For the second time in two weeks, police have broken up a union meeting of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), this time physically injuring a union leader who was taking part.
According to the Swazi Observer and TUCOSWA leaders, more than 300 plain-clothed police forced participants to end a union executive board meeting in the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) Center on Saturday and blocked the gates to the building. Muzi Mhlanga, SNAT secretary general, was assaulted and had to seek medical care, according to TUCOSWA.
“The police came in as if they were coming to fight an army,” said TUCOSWA Secretary General Vincent Ncongwane.
“They actually manhandled us, stopping anyone coming in or going out of the venue,” Ncongwane said in a letter to the Minister of Labor and other government officials to make them aware of the events and seek redress.
“We were squashed between various policemen who were trying to read the emails we were sending (to international labor allies). Police also demanded their phones because union leaders were taking photos of the police “without their permission. They said their orders are to crush any TUCOSWA meeting.”
Over the past three years, Swaziland authorities have refused to grant legal registration to TUCOSWA, most recently denying the federation’s December 2014 application under the country’s recently amended Industrial Relations Act. In August 2014, some in the Swazi government falsely accused Ncongwane and human rights lawyer Sipho Gumedze of taking a stand against trade benefits for Swaziland when they were in Washington, D.C., to attend the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit Civil Society Forum.
TUCOSWA is receiving key support from the country’s religious leaders. On Sunday, a coalition of Christian churches called for the registration and recognition of TUCOSWA as part of its broader call for multiparty democracy to address the Swaziland’s political, social and economic crises.
In June 2014 the U.S. government took the rare step of suspending African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade benefits for Swaziland, citing the Swazi government’s systematic violations of fundamental worker rights, including refusal to legally recognize TUCOSWA. Swaziland’s trade unions support AGOA, but maintain that the country must meet benchmarks of the agreement, which include respecting human rights and labor rights.
The 2014 U.S. State Department human rights report cited serious human rights violations in Swaziland, including arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government or its agents; severely restricted freedom of assembly, including violence against protestors; jailing of trade union leaders; the deregistration of TUCOSWA and the banning of strikes.
Suayden, a young woman from rural Thailand, moves to Bangkok and gets a job at a factory. Soon, she develops back pain and other job-related injuries that make it too painful to work.
So what should she do?
She joins with co-workers to ask the boss for improved work stations—but not before dancing through the factory to catchy pop music.
“Suayden” is featured in a new high-energy video by the Confederation of Industrial Labor of Thailand (CILT), part of the new confederation’s outreach to nonunionized workers.
Jamming together in the fluorescent-lit factory, Suayden and her co-workers sing:
“Working in da same plant, we understand, we hold our hands.
Go tell the boss when work’s not right, when work’s too long, when work’s too tight.
Working in da same plant, we understand, we hold our hands.
Go tell our friends when work’s not right, when work’s too long, when work’s too tight.”
After the boss improves working conditions, the plant makes more money—and so do the workers.
CILT, an affiliate of IndustriALL global union, formed in 2013 as part of Thai workers’ efforts to revitalize the trade union movement. It represents some 153,000 workers in the electronic and electrical appliances, auto, steel, chemical, rubber, materials, paper, textile, garment, leather, oil, gas and electricity in Thailand.
A union activist of the IndustriALL Mexican affiliate National Miners’ Union SNTMMSRM, also known as Los Mineros, has been severely beaten at the Gunderson railcar plant owned by the Greenbrier companies in Monclova, Coahuila state of Mexico. (Click here to sign a petition protesting the assault.)
On March 7, while he was distributing union leaflets, Jesus Antonio Campos Valle, leader of the SNTMMSRM organizing campaign at the Gunderson railcar plant was viciously attacked by several men, two of whom were identified as Hermilo Falcón López and “El Grande” Lumbreras Piña, members of the non-independent Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), which holds a protection contract at the company and prevents other unions from democratic representation of workers’ interests.
Workers at these three plants launched strikes in April 2014 to protest the lack of democratic representation by the CTM, a “protection union” that colludes with the employers and does not allow the workers to see their collective bargaining agreements. To resolve the strikes, the three companies agreed to recognize SNTMMSRM, but later backtracked and fired union leaders, including Campos.
Campos won a lawsuit ordering his reinstatement for unjust dismissal, but the company has appealed.
SNTMMSRM is now fighting a protracted legal battle against the companies and the CTM, who are supported by Alonso Ancira, the head of the AHMSA steel company, which is the largest employer in Monclova.
