Guatemalan banana workers without a union work longer hours and earn less than half than of those who are unionized, and report more cases of verbal and physical abuse.
Through individual case studies and legal analysis, When the Job Hurts demonstrates the need for domestic workers in South Africa to receive the same coverage under the country’s job safety and health compensation law as other workers.
A four-year campaign by Honduran labor unions to improve workplaces and strengthen the rights of workers culminated with the Honduran National Congress approving a new labor inspection law last week.
Honduran unions, working in concert, successfully built a consensus with business and government to ease passage of their proposed new law. In 2015, a tripartite process (government, employers and labor unions) was initiated by the government at the urging of unions to replace the antiquated labor inspection legislation. The participating organizations were COHEP (Honduran Council of Private Enterprise), AHM (Honduran Maquila Association), Honduran Labor Ministry and the three Honduran labor centrals—General Workers Central (CGT), Confederation of Honduran Workers (CTH) and the Unified Confederation of Honduran Workers (CUTH).
The new law promotes, monitors and is designed to ensure that workplace standards, safety and health provisions and social security requirements are upheld. It includes financial penalties for violations of worker rights, including the right to form unions. Employers who threaten workers to derail the process of forming a union can be fined more than $13,000. Those who attempt to thwart a labor inspection face fines of $10,500.
Regulations regarding labor inspections and the amounts of fines for labor law violations had not been changed since passage of the Honduran Labor Code, in 1959. For decades, fines had ranged from $22 to $218. And labor inspectors had been disadvantaged by laws that protected employers over workers’ safety and rights. For example, government inspectors could not close a workplace for health and safety violations, and employers could refuse inspectors’ entry to a work site.
The Solidarity Center supported Honduran unions throughout the process, providing legal advice, analysis and other technical assistance.
Solidarity Center Asia Region Director Tim Ryan calls the move “a much-delayed step in the right direction,” but adds:
“Over the past three years, the Bangladesh government has approved fewer and fewer union registration applications. Through their unions, workers are able to speak out freely about safety and health concerns at their worksites and prevent horrible tragedies like Rana Plaza. Limiting workers from forming unions puts workers’ safety at risk.”
In 2015, the Bangladesh government rejected 73 percent of union registration applications, according to data compiled by Solidarity Center staff in Dhaka, the capital.
Arim ul-Haq Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation, told Australia-based ABC news that he is disappointed it took so long for perpetrators to be held accountable. He called on multinational companies and garment brands to take responsibility for worker safety.
Some brands stepped up after international outrage over the 2013 Rana Plaza and the 2012 Tazreen Fashions Ltd., factory fire prompted creation of the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord, a legally binding agreement in which nearly 200 corporate clothing brands and trade unions are supporting garment factory inspections and repairs to ensure safe workplaces. Dozens of garment factories have been closed for safety violations and pressing safety issues addressed.
Many of the 2,000 survivors of the Rana Plaza, and families of those who perished, say they received little or no compensation following the building collapse. Many survivors suffered injuries so severe they are unable to work, and without sufficient compensation, are unable to support themselves and their families.
Nasima, 25, cannot neither breathe nor see well these days. She speaks softly, too weak to raise her voice. Nasima escaped the November 24, 2012, Tazreen Fashions garment factory fire in Bangladesh with her life, but her injuries from the disaster are so extensive that she can no longer support herself and her family. “I don’t have the strength to work in the garment factories anymore,” she says.
Nasima works in her landlord’s house for food but has been unable to pay rent for the past four months. Her husband cannot work because of a heart condition, and their daughter and son may not be able to continue in school because the family has no money to pay their school fees.
“I am always worried about my family’s future. How will I survive? Day by day my situation is getting worse,” she said, weeping.
She sold all possessions she had left in her home village to pay for her medical expenses, but cannot afford the CAT scan her doctors recommend.
On the day of the Tazreen factory fire, which killed 112 workers and injured thousands more, Nasima said, “even after the fire alarm, I was warned by other workers that if I leave, I will be terminated.” With two small children at home, Nasima said, “I wanted to go out. But the factory manager and the production manager had forbidden me to do that. They said nothing was happening.”
She left her work station and made it to the second floor. “I asked others to somehow let me go out of the building. I was lifted to the shoulder of a mechanic and thrown to the roof of the nearby building.”
Following the Tazreen disaster, Nasima received $320 and a little food from two private organizations. She says she received a call from the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturing and Exporting Association (BGMEA) regarding compensation, but the employer group later refused to give her money, saying she would get it in the future if it were available. A year later, Nasima has received nothing.
Nasima hopes for compensation from the employers and the government—enough to enable her to survive if she can never return to work. “I am in this condition while doing their work,” she said. Nasima wants her children to get education so they will not struggle to survive. She wants to get well soon and go back to work.