The number of countries that exclude workers from the right to form or join unions increased from 92 in 2018 to 107 in 2019, and 80 percent of countries deny some or all workers collective bargaining rights, according to the International Trade Union Confederation’s Global Rights Index 2019 released today.
“Democracy is in crisis, as governments continue to roll back workers fundamental rights,” ITUC General Secretary Burrow said at a press conference releasing the report today in Geneva. “But our solidarity and defense of workers is also unprecedented.”
The report documents escalating repressive actions against workers worldwide as part of a global environment in which democracy is being increasingly restricted.
In addition, the report finds:
- Union members and leaders were murdered in 10 countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Pakistan, the Philippines, Turkey and Zimbabwe.
- 85 percent of countries have violated the right to strike.
- Workers had no or restricted access to justice in 72 percent of countries.
- Authorities impeded the registration of unions in 59 percent of countries.
- The number of countries where workers are arrested and detained increased from 59 in 2018 to 64 in 2019.
“The three global trends for workers’ rights identified in the 2019 Global Rights Index show that democracy is in crisis, governments are attempting to silence the age of anger through brutal repression, but legislative successes for workers’ rights are still being won,” the report states.
‘We Will Claim Our Rights!’
Speaking at the press conference, Bernice Coronacion, senior leader of the union federation SENTRO in the Philippines, choked up as she recounted the violent escalation against union members there, including the murder of a union leader.
“Trade union work very dangerous in the country,” she said. “We don’t just need good rights on paper for workers, we need them to be actualized. And we will claim these rights!”
The Philippines is among the 10 worst countries for workers’ rights in 2019, according to the report. The others are Algeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Zimbabwe.
But the report makes clear that worker rights are endangered across the spectrum: The greatest increase in the number of countries excluding workers from the right to form unions occurred in Europe, where 50 percent of countries now exclude groups of workers from the law, up from 20 percent in 2018.
Also speaking at the press conference, Vagner Freitas, president of the Central Union of Workers (CUT) in Brazil, said although the rights of women workers are being rolled back, “women have been at the forefront of the struggle against these anti-democratic actions against women workers and women in our country. We will restore democracy in Brazil.”
The ITUC Global Rights Index 2019 ranks 145 countries against 97 internationally recognized indicators to assess where workers’ rights are best protected in law and in practice. The ITUC has been collecting data on violations of workers’ rights to trade union membership and collective bargaining around the world for more than 30 years.
Read the full report.
Kwasi Adu Amankwah, general secretary of the African Regional Organization of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa), was forcibly taken from his hotel at 2 a.m. today in Harare, Zimbabwe, where he had just arrived.
Amankwah was set to meet with leaders of the Zimbabwe Trade Union Confederation (ZCTU) when state security agents took him to Robert Mugabe International Airport, where he has been held for hours.
Officials refused to allow a lawyer from ZCTU to see Amankwah at the airport, according to ZCTU.
“It’s a sad development,” ZCTU President Peter Mutasa told the media. “We are in trouble as human rights defenders and trade unionists.”
Other ITUC representatives from Brussels who sought to travel to Zimbabwe with Amankwah were denied visas.
In addition to the solidarity visit to ZCTU, Amankwah was scheduled to meet with the Zimbabwe Ministry of Labor and representatives of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and employers’ federation. Amankwah has not been charged nor informed of the reason for his detention, according to ZCTU.
“It is not clear why such a senior trade union leader was detained at his hotel in the early morning hours and whisked away to the airport without his belongings—and even denied food brought to him by his lawyer and trade union colleagues as he was detained at the airport,” says Solidarity Center Africa Region Director Hanad Mohamud. “This after lawfully entering Zimbabwe. Why is Kwasi being targeted like this?”
In January, after tens of thousands of Zimbabweans protested a 150 percent fuel price hike, ZCTU Secretary General Japhet Moyo and Mutasa were arrested on charges of subversion and beaten in detention. They since have been released but are restricted from travel and must check in with police.
The January crackdown on worker rights’ activists follows the arrest and release of Moyo, Mutasa and 33 other union leaders in October, as government officials attempted to end a nationwide protest against a financial tax increase and rising prices. Some union activists were beaten, ZCTU Harare offices were cordoned off by more than 100 police, and ZCTU leaders not already in jail were forced into hiding.