“They beat and kicked me in my face, head, chest, ribs and shoulders, all the time threatening me and saying they were from the CTM and they knew me and my family,” Campos stated. After receiving medical treatment, Campos filed a criminal complaint against the CTM leaders.
Jyrki Raina, IndustriALL general secretary addressed to the president of Mexico and denounced this violent act of aggression as “part of systematic attacks organized by the company in collusion with CTM intended to undermine workers’ right to elect democratically their own representative to collective bargaining. This is an inalienable right of workers envisaged in the ILO Convention 87”.
Send an online protest message to delivered to Enrique Peña Nieto, President of Mexico; Ruben Moreira, Governor of Coahuila; and William Furman, CEO of the Greenbrier Companies.
Up to 70 percent of the Haitian workforce lacks formal jobs—but the notion that “any job is better than no job” is not a goal that should be embraced, says Lauren Stewart, Solidarity Center program officer for Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
“I visited a factory park in Port-au-Prince, and one of the workers showed me his pay stub, which had deductions for lunch that he had to buy on credit from his employer since he couldn’t afford to eat,” Stewart says. “By the time he received his paycheck, almost half of it went toward paying back lunch.
“This is the current state of garment workers, who some consider to be the lucky few because they have formal jobs. But in reality, these workers are only earning enough to fend off starvation by the day,” she added.
Stewart spoke Friday at the panel discussion, “Economic Growth: Jobs or Sustainable Livelihoods?” part of a two-day event on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Sponsored by the Haiti Advocacy Working Group (HAWG), the discussions highlighted the ongoing need for aid accountability and equitable development in post-earthquake Haiti.
The panel also included Nixon Boumba, the in-country consultant to American Jewish World Service, and Kysseline Chérestal, a senior policy analyst at ActionAid USA.
All three co-panelists pointed out how despite investment in the country’s garment sector, working Haitians are not sharing in the economic prosperity.
Chérestal highlighted a January ActionAid report that found more than $170 million of U.S. emergency aid money to Haiti went to finance the Caracol Industrial Park, which was built on prime agricultural land in northern Haiti, far outside the disaster zone. More than 366 families and 720 agricultural workers lost their land to Caracol. Of the 65,000 jobs promised, only 5,000 have been created.
The garment industry, Haiti’s largest source of formal jobs, employs some 35,000 workers who are paid a minimum wage of between $5 and $7 per day. A Solidarity Center report last year found that the cost of living is three to four times higher than the minimum wage, and workers spend more than a third of their wages on transportation and lunch to sustain their labor throughout the day. The remaining wages are not sufficient to adequately feed their families, let alone cover basic costs like housing, healthcare, education for their children and clothing.
In addition to low wages, the garment industry is rife with labor rights abuses, including forced overtime work, health and safety abuses, sexual harassment, and retaliation from employers for union organizing.
For workers to benefit, “they must have safe and dignified jobs, in which they can freely exercise their rights and earn enough to support themselves and their families,” says Stewart.
The Solidarity Center is a member of HAWG, a working group of international development, faith-based, human rights and social justice organizations advocating on issues related to U.S.-Haiti policy.
SINTRAINAGRO, affiliated with the global food, farm and hotel union IUF, won direct, permanent contracts for cane cutters at the Risaralda mill in western Colombia’s Cauca Valley. The breakthrough agreement was signed on March 5 after 500 cane cutters launched an indefinite strike on March 2 and were brutally attacked by state anti-riot forces and company guards the following day. The assault resulted in dozens of injured strikers and left local union leader Carlos Ossa Trejos in critical condition.
Agreement was reached following intensive negotiations involving the union, the national executive of the CUT and the Ministry of Labor.
Prior to this agreement, cane cutters with many years of work were being employed on limited fixed-term contracts, and mechanization has further depressed wages. The agreement commits the company to providing open-ended, permanent employment contracts “in accordance with ILO (International Labor Organization) decent work standards” to all SINTRAINAGRO cutters, who will be employed by a Risaralda subsidiary to be established within 10 weeks. The company cannot fire or refuse to hire strikers, must “ensure the application of the principles of equality and non-discrimination” in assigning work and will establish mechanisms for ensuring payment of social security contributions, among other measures.
“This government wants to create an atmosphere of terror against anyone who dares to raise their head. However, workers and their families are losing their fear and defending their right to employment and decent living conditions” said SINTRAINAGRO’s Mauricio Ramos. “Once again it has been shown that mobilization, pressure and peaceful struggle are the tools for claiming rights.”
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