In response to the unveiling of the Biden administration’s Presidential Memorandum on Advancing Worker Empowerment, Rights and High Labor Standards Globally, Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau issued the following statement:
“The Biden administration’s announcement today represents the first time the U.S. government has made a holistic commitment to global worker rights. If this new global labor strategy is fully resourced and implemented, the United States has a historic opportunity to play a critical role in reversing corporate- and government-supported exploitation of millions of working people and bolster democratic freedoms around the world.
“It is impossible to overstate the need for this long-awaited commitment to worker rights. In many countries where the United States has diplomatic, trade and economic development influence, workers’ ability to exercise everyday democracy—through the rights to form and join unions, strike and bargain together for fair wages and decent working conditions—is consistently repressed, often violently and sometimes fatally. In just the past two months, police allegedly shot and killed three garment workers and injured many more during protests for a higher minimum wage in Bangladesh; entered a labor union leader’s home in the Philippines, shooting him dead; and assaulted workers in Nigeria protesting over lost wages, seriously injuring the union’s leader. This new strategy to advance global labor rights is a roadmap for the U.S. government to expand its use of diplomatic and trade leverage and multilateral tools and settings to garner additional countries’ support for upholding worker rights.
“The U.S. government should use its direct influence or its convening power with other nations to address labor rights repression in places like Belarus and Myanmar, where unions fighting for democracy have been outlawed by their governments, their leaders and members beaten, jailed, sent into exile or killed.
“This all-of-government labor rights strategy should also focus on influencing labor laws and increasing employer accountability. Today, U.S. companies too often treat sourcing like a game of Whac-A-Mole, jumping from country to country when strengthened and enforced labor laws drive workers’ pay closer to a living wage. And, most of the 2 billion people who work in the informal economy, including agriculture and domestic workers, street vendors and drivers and delivery workers in the growing platform economy, have no access to health care, sick leave or support when they are injured or lose their jobs.
“The Biden administration’s trade approach in Mexico has the potential to be a game-changer for workers and an example of this new labor strategy’s potential impact. The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement includes a rapid response complaint mechanism unions are using to remedy worker rights abuses. Tying worker rights to U.S. market access and investing in independent union organizing has led to an unprecedented growth of democratic unions that represent workers’ interests and are winning wage hikes and safety improvements in factories that supply the U.S. market. Replicating this kind of approach to worker-centered trade policy should be a priority.
“We are hopeful that this commitment to global labor rights will mean workers are represented in conversations about how to sustain good union jobs in communities worldwide that are most impacted by the transition to a clean energy economy. We look forward to workers’ rights and livelihoods becoming front-and-center in conversations about the evolution of technology in the workplace. And, we look forward to expanded investment and prioritization of a worker rights approach to ending gender-based violence and harassment and other forms of exploitation on the job.”
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.
“Taken for a Ride: Litigating the Digital Platform Model,” released today, analyzes how companies such as Deliveroo, Foodora and Uber deprive couriers and drivers of their basic employment rights globally.
“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.
The report was made possible with funding from the Ford Foundation.
The Union of Moroccan Workers (UMT) is condemning the recent firing of journalist and television host Youssef Belhaissi and attacks on other members of his union, including Aziz Fathi, a union office coordinator, who was demoted from editor-in-chief.
The company had barred Belhaissi, deputy secretary-general of the union representing media workers at Medi1 TV, from appearing on screen since late June, a move condemned by union and media advocates. The union is an affiliate of the National Federation of Press, Media and Communication/UMT.
Fathi, who has reported on the dangers of the novel coronavirus and engaged in public advocacy and awareness of the pandemic, also saw his computer destroyed, according to UMT. His colleague, Hicham Faouzi, UMT first general secretary, also was demoted without cause.
The actions follow weeks-long demands by employees at Medi1 TV, which broadcasts news, business and financial markets and sports, for stronger sanitary measures to protect against spread of the virus, and for COVID-19 testing. Employees say the company has refused to allow workers eligible for teleworking to do so.
UMT says the company first responded to the workers’ demands for safe conditions by unilaterally closing Medi1 TV’s Rabat office and scheduling the transfer of all staff to Tangier in August amid the pandemic.
“Trade union action is neither a crime nor a misdemeanor,” UMT says in a statement. “It is guaranteed in the kingdom’s constitution, and in all international and regional covenants and agreements ratified by Morocco, a commitment that Morocco has made to itself in international and regional forums.”
Employers Use COVID Crisis to Target Workers
Employers worldwide are penalizing and even firing workers who demand their rights to safety measures to protect against COVID-19, and are using the pandemic to lay off workers, often targeting those seeking for form unions or exercise their rights on the job.
The crisis also has accelerated moves in recent years to limit press freedom, part of a global attack on democracy that often involves targeting individual journalists, media workers and sometimes entire press enterprises.
Morocco’s freedom of press score has fallen every year since 2015, according to World Press Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which ranks Morocco 135th out of 180 countries in its 2019 annual report on freedom of press.
In December, police arrested journalist Omar Radi for a nine-month-old tweet criticizing a judge, the 11th journalist imprisoned in Morocco since 2011, more than twice as many as the previous decade, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
In the works is a radical overhaul of labor laws, which will redefine the lives of more than six million impoverished migrant workers. “The conditions [in Malaysia] are appalling,” said the Solidarity Center’s Dave Welsh. “If even a modicum of what trade unions put forward is enacted into law, this is a huge game changer.”
“Companies also need to do more to ensure workers never pay [recruitment] fees in the first place,” said Neha Misra from the Solidarity Center regarding a rare award reimbursing at least 10,000 Burmese migrants for the excessive and illegal fees they were charged to secure jobs at an electronics manufacturer in Thailand.