Only a worker rights-based approach can ensure that Europe’s growing numbers of teleworkers can fully exercise their fundamental labor rights—including to decent work, which includes safe working conditions—said International Lawyers Assisting Workers Network (ILAW) members Mihail Cebotari, Inna Kudinska, George Sandul and ILAW Europe and Central Asia Regional Coordinator Tamar Gabisonia during the launch of three new ILAW telework reports last week.
The webinar, centered on three new ILAW reports, surveyed the regulatory environment impacting teleworkers in Moldova, Poland and Ukraine. Poorly regulated telework tends to shifts financial and labor rights risks onto workers, who can experience longer work hours and burnout, unsafe working conditions, and constant employer surveillance. Isolation, meanwhile, can increase workers’ vulnerability to exploitation, discrimination, harassment and other abuse, including domestic violence. And, say unions, without proactive measures teleworkers will likely have fewer opportunities to participate in union activities and develop the sense of solidarity that builds and supports collective power.
“ILAW’s research findings allow all of us the opportunity to pursue better protection of teleworkers in our own countries and, through our participation in the network, to work on similar issues collectively,” says Georgian Trade Unions Confederation (GTUC) Deputy Chairman and founding ILAW Board member Raisa Liparteliani.
“Telework is not a separate form of employment relations and, therefore, all workers should enjoy all labor rights equally.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic—and, in Europe, the war in Ukraine—the share of the employed population working from home has increased exponentially. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that approximately one in six jobs at the global level, and just over one in four jobs in advanced countries, could be done at home, including telework. By the end of 2022, an estimated 31 percent of all workers worldwide were to be fully remote or hybrid.
Report recommendations include:
In Moldova, to bring national regulations on remote work into line with the European Union Framework Agreement on Telework, ensure that telework is voluntary and reversible, and that teleworkers be adequately protected by effectively enforced health and safety regulations.
In Poland, to prevent the misuse of civil law contracts to deny teleworkers their rights under law, adopt clearer health and safety protections that balance the employer obligation to ensure worker safety with the privacy rights of workers, adopt provisions to address overtime work and ensure the right to disconnect, and institute mechanisms to tackle the systemic discrimination, violence and harassment often directed at remote workers.
In Ukraine, to implement and enforce regulations in conformity with the best European and world legislative practices on telework and remote work—including fully incorporating the principle of voluntariness in remote and home-based work, adequately addressing discrimination and health and safety risks, and protecting workers’ right to privacy.
The new reports are part of an ongoing ILAW research series on telework and worker rights, which includes a regional report on telework in the Americas, along with ten national reports on Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay, released in 2022. Research on telework in Mauritius and South Africa is forthcoming this year. The ILAW Network’s Future of Labor Law Wiki also contains model legislative language and analysis of how to regulate telework.
The Solidarity Center’s ILAW Network is a forum for labor and employment law practitioners who grapple with the legal and practical issues that directly affect workers and their organizations.
“Jeff Vogt, at the Washington, D.C.-based Solidarity Center worker rights group, said there was a clear trend toward recognizing improved rights and employment status for those working for gig economy companies dealing with food delivery and taxi hire. “These companies have gone to great lengths to insulate themselves from responsibility and have put an extraordinary burden on workers to claim their basic rights at work. Governments must step in now and enact legislation that protects the rights of all workers providing labor to a digital platform company,'”
Gig economy companies employ multiple strategies that undermine gig worker rights around the world, according to a new issue brief by the International Lawyers Assisting Workers (ILAW) Network, a project of the Solidarity Center.
“The collection of cases analyzed in this report reveals the extraordinary extent to which these companies are embroiled in litigation around the world,” write co-authors Nicola Countouris, labor law professor at University College London (UCL) and research department director for the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), and Jason Moyer-Lee, a fellow at Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor.
The brief details a string of losses for gig economy companies, including before the highest courts of France, Spain and the United Kingdom, and in lower tribunals from South Korea to Uruguay. Such worker victories have come at great cost and, due to weak enforcement regimes, gig economy companies often do not extend rights even after losing cases, concludes the report.
