“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.”
An unprecedented, binding, worker-centered program designed to comprehensively address rampant gender-based violence and harassment in several garment factories in Lesotho is succeeding in creating a safe and dignified workplace in Lesotho, attendees of a high-level summit in the southern African country were told last week.
The July 27 summit, “Eradicating Gender-Based Violence and Harassment at Work in Southern Africa,” brought together government, labor and business leaders in Maseru, Lesotho’s capital, to highlight advances in ensuring worker rights and civil-society participation—including the program that arose from groundbreaking, anti-GVBH agreements negotiated collaboratively by local unions and women’s rights groups, multinational brands sourcing from Lesotho, international worker rights groups and a Taiwanese factory group producing clothing for Western markets. The event was co-hosted by the Multilateral Partnership for Organizing, Worker Empowerment and Rights (M-POWER), the Lesotho Federation of Trade Unions and Lesotho Labor Council, and was supported by the Solidarity Center.
“I experienced so much harassment at the factory before the program at Nien Hsing was established,” said garment worker Popoti Ntebe. “Because of the high level of unemployment in our country, workers tend to be harassed because of poverty.”
Before the program launched in 2020, Ntebe said a variety of behaviors by supervisors and managers were common, including bullying, verbal and physical abuse, and sexual harassment. The desperation to have a paying job made workers vulnerable to situations where supervisors would demand sex for letting workers past the factory gate, granting overtime work or not terminating a work contract.
“After you were hired, you were given a 3-month contract. Supervisors threaten to terminate the contract if we don’t agree to have sex with them. And workers desperate for work agree,” she said.
However, since the program of education and awareness raising for workers and managers, “the rate of GBVH has really decreased. This program is so beneficial to workers,” she said.
The program has educated thousands of workers and managers about GBVH and worker rights at Nien Hsing factories in the country. It is the first attempt to end GBVH at work that is binding on the factory to implement the program; enforceable through the economic power of U.S. brands; and grounded in ILO Convention 190 on violence and harassment. And, in another milestone, it established an independent organization, Workers’ Rights Watch, to investigate allegations of violence and harassment, and remediate violations–with workers able to report issues to a newly established toll-free information line.
Other speakers on the panel, “How Workers and Companies are Addressing Gender-Based Violence and Harassment in a Global Supply Chain: Focus on the Lesotho Agreements,” were: Jeffrey Hogue, chief sustainability officer, Levi Strauss & Co. (by video); Samuel Mokhele, secretary general, National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union (NACTWU); Matsie Moalosi, education and awareness raising facilitator, NACTWU; Itumeleng Moerane, information line manager, Federation of Women Lawyers Lesotho (FIDA); Motseoa Senyane, lead assessor, Workers’ Rights Watch; and Leeto Makoro, shop steward, Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL). Thusoana Ntlama, programs coordinator of FIDA Lesotho, moderated the panel.
Samuel Mokhele emphasized the importance of collaboration in addressing GBVH in Lesotho’s garment factories. “We came together with international organizations we are working with, namely the Solidarity Center, then we asked what we can do to eliminate the challenges that workers are facing at work,” he said. “We learned from other countries what kind of models they had and how we could domesticate that into our country.
“This is where all of us came up with the agreement to have a program on gender-based violence and harassment,” Mokhele added.
Speaking on behalf of educators and facilitators, Matsie Moalosi stressed the importance of addressing the root causes of GBVH and collaboration across cultures in addressing GBVH. “There are root causes to GBVH. So we have to remove them: the abuse of power, disrespect of women’s rights and gender equity. We are from different cultures. So we have to know about gender and how it’s diverse in order to accommodate LGBTQIA+ because they are people who are most vulnerable in the workplace,” Moalosi said.
Itumeleng Moerane and Motseoa Senyane emphasized the importance of the principle of confidentiality throughout the process of gathering workers’ reports of GBVH through the information line, then investigating and making determinations on remedies for valid cases, with the express consent of workers.
To date, Senyane said, Workers’ Rights Watch has issued 108 determinations, and five cases are currently under investigation.
But, more importantly, she said, “This program puts justice in the hands of workers.”
The program’s power to right injustices has elicited calls from workers in other factories and organizations, panelists said. Currently, the work is limited to factories owned by Nien Hsing, a signatory to the agreements. However, the need is great.
“Some of our (union) members are interested in the program but it’s only at Nien Hsing, as a pilot. It would be helpful to extend it to other factories,” said Mokhele.
