Dominican Unions Rally to Oppose Proposed Labor Code

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Dominican Republic workers rallied on the eve of International Women’s Day. Credit: Geoff Herzog

Chanting, “No to Labor Code rollbacks, no to human rights rollbacks,”100 workers today marched on the Business Tower in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic capital, to oppose corporate-backed attempts to weaken labor code protections for working women and men.

The Inter-Union Committee of Working Women (CIMTRA) organized the rally on the eve of International Women’s Day to highlight how business’s proposed changes would especially harm working women.

The Business Tower is headquarters of the National Council for Private Enterprise (CONEP).  Unionists say CONEP is promoting a labor reform proposal that would drastically reduce existing labor rights. President Danilo Medina formed a commission to review and modernize the Labor Code last fall, and business and unions have both submitted proposals.

Eulogia Famila, CIMTRA spokeswoman and vice president of the National Confederation of Union Unity, addressed the crowd from the steps of the Business Tower.

“While the proposal from private enterprise would roll back rights for all workers, it’s particularly damaging to women,” Famila said. “It would exclude domestic workers from most labor rights and would allow the termination of contracts with pregnant women by ‘mutual consent’ without prior approval from the Labor Ministry. By putting the burden of proof on a worker filing a complaint against an employer, it would make it even more difficult for women to sue over discrimination and harassment.”

The business council refused to receive representatives from the group, even though workers had tried to make an appointment to present the council with a four-page letter from CIMTRA and the three main labor confederations.

“Today we mobilized women and youth to commemorate International Women’s Day and to oppose business efforts to roll back labor rights. From here on in, we will join with the three confederations continuing to take to the streets to defend our rights,” Famila said as the rally concluded.

 

Bangladesh Union Activists Press for Justice in Violent Attack

Bangladesh Union Activists Press for Justice in Violent Attack

More than 400 Bangladesh garment workers and trade unionists rallied over the weekend at the National Press Club in Dhaka, the capital, to demand police take action to find perpetrators who beat and badly injured a garment worker leader and four union organizers last week. The group was talking with garment workers when they were attacked, and police subsequently refused to accept a report on the incident.

After rallying at the Press Club, union activists and their allies marched to the Ministry of Home Affairs, where staff received a small delegation of activists and accepted their letter calling for government officials to pursue justice for the victims. Later that night, police accepted the crime report from the victims of the violent attack, the prelude to beginning an investigation.

Participants in the rally and march include members and leaders of the Bangladesh Federation of Workers Solidarity (BFWS), where the injured organizers work, the Bangladesh Garments and Industrial Workers Federation (BIGUF), the Sommilito Garments Sromik Federation (SGSF), Bangladesh Garments and Industrial Sramik Federation (BGIWF) and the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF).

The factory, which had been closed following a workers’ protest against the business not paying the minimum wage on February 18, was fully reopened on March 2. Some 30 workers now say they have been verbally terminated.

Mexican Mineworkers Choose to Join Los Mineros

Miners at the El Coronel mine in Zacatecas, Mexico, voted to join the union Los Mineros. Photo: Julia Quiñonez

Miners at the El Coronel mine in Zacatecas, Mexico, voted to join the union Los Mineros. Photo: Julia Quiñonez

Mineworkers at the El Coronel gold mine in Zacatecas, Mexico, have voted to join the National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Similar Workers of the Mexican Republic, known as “Los Mineros” or SNTMMSSRM in Spanish, with 425 workers voting for the union to be its bargaining representative.

A team of international observers from non-governmental organizations and unions monitored the election and reported that the “voting on February 21 was conducted in a substantively fair and transparent manner, free of interference from the employer or government officials.”

Three unions were represented on the ballot, including Los Mineros. As it has done on previous occasions when there is concern of violence or vote-rigging, the Solidarity Center convened an international team of observers to ensure that the voting process was fair. The team served as a visible presence seeking to reduce the risk of any clashes, intimidation, or harassment and to detect any irregularities in the process that could have hindered the successful completion of a free election. Members of the independent observation team are all trained and experienced in international protocols for election observation, such as only interviewing workers after they have voted and not asking workers which union they voted for or other personal information.