In countries where companies have seen more success—such as South Africa and the United States—the analysis shows how gig economy employers have deployed multiple tactics to pull off the victories, such as forcing workers into arbitration, making them sign complex and convoluted contracts, or relying on an international corporate structure.
The brief recommends gig workers pursue strategic litigation, complemented by collective action, campaigning and communications strategies targeted at local lawmakers, with a special focus on enforcement. And governments, the brief states, “must proactively and rigorously enforce the law,” while applying penalties stiff enough to dissuade unlawful behavior.
“These companies have gone to great lengths to insulate themselves from responsibility and have put an extraordinary burden on workers to claim their basic rights at work. Governments must step in now and enact legislation that protects the rights of all workers providing labor to a digital platform company,” says Solidarity Center Rule of Law Department Director and ILAW Network co-founder, Jeffrey Vogt.
Labor lawyers and other worker rights advocates from around the world took part in the launch of a new law journal dedicated to advancing justice for workers.
The Global Labour Rights Reporter, a project of the Solidarity Center’s International Lawyers Assisting Workers (ILAW) Network, intends to be a global forum for labor and employment law practitioners, who also will grapple with the legal and practical issues that directly affect workers and their organizations.
The journal “gives us the language to fight our battles, it gives us the language to discuss our struggles”—Paapa Danquah
Authors who contributed to the first issue, with its theme, “access to justice,” yesterday shared their contributions to the journal, which includes 10 articles and is available online in English, French and Spanish.
“The labor movement is about expanding justice for all workers,” Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau said in opening remarks. “The network is the first effort to bridge and build a pro-labor network of lawyers that has labor justice at its heart.”
The journal “gives us the language to fight our battles, it gives us the language to discuss our struggles,” said Paapa Danquah, legal officer for the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
The Solidarity Center launched the ILAW Network in December 2018 as a global hub for worker rights lawyers to exchange ideas and develop strategies to best represent the rights and interests of workers and their organizations. Since then, more than 600 hundred individuals and organizations from more than 70 countries have joined.
Justice Delayed, Justice Denied
Ensuring reparations are efficient and timely is key to achieving worker justice, says Matías Cremonte. Credit: Solidarity Center
Several participants discussed workers’ lack of access to courts and the legal process as a major block for workers attaining justice.
For instance, it took 22 years to get a judgment in the case of a manufacturing plant in Brazil, where 60 workers were killed, 59 of them women, said Matías Cremonte, regional vice-president of the Latin American Association of Labor Lawyers.
“When it came time to enforce the decision, it couldn’t be done because the conditions don’t exist anymore,” he said. “Unjustified backlogs and delays by the government led to very profound damage.” Ensuring reparations are efficient and timely is key to achieving worker justice, he said.
Raisa Liparterliani shared how unions in Georgia succeeded in restoring many worker rights that were eliminated. Credit: Solidarity Center
In addition to the institutional and practical challenges the judiciary faces, “it is not uncommon that employers will maintain a blacklist of the so called unwanted and dangerous—those who have applied to court to defend their rights,” Raisa Liparterliani, deputy chairperson of the Georgian Trade Union Confederation, wrote in the journal.
Speaking today, Liparteliani also documented concrete measures to address worker rights, sharing how unions succeeded in restoring many worker rights that were eliminated during 2005 reforms.
Discussing his article on Zimbabwean court practices, scholar Munyaradzi Gwisai said limited access to courts has denied workers a cornerstone of labor justice. “You can have rights in the constitution and labor rights, but they can be frustrated by the judiciary.”
Holding Global Supply Chains Accountable
By bringing together labor lawyers and worker rights activists, the Global Labour Rights Reporter seeks to share new strategies for ensuring worker justice, and Avery Kelly at the Corporate Accountability Lab described one such effort to enforce the legal rights of garment workers and others in the corporate supply chain.
The program, which sought to address the lack of enforcement in supplier codes of conduct, involved 14 U.S. companies, including major apparel brands, signing contracts giving supply chain workers legal rights to enforce the supplier codes of conduct. Kelly and her co-authors documented the case study in their journal article.
“There is a human rights crisis around the world—that’s why we are intensifying our work in recognizing the role labor plays in holding government’s accountable and promoting dignity and equality at work,” said Sandra Coliver from the Open Society Foundation, opening the second day of the International Lawyers Assisting Workers (ILAW) Conference in Mexico City.