M-POWER is a historic global initiative focused on ensuring working families thrive in the global economy and elevating the role of trade unions and organized workers as essential to advancing democracy. The government of the United States and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) co-chair M-POWER, joined by steering committee members: the governments of Argentina, Canada and Spain; the International Domestic Worker Federation; the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU); the AFL-CIO; and Funders Organized for Rights in the Global Economy (FORGE). Additional partners include the governments of Germany and South Africa, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum, ProDESC, Solidarity Center and Worker Rights Consortium.
Event partners for this M-POWER summit were: the Congress of South African Trade Unions; Federation of Women Lawyers Lesotho; Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho; International Domestic Workers Federation; International Trade Union Confederation-Africa; International Trade Union Confederation; National Clothing, Textile and Allied Workers Union; Southern Africa Trade Union Coordination Council; United Textile Employees, Lesotho; Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Education Trust; Worker Rights Consortium and Workers’ Rights Watch.
Lynch met with UGTT General Secretary Noureddine Taboubi on Friday prior to taking part in a Saturday rally organized by UGTT in eight cities to protest the stifling “of basic rights, including union rights.” In her speech, Lynch called for the release of Anis Kaabi, general secretary of Tunisia’s highway workers union, who was arrested for organizing a strike of toll booth workers.
Following the protest, authorities posted an article accusing Lynch of breaking the law by threatening the country’s security. Authorities confronted Lynch, giving her 24 hours to leave the country and ordering her to inform them of her activities and anyone she spoke to during that period.
After arriving safely in Brussels, Lynch drew a parallel between her expulsion and the harassment of trade unionists in Tunisia.
“The decision to expel me for taking part in a peaceful protest is typical of the harassment and intimidation faced by trade unionists in Tunisia every day,” she said. “In the past few months, members of the UGTT have been arrested, sacked and spied on simply for carrying out entirely legal trade union work.”
The European Trade Union Confederation issued a statement that decried “the campaign of intimidation and harassment being waged against trade unions,” including arrests, firings, malicious lawsuits, the monitoring and restricting of trade union activity by law enforcement, and the promotion of yellow trade unions. The International Trade Union Confederation noted the “enormous damage to Tunisia’s economy, society and the daily life of working people” resulting from the president’s policies.
Lynch’s expulsion is the latest in a series of anti-union and anti-democratic actions including the arrest of Anis Kaabi and the weaponization of the country’s courts against union members for exercising their rights, such as the freedom to strike.
“Recognize our union; negotiate with us!” Pampanga Delivery drivers cried last January 25 during the launch of the Pampanga chapter of the National Union of Delivery Riders (RIDERS). Intending to cover all platform-based delivery drivers from apps like Grab, FoodPanda and Maxim, RIDERS fights for health insurance and income security, among other basic protections.
Mark Larson (left) and Mary Rose (right)
The Solidarity Center spoke to RIDERS organizers Mark Larson and Mary Rose, who were illegally terminated and suspended last December following a labor rally they both attended. They then filed a case with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and currently await the labor arbiter’s decision.
Greener Pastures in Delivery Work
“When Grab first opened in Pampanga around June 2019, we were only around 20 drivers,” says Larson.
Larson and Rose were among the pioneer Grab delivery drivers in their province. Before joining, Larson had worked as a fast-food delivery driver, and Rose was a migrant worker in Dubai. Both were enticed to join Grab because it held the opportunity of reasonable wages and flexible work hours. Both Larson and Rose are their respective families’ breadwinners, with Rose being a single mother of five and Larson supporting his family of six.
Mark (left) and Rose (right) are with their family. Faces blurred for privacy.
In the Philippines, apps like Grab utilize a cash-on-delivery system that makes delivery drivers like Larson and Rose temporarily pay for their customer’s food order. The customer then pays the delivery drivers back once they receive their order. This opens up the possibility of fake bookings, such as when the customer never claims the food.
Cracks in the System
Emerging from the pandemic, food delivery services became typical for Filipinos. The delivery boom necessitated Grab to add more delivery drivers. Research conducted in 2022 byFairwork Philippines estimates that Grab employs 40,000 delivery drivers. Its competitor, Foodpanda, employs 45,000.
However, increasing delivery drivers meant steeper competition, and fewer bookings meant less income. “Before, working late into the night was a choice. Now it is a necessity,” says Rose. “Despite consistent good performance, it is a game of chance— some accounts have stronger bookings on some days and slower bookings on others,” Larson adds.
The incentive system they used before the pandemic was also adjusted. “They may have raised the incentive amount, but they also raised the number of rides you will need to reach it. In the end, the delivery driver loses,” says Rose.