In a letter to Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa, ITUC-Africa asks for Amankwah’s release and “an unreserved apology for this action” from the Zimbabwe Department of Immigration.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is among unions around the world decrying Amankwah’s detention and likely deportation, condemning the move “in the strongest terms” and demanding his immediate release and freedom to meet with ZCTU and others.
Some 65 percent of countries now exclude entire categories of workers from labor law protections, while 81 percent of countries deny some or all workers collective bargaining, as democratic space for workers closes around the world, according to a new report.
Released today, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Global Rights Index 2018 reports that over the past year, trade unionists were murdered in nine countries—Brazil, China, Colombia, Guatemala, Guinea, Mexico, Niger, Nigeria and Tanzania—as the number of countries in which workers are exposed to physical violence and threats increased by 10 percent, from 59 to 65. In Colombia alone, 19 trade unionists were murdered last year—nearly double the 11 murders of the previous year.
The number of countries where workers are arbitrarily arrested and detained increased from 44 in 2016 to 59 in 2017. Some 87 percent of countries violated the right to strike. Of 142 countries surveyed, 54 deny or constrain free speech and freedom of assembly.
The 10 worst countries for overall worker rights violations are Algeria, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
“Democracy is under attack in countries that fail to guarantee people’s right to organize, speak out and take action,” says ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.
The Middle East and North Africa was again the worst region for treatment of workers, with the kafala system in the Gulf still enslaving millions of people. “The absolute denial of basic workers’ rights remained in place in Saudi Arabia,” according to the ITUC.
Haiti, Kenya, Macedonia, Mauritania and Spain have all seen their rankings worsen in 2018, with a rise in attacks on worker rights in law and practice.
The 2018 ITUC Global Rights Index rates 142 countries from one to five according to 97 internationally recognized indicators to assess where worker rights are best protected in law and in practice. The Index assigns an overall score placing countries in rankings of one to five.
1 Sporadic violations of rights: 13 countries, including Ireland and Denmark
2 Repeated violations of rights: 23 countries, including France and Estonia
3 Regular violations of rights: 26 countries, including Spain and Macedonia
4 Systematic violations of rights: 38 countries, including Haiti and Kenya
5 No guarantee of rights: 32 countries including, Honduras and Nigeria
5+ No guarantee of rights due to breakdown of the rule of law: 10 countries
Gender-based violence at work is far more prevalent than reported and ending it will require women coming together to challenge male-dominated structures—whether in corporations, governments or their own unions, according to leaders and experts from a variety of unions and nongovernmental associations (NGOs) speaking yesterday in New York City.
“As prevalent as gender-based violence is in workplace, it goes unrecognized—Solidarity Center Policy Director Molly McCoy. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
“As prevalent as gender-based violence is in workplace, it goes unrecognized,” said Solidarity Center Policy Director Molly McCoy.
McCoy was among participants on two panels Monday that focused on gender-based violence at work, part of events the Solidarity Center and its partners are holding in conjunction with the March 13–24 meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
Hundreds of high-level government delegates at the CSW will for the first time discuss women’s economic empowerment and the role of labor unions as core to achieving women’s rights—a huge milestone for working women around the globe in achieving recognition of their workplace struggles by the world’s human rights body—and one that worker rights organizations like the ITUC and Solidarity Center have long championed.
Gender-Based Violence Worse without Freedom to Form Unions
Panelists at the Solidarity Center session, “Eliminating Gender-Based Violence in the World of Work,” explored how unions enable workers, especially women workers, to speak up when experiencing sexual harassment and other violence on the job by providing a network of peer support.
“The absolute most important thing is that we organize for worker power”—Julia Rybak. New York Hotel Trades Council. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
“Workers having the resources and the community of support is something most workers don’t have,” said Julia Rybak, director of the New York Hotel Trades Council. “The absolute most important thing is that we organize for worker power.”
“Gender-based violence is always worse when there is no freedom of association,” said McCoy, who moderated the panel. “When workers are not organized (in unions), they don’t have resources to tackle gender-based violence.”
Conversely, McCoy said, “the persistence and prevalence of gender-based violence has an impact on freedom of association. Gender-based violence is very much a tool used to repress worker rights, to silence workers and to isolate workers so they can’t stand up for themselves and fight gender-based violence.”
