allies mark World Day for Decent Work. This year, they are calling for minimum wage-floors sufficient to ensure a decent standard of living and the right of all workers to join a union and bargain collectively.
Today, Montisetse is newly elected president of the National Union of Mineworkers, a position he achieved after helping form a local union at the gold mine soon after his co-workers’ deaths. After they formed the union, workers were safer, he says.
“We formed a union as mine workers to defend against oppression and exploitation.”
This year, the 10th anniversary of the World Day for Decent Work, workers like Montisete highlight the importance of the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively—fundamental human rights that enable workers to achieve decent work by joining together and successfully challenging global corporate practices that too often, risk lives and livelihoods.
Around the world, workers, their unions and other associations are striving to promote the rights of working people at their jobs and in their everyday lives.
While every job has value, not all jobs are “good jobs.” Millions of jobs around the world do not offer the social protections or the sense of dignity that allow workers to enjoy the benefits of their own hard work.
The Solidarity Center works with unions and other allies to empower workers around the world to achieve decent work together.
WHAT MAKES A “GOOD JOB”?
In Thailand, Burmese migrant workers and their families learn about their rights on the job through training programs organized by the Human Rights Development Foundation (HRDF), a Solidarity Center ally.
But what are those rights? What makes a job a “good job”?
At the Pae Pla Pier in Mahachai, Thailand, Burmese dockworkers cart barrels of fish. Credit: Solidarity Center/Jeanne Hallacy
GOOD JOBS ARE SAFE
At the Gldani Metro Depot in Tbilisi, Georgia, employees work with dangerous chemicals and face constant danger from high voltage electrical wires. Their union, the Metro Workers’ Trade Union of Georgia (MWTUG), is addressing these safety and health risks with assistance from the Solidarity Center.
At the Gldani Metro Depot in Tbilisi, Georgia, employees like repairman Tamaz Simonishvili work with dangerous chemicals and face constant danger from high voltage electrical wires—safety and health risks his union, Metro Workers’ Trade Union of Georgia, is addressing with the assistance of the Solidarity Center. Credit: Solidarity Center/Lela Mepharishvili
The Solidarity Center also partners with numerous unions and worker associations in Bangladesh to train garment workers in fire safety and other measures to improve their working conditions.
The Solidarity Center partners with numerous unions and worker associations in Bangladesh to train garment workers in fire safety and other measures to improve their working conditions. Credit: Solidarity Center
GOOD JOBS PAY LIVING WAGES
At thePalmas del Césarpalm oil extraction plant in Minas, Colombia, workers are represented by Solidarity Center union allySintrapalmas-Monterrey. The union organized subcontracted workers into its bargaining unit, significantly improving their wages, benefits and job conditions.
At the Palmas del César palm oil extraction plant in Minas, Colombia, workers are represented by Solidarity Center union ally Sintrapalmas-Monterrey. The union organized subcontracted workers into its bargaining unit, significantly improving their wages, benefits and job conditions. Credit: Solidarity Center/Carlos Villalon
In Sri Lanka, where jobs are shifting from the industrial to service sector, workers like members of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Industry Employees’ Union (FBTIEU) are forming unions in the hotel and tourism sectors to ensure that the new jobs pay living wages and offer social benefits.
In Sri Lanka, where jobs are shifting from the industrial to service sector, workers like members of Food Beverage and Tobacco Industry Employees’ Union are forming unions in the hotel and tourism sectors to ensure the new jobs pay living wages and offer social benefits. Credit: Solidarity Center/Pushpa Kumara
GOOD JOBS TAKE CARE OF WORKERS
The National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Allied Workers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSSRM, known as “Los Mineros”) has won many bargaining pacts that include significant economic benefits and essential safety and health protections for workers.
A miner in Mexico’s Baja California Sur, Ruth Rivera also is a shop steward for her union, SNTMMSSRM (Los Mineros), which has won bargaining pacts that include significant economic benefits and essential safety and health protections. Credit: Solidarity Center/Roberto Armocida
Agricultural workers in Rustenburg, South Africa, are members of the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU), a Solidarity Center partner, which represents migrant farm workers in Mpumalanga Province and assists them in gaining access to health care and other services.
A FAWU member plants cabbage seedlings on a farm in Rustenburg, South Africa. Credit: Solidarity Center/Jemal Countess
GOOD JOBS GIVE WORKERS A BREAK
Across the Arab Gulf, more than 2.4 million migrant domestic workers often toil 12–20 hour days, six or seven days a week. Domestic workers in Jordan recently formed a worker rights network that advocates for better working conditions and includes migrant workers from Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan domestic workers in Jordan defend their rights. Credit: Solidarity Center/Francesca Ricciardone
The Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotel, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (KUDHEIHA), a Solidarity Center partner, has been at the forefront of championing the rights of domestic workers at the national level and working locally to organize workers into the union and educate them about their rights.
The Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotel, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers union, a Solidarity Center partner, has been at the forefront of championing the rights of domestic workers at the national level and working locally to organize workers into the union and educate them about their rights. Credit: Solidarity Center/Kate Holt
GOOD JOBS EMPOWER WOMEN
Dozens of journalists and media professionals have taken part in the Solidarity Center’s ongoing Gender Equity and Physical Safety training in Pakistan, identifying priority gender equality issues at their workplaces and in their unions, and outlining strategies for addressing those issues.
Journalists in Pakistan participate in Solidarity Center-sponsored gender equality workshops. Credit: Solidarity Center/Immad Ashraf
Through her union, the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions Workers Union (PGFTU) and the Solidarity Center, kindergarten teacher Khadeja Othman says she has gained new skills in workshops, training courses and hands-on experience.
Khadeja Othman, a Palestinian kindergarten teacher in Ramallah’s Bet Our Al Tahta village. Credit: Solidarity Center/Alaa T. Badarneh
ORGANIZED WORKERS HELP CREATE GOOD JOBS
Workers and their families on the Firestone rubber plantation used their union, the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL), to negotiate work quotas that could be met without the need for children to assist their parents. Children also now receive free education as a result of union negotiations.
Opa Johnson, a rubber tapper on the Firestone plantation, is a member of the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia, which negotiated work quotas that could be met without the need for children to assist their parents. Children also now receive free education as a result of union negotiations. Credit: Solidarity Center/B.E. Diggs
Even self-employed workers have organized to defend their right to decent work. The Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA), a Solidarity Center partner, trains negotiators in collective bargaining with municipalities to provide adequate space for vendors and other informal workers throughout their cities.
Nyaradzo Tavariwisa makes and sells peanut butter to support her family. Credit: Solidarity Center/Jemal Countess
UNIONS HELP MAKE JOBS BETTER
Working people time and again have proven that when they are free to form and join unions and bargain for better working conditions, they can achieve decent work, improve their lives and benefit their families and communities.
In Peru, two unions, both Solidarity Center allies, represent palm workers on plantations and in processing factories. These unions have helped improve dangerous working conditions, access to healthcare and job stability through collective bargaining and labor inspections.
Peruvian palm oil workers travel across the plantation where they live and work. Credit: Solidarity Center/Oscar Durand
THE SOLIDARITY CENTER HELPS WORKING PEOPLE ATTAIN DECENT WORK
Decent work means employment that provides living wages in workplaces that are safe and healthy. Decent work is about fairness on the job and social protections for workers when they are sick, when they get injured or when they retire.
Hundreds of domestic workers rallied in front of the Kenya Parliament in Nairobi today, lobbying legislators to ratify International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 189, Decent Work for Domestic Workers. The effort is part of a larger campaign to improve wages and working conditions for the country’s domestic workers by the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotel, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (KUDHEIHA) as well as to help build momentum for a global movement for domestic workers.
“It is amazing. It shows [the] power of the domestic workers in Kenya,” said Africa Regional Coordinator for the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), Vicky Kanyoka.
Convention 189 established the first global standards for the more than 50 million domestic workers worldwide, addressing wages, working conditions, benefits, labor brokers and child labor. Although the convention went into force in 2013, it has been ratified by only 23 countries. Of these, only two African countries have ratified the convention: South Africa and Mauritius.
Domestic workers are some of the world’s most vulnerable workers, comprising a significant part of the global workforce in informal employment. In Kenya, domestic workers have suffered pay below minimum wage, long working hours, physical abuse, discrimination and lack of job security. More recently, domestic workers migrating to jobs in the Middle East from the Mombasa area, in an effort to escape poverty wages at home, have been preyed upon by unscrupulous labor brokers and employers.
KUDHEIHA—a Solidarity Center partner—has stepped up its political advocacy on behalf of domestic workers with the support of the Solidarity Center in recent years. Legislative changes favorable to domestic workers included an increase in their minimum wage in 2015 as well as an increase last year in the minimum wage from 10,955 to 12,825.72 Kenyan shillings ($108 to $126) per month.
The Solidarity Center works with domestic workers and other organizations that represent them around the world, including in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Liberia, Mexico, South Africa and Sri Lanka.
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