Labor is key to addressing the global crisis in human rights—Sandra Coliver, OSF. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Coliver moderated a panel plenary with representatives from the American Bar Association, the Business and Human Rights Resource Center (BHRRC), Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) who discussed how their efforts as independent monitors and lawyers provide a key tool for worker rights advocates around the world.
More than 100 worker rights lawyers from around the world are discussing strategies to facilitate innovative litigation, help spread the adoption of pro-worker legislation and defeat anti-worker laws at the first ILAW conference. Participants yesterday discussed identified common challenges, share successes, plan strategic partnerships and more.
Key Allies: Independent Legal & Human Rights Groups
Carlos Lopez says ICJ offers an international lens on human rights abuses. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
In Zimbabwe, where ongoing protests against the nation’s economic meltdown have been met with death threats and a sustained government crackdown on union leaders and other civil society members, the ICJ this year documented 800 human rights violations, murders and hundreds of arrests and detentions, many included trade unionists.
ICJ created an emergency fund to provide protection for human rights violations in Zimbabwe, and relocated to safe places people whose houses were targeted and other assistance, said Carlos Lopez at ICJ.
The organization’s fact-finding mission with South African lawyers and others resulted in magistrate courts, made presentations before authorities and prepared a report—and in doing so, “signaled a strong message to labor lawyers activists that there is an international eye on what’s happening—solidarity,” he said.
BHRRC investigates up to 100 worker right violations a year, says Bobbi Sta. Maria. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
At BHRRC, the organization investigates up to 500 allegations of worker rights and human rights abuses each year and seeks to get companies to respond to the allegations, said Bobbie Sta. Maria.
“We create a public record of allegations against companies, work with unions, using information from the media and push the information out to investors, governments, non-governmental organizations, academics, companies,” and more, she said.
The ABA’s involvement in addressing worker rights and human rights abuses results in “fewer violations and shorter periods of confinement and creates documentation” that the ABA takes to brands to engage local suppliers, said Brittany Benowitz at the ABA.
“Having a bar association as outside observer helps in the larger effort” of achieving worker rights, she said.
ILAW Going Forward
During regional breakouts—Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America—participants built on discussions over the past day and a half to map out recommendations for ILAW and its members to further craft a network that achieves its founding goals: a global hub for worker rights lawyers to facilitate innovative litigation, help spread the adoption of pro-worker legislation and defeat anti-worker laws.
Common themes emerged: ILAW members said the network should go deeper in labor law reform and legislation and policy changes, engage in more public statements and advocacy and include migrant worker rights throughout all its advocacy.
The ILAW network should provide technical assistance and support so members can “share information on the migrant worker recruitment system and migration policies to enable unions and other stakeholders in the destination country to assist migrant workers,” said Sabnam Awal from the People’s Forum on Human Rights in Nepal.
ILAW Conference participants took part in regional breakouts to map next steps. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Members also frequently urged ILAW to go further in helping them address gender equality issues and network around strategies to move ratification of a new global treaty ending gender-based violence at work (International Labor Organization/ILO Convention 190).
ILAW should explore “how to encourage unions to provide an equal and level playing ground free from discrimination for both men and women,” said Kaizala Tembo, from the Labor Institute of Zambia.
Many of the resources members seek are available at the ILAW website, said ILAW Board Chair Jeff Vogt, who reviewed its features in an afternoon plenary in which members shared their priorities for ILAW. The ILAW website is available in seven languages and includes a library of resources, such as legal cases submitted by members for inclusion. ILAW members may join any of the dozens of discussion groups which are organized thematically, such as migrant worker discussion group and regionally.
Horacio Meguira led a discussion on worker rights and the ILO. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Vogt, Solidarity Center Rule of Law director, also noted that an urgent action feature will shortly be live that will enable members to react quickly with an online petition.
In the final conference plenary, Horacio Meguira from the Argentina Independent Workers union, shared a history of the ILO and engaged participants in a discussion of how worker rights lawyers can address the recent shift in the organization—comprised of representatives of workers, employers and governments—toward favoring corporate and state policies that endanger worker rights.
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