“There are extraordinarily high rates of gender-based violence against women at the workplace,” said Robin Runge, a lawyer who represented survivors of violence and abuse for more than 20 years. Runge is author of the new report, “Ending Gender-Based Violence in the World of Work in the United States,” written with support from the AFL-CIO and Solidarity Center.
Women Empowering Themselves through Unions
“Only by organizing can we get out of situations I faced when I was 12 and protect other domestic worker”—Ernestina Ochoa Lujan, IDWF. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Several panelists recounted their own experiences with workplace-based violence. Ernestina Ochoa Lujan, a domestic worker and vice president of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), began work as a domestic worker in Peru at age 11. At age 12, she was attacked by her employer.
“I couldn’t call my parents because I didn’t have parents, I couldn’t call authorities because we are not believed. I cry not because I have no hope but because I went on to organize with my union,” she said through a translator.
“Only by organizing can we get out of situations I faced when I was 12 and protect other domestic workers.”
“We have to think about all those workers whose voice is not here”—Kazi Fouzia, DRUM. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Panelists and some of the several dozen audience members who spoke during a question and answer period described widespread violence against women workers—in Algeria, Argentina, Colombia and wherever women work and in whatever sector they are employed.
“We have to think about all those workers whose voice is not here,” said Kazi Fouzia, director of organizing at the New York-based Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) organization, a 4,000-member worker association that includes primarily women in the informal economy.
Join the Stop Gender-Based Violence Campaign
Earlier in the day, 75 participants discussed steps involved in building support for an International Labor Organization (ILO) convention on ending gender-based violence.
“It’s important we go to the governments to make sure they support an ILO convention. We need a critical number of governments to move it forward,” said Marieke Koning from the Equality department at the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The ITUC sponsored the panel, “Stop Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in the World of Work Campaign: How to Support an ILO Convention.”
Amrita Sietaram, ILO ACTRAV section, described the process of creating and passing a convention to end gender-based violence at work. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Koning was joined by Amrita Sietaram from the ILO ACTRAV section, who described the process of creating and passing a convention to end gender-based violence at work, which she says has moved forward because of the efforts of the ITUC and global union federations. The ILO will discuss a draft text in June 2018 and unions, employers and others have from May to September this year to comment on the draft text.
Sietaram also described significant “employer resistance to a gender-based violence at work convention,” and noted that discussions will determine whether the final product is a “convention”—which governments agree to follow, or a “recommendation,” a weaker outcome that provides direction.
Speaking from the audience, IDWF General Secretary Elizabeth Tang described how domestic workers around the world worked for years to achieve 2011 passage of ILO Convention 189 covering domestic workers—and how the union has begun to reproduce those steps to move passage of a convention to end gender-based violence at work.
Join the ITUC campaign to end gender-based violence at work.
Follow us here, on Facebook and on Twitter @SolidarityCntr for coverage of the following Solidarity Center and partner events:
- March 15, 12:30 ET: “Building Power for Women Workers in the Changing World of Work”—AFL-CIO
- March 16, 12:30 ET: “Impact of Corporate Power to Women’s Economic Empowerment”—Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) & Solidarity Center
Workers’ rights were weakened in most regions over the past year, according to the 2016 International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Global Rights Index.
Repression of worker rights was compounded by restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, including severe crackdowns in some countries, which increased by 22 percent, with 50 out of 141 countries surveyed recording restrictions.
The ITUC Global Rights Index ranks 141 countries against 97 internationally recognized indicators to assess where workers’ rights are best protected, in law and in practice.
Global Rights Index Details Chilling Repression
- Unionists were murdered in 10 countries, including Chile, Colombia, Egypt, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Iran, Mexico, Peru, South Africa and Turkey.
- 82 countries exclude workers from labor law.
- More than two-thirds of countries have laws prohibiting some workers from striking.
- More than half of all countries deny some or all workers collective bargaining.
- Out of 141 countries, the number which deny or constrain free speech and freedom of assembly increased from 41 to 50.
- Out of 141 countries, the number in which workers are exposed to physical violence and threats increased by 44 percent (from 36 to 52) and include Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, Indonesia and the Ukraine.
ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow summed up the global environment this way:
“Repression of workers’ rights goes hand in hand with increased government control over freedom of expression, assembly and other fundamental civil liberties, with too many governments seeking to consolidate their own power and frequently doing the bidding of big business, which often sees fundamental rights as incompatible with its quest for profit at any expense.”
Read the full report.