ProDESC Founder Ancheita Finalist for Human Rights Award

ProDESC Founder Ancheita Finalist for Human Rights Award

Alejandra Ancheita, founder and executive director of the Mexico City-based ProDESC (Project for Economic, Cultural, and Social Rights), is one of three finalists for the prestigious international Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

Ancheita, a Mexican lawyer and activist who leads the fight for the rights of vulnerable and excluded workers, migrants, communal landowners and indigenous communities, founded ProDESC in 2005. ProDESC is a long-time Solidarity Center ally whose work includes an ongoing campaign seeking justice for miners denied their right to organize for improved working conditions at the La Platosa mine in La Sierrita, Durango, Mexico.

“Alejandra is an unsung hero. She stands up in the face of widespread violence and impunity in Mexico—often risking her life so that Mexican workers can have justice,” said Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau. “Alejandra’s difficult and important work shines a spotlight on abuse and exploitation that generally goes unnoticed. We hope this honor helps diminish the risks she and her colleagues face every day.”

The Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights is selected by the international human rights community and given to human rights defenders who have shown deep commitment and face great personal risk. Members of the organization include Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Watch a video about Ancheita.

Iraq Unions Continue to Press for Passage of Labor Law

Labor Committee Vice President Salih Al Asady (second from left) speaks at a press conference held by Iraqi unions

Labor Committee Vice President Salih Al Asady (second from left) speaks at a press conference held by Iraqi unions

Iraqi trade union leaders and members are keeping the spotlight on Parliament, urging lawmakers to pass a trade union law that has been pending since January.

Some 82 unions members and leaders from all Iraqi trade unions, with support from the Solidarity Center, held a press conference in Basra April 15, their latest effort to secure passage of the law. If passed, it would provide first-ever worker rights protections in line with core labor standards, including freedom of association.

In a demonstration of solidarity, the Kurdistan United Workers Union (KUWU) sent two delegates to the event, which also included the head of Parliament’s labor committee.

Union representatives also raised concerns over the scope of the law, which does not cover public-sector workers. Labor Committee Vice President Salih Al Asady, who took part in the event, said he would bring the issue to Parliament. He also urged the Iraqi union leaders and members to continue to show their strength through rallies and other campaign actions to push lawmakers to vote on the law before this session ends. Elections are scheduled April 30, and the current Parliament will remain in session until June 15.

Parliament has voted on 46 of 157 articles, however the remainder have been unable to be voted on due to an insufficient number of members of Parliament showing up to each session, though the law continues to appear each day on the agenda. This is the result of political conflicts, in particular around the inability of the parliament to pass the budget law.

Six major Iraqi labor unions, together with the Solidarity Center, have worked since June 2012 to bring proposed changes to the nation’s draft labor law in line with International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions. Workers are still subject to labor laws from the Saddam Hussein era.

Watch a video of the event (in Arabic).

Garment Exports Rise but Haitian Workers Paid Starvation Wages

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Despite rising exports, Haitian garment workers are paid so little they can barely afford food. Credit: Lauren Stewart

Despite a 45 percent increase in apparel exports since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the women and men who sew T-shirts and jeans primarily destined for the U.S. market barely earn enough to pay for their lunch and transportation to work, a new Solidarity Center survey finds.

The average cost of living for an export apparel worker in Port-au-Prince is 26,150 Haitian gourdes (about $607) per month. Yet workers are paid only between 200 gourdes (about $4.64) and 300 gourdes for an eight-hour day (about $6.96). After insurance and social security deductions, most export apparel workers must spend more than half of their salaries on transportation to and from the factory and a modest lunch, leaving little to sustain a family or keep a roof over their heads.

“Workers interviewed in this study had to forgo basic necessities given the disparity between their earned wages and the cost of living,” according to the report. “When asked what they would purchase if they had sufficient income, workers responded with: more food to feed their families, land to build a home, (and) a car or moped to drive their children to school.”

The Solidarity Center survey finds that a real living wage must be approximately 1,000 gourdes  (about $23) per day to enable workers to meet basic needs. Haitian unions are demanding a minimum wage increase to at least 500 gourdes (about $11.60) per day and assert that anything lower equates to starvation wages. Despite the export industry’s growth, Haitian law mandates a reduced minimum wage for the sector, which is the lowest in the Western Hemisphere.

Housing (rental) costs spiked immediately after the earthquake, but prices have since fallen by nearly 28 percent. Yet workers still live in substandard housing and pay up to four times more than what they did prior to the disaster. Some families are unable to afford their children’s transportation to school, so many students must walk, sometimes long distances and along busy roads.

“The High Cost of Low Wages in Haiti” analyzed such expense categories as housing, energy, nutrition, clothing, health care, education and transportation to classify the costs of an export apparel worker. The report also includes charts breaking down each category of expense. It follows a similar informal study the Solidarity Center conducted after the earthquake and used the same locally appropriate basket of goods to calculate the cost of living for a three-member household, comprised of one adult wage earner and two minor dependents (ages 8–14).

The report concludes: “Workers need access to decent jobs that pay a living wage and allow them to lead a dignified life. So long as jobs perpetuate worker exploitation and serve only as a means to fend off starvation, poverty will continue to grip the country and hinder the reconstruction process.”

Read the full report.

Make the Colombia Labor Rights Action Plan Work for Workers

LAP-report(1)The governments of Colombia and the United States signed the Labor Action Plan (LAP) three years ago this week. The plan was intended to provide a road map for Colombia to protect internationally recognized labor rights, prevent violence against labor leaders and prosecute the perpetrators of such violence.

As a new AFL-CIO report shows, systemic violence against Colombian workers continues and workers still face persistent employer abuses. Palm workers like Miguel Conde of the union SINTRAINAGRO at the Bucarelia plantation initially were hopeful, but the LAP profoundly failed to deliver on its promises. In the blog, “Make the Colombia Labor Rights Action Plan Work for Workers,” the AFL-CIO Now writes:

“Like many Colombian workers, palm workers at Bucarelia were increasingly hired on as temporary subcontracts. Subcontracting prevents workers from forming unions, gets employers out of paying social security and other benefits due to direct hires and makes it easier to fire anyone who complains or supports unions., the LAP was supposed to end abusive subcontracting of those doing a company’s core work. When workers at Bucarelia learned  about the promised reforms, and that the palm sector had been specifically identified in the LAP, they launched an organizing campaign, thinking they had a way forward.

Thousands of Peruvians Protest Violence

Peru Map.wawawasifoundationThousands of Peruvians marched in Lima, the capital, yesterday in a strong show of support for an end to organized crime and related violence in Peru’s booming construction sector.

Unions and civil society leaders called for a systemic solution to the phenomenon of false “unions” that extort construction firms and turn building sites into battlefields across Peru. Violence related to worksite conflicts has resulted in the death of six construction worker union activists over the last three years and significant economic losses that affect construction projects, workers and their families.

Leaders of the march include the General Confederation of Workers of Peru  (CGTP), the Construction Workers Federation, the Peruvian Human Rights Commission, the mayor of Lima, regional lawmakers and the Peruvian Chamber of Construction.

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