The team included representatives of the Solidarity Center, United Steelworkers (USW), Border Committee of Women Workers (Comité Fronterizo de Obrer@s (CFO), the Project on Organizing, Development, Education and Research (PODER) and Project for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ProDESC).

More details about the campaign are available from the USW.

Afro-Colombian Labor Activists Power Ahead with Dynamic Agenda

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Some 127 labor activists took part in the second Afro-Colombian Labor Council conference in Bogotá. Credit: Rhett Doumitt

Ready to power forward with new grassroots organizing and mobilization outreach, 127 Afro-Colombian labor and community leaders met in Bogotá in recent days for the second national forum of the Afro-Colombian Labor Council (CLAF).

During the two-day gathering, Afro-Colombian labor rights activists shared the organization’s successes—among them, the amazing growth of the Domestic Service Workers’ Union (UTRASD) from a locally based group in the city of Medellín to a nationwide organization with 250 women.

A quarter of Colombia’s population is Afro-descendant, yet Afro-Colombians comprise more than 50 percent of the country’s poor. Formed in July 2012, CLAF is the first national organization to explicitly tackle the exploitive working conditions that most Afro-descendants suffer. Since its launch, CLAF has expanded from a national coordination board to an organization with 10 local chapters across Colombia, including Bogotá, Cartagena, Santa Marta, Urabá, Valle del Cauca, Medellín and Buenaventura.

“When you build things collectively, then everyone takes ownership of them,” said Agripina Hurtado, president of the CLAF executive board. “We need to promote the vision of where we are going—grow, connect and advocate around the challenges facing all Afro-Colombians.”

The non-governmental organization Escuela Nacional Sindical (ENS) presented research on working conditions in predominantly Afro-Colombian economic sectors, such as construction, domestic work, and ports, where ENS researchers found extreme levels of labor informality. Afro-Colombians are far likelier than other Colombian workers to earn less than the minimum wage and to be employed in jobs where they cannot form unions  to improve their working conditions.

Leaders and activists at the meeting, held with the support of the Solidarity Center and the International Labor Organization (ILO), developed a three-pronged work strategy focusing on organization building, public policy advocacy and formalization of work.

Garment Worker, Organizers Beaten in Bangladesh

Garment Worker, Organizers Beaten in Bangladesh

A Bangladesh garment worker leader and four union organizers, among them two women, were badly injured Saturday when about two dozen people beat, kicked and threw them to the ground as the five were speaking to workers in the dormitory where they live. One of the organizers was taken from the scene, beaten severely and dumped, unconscious, nearby. He and a female organizer remain in the hospital. The whereabouts of the garment worker are unknown.

According to several witnesses, the attack was carried out by factory managers and other men and women, some of them who worked for the factory, potentially paid to carry out the act—not an uncommon practice in the country. The women in the group were separated from the others and threatened with rape.

The organizers, all working with the Bangladesh Federation of Workers Solidarity, were supporting workers who had earlier approached the union for assistance and who had been fighting to be paid the minimum wage at their factory. The factory, which manufactures for Western brands, employs approximately 4,500 workers—many of who had staged a wage protest February 18, which was ultimately put down by police.

On Saturday, the organizers and activists from the factory floor signed up about 300 workers for a union before the attack occurred—though all the signed authorization cards were stolen during the assault.

Workers, activists and the Solidarity Center are calling for a thorough and vigorous investigation into the crime that brings the perpetrators to justice and shows that Bangladesh is unwilling to tolerate attacks on workers’ right to freedom of association.

The Solidarity Center is providing legal assistance and support for medical expenses for the injured organizers, and partners with the Bangladesh Federation of Workers Solidarity.

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