While delivery drivers in Pampanga have been complaining about these issues, the push for collective action came when Grab informed the delivery drivers that they would implement fare changes. On the day Grab Pampanga implemented the announced fare change, Pampanga delivery drivers were shocked to find fares that went below 38 pesos (about 69 cents).
Grab Pampanga’s Pricing Matrix Provided to GrabFood Delivery Drivers, 2022
Pax refers to the net income of the delivery driver per transaction. Dax is what the customer will pay. The difference between the two (Dax minus Pax) is what goes to Grab. Example computations change the base rate of around 49 pesos (about 89 cents) to 38 pesos (about 69 cents).
Larson remembers the anger and confusion that delivery drivers felt when they saw how little they would make, considering that they needed to spend their money on motorcycle maintenance, gas, mobile data and cellular load, and delivery boxes.
When management informed the delivery drivers of the change in late 2022, it was through a Zoom call where comments were screened and monitored. Grab Pampanga did not seek prior input from delivery drivers. “We also have a Discord channel with the management, but they usually just mute the chat when they don’t want to be bothered,” explains Larson.
He continues, “Delivery drivers within their areas started talking to each other, and agreed to do a motorcade and noise barrage. Almost 600 delivery drivers were a part of that first rally.”
At the time, since Larson was the team leader in his area, his fellow delivery drivers asked him to go to the Grab Pampanga management office to communicate their demands. Weeks of negotiating with management proved to be unfruitful. “They told us it was a system error, but they don’t know when it would be corrected. They said their hands were tied because they didn’t have access to the fare matrix. They only follow what the main office tells them,” Larson says.
At that point, the Pampanga management team regarded Larson as the spokesperson of the delivery drivers, specifically those who had rallied. He was given a warning because he allegedly violated the company’s code of conduct and was called to a meeting. Rose, who was present during the rally, was also issued a warning. During their meeting, management purported that Larson was the leader of the rally, and that Rose was wearing Grab’s uniform during the rally. A second meeting was called, which coincided with a planned labor rally. After attending the second rally, Larson was terminated, while Rose was indefinitely suspended.
Call to Action
“Ultimately, they’re [Grab] the ones who pushed us to unionize,” Rose says. Rose and Larson eventually attended orientation seminars and training on trade unionism and worker rights. Together with other delivery drivers, they formed the Pampanga Chapter of the United Delivery Riders of the Philippines (RIDERS).
“We saw that it was the only way for us to fight for our rights. Because if we do it individually, they will never notice us. They would just terminate us, and we would have a hard time fighting back,” says Larson, “At least now that I have a union to support me, I can fight.”
“The number one reason delivery drivers are scared,” Larson says, “is because they believe that they are not employees of the app.” In the Philippines, no specific labor law has provisions for workers in the gig economy. However, arecent ruling from the Supreme Court established an employer-employee relationship between Lazada, an e-commerce platform and its delivery drivers. Larson and Rose are hopeful that this can be the start of future legislation for delivery drivers.
Larson and Rose’s pending case with the NLRC has yet to be settled. Rose has since been reinstated but continues to fight and organize.
When Rose was asked why she continues to fight, she replied,“When you see your dignity being stepped on, you must stand up for yourself. We don’t have laws for us [delivery drivers]. Unionizing is how not only the company but also the government will notice us.”
A new video shows the strategies unions and civil society allies in Kyrgyzstan, with Solidarity Center support, are using to advance and protect the rights of people with disabilities. Strategies include coalition-building and joint advocacy projects with national and local disability rights organizations, pro-bono legal support, data collection, legislative reform and trainings-of-trainers with disabilities.
In 2019, the Kyrgyz Republic ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which promotes the full and effective inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of society. However, discrimination against people with disabilities has persisted. A Solidarity Center research study in 2022 revealed that only 20 percent of people with disabilities surveyed in Kyrgyzstan were employed, and most were in insecure seasonal or part-time jobs.
Since 2019, the Solidarity Center has conducted a program focused on reducing discrimination in employment and promoting the labor rights of workers with disabilities, the first of its kind in Kyrgyzstan. Through a combination of legislative analysis, large-scale media campaigns, the development of a mobile application, individual legal support, educational trainings and collaboration with key organizations, the Solidarity Center is working to make real change for people with disabilities.
In 2022, the Solidarity Center raised the need for changes to the Labor Code, harmonizing regulations and mechanisms to improve laws that impact people with disabilities. Kyrgyzstan’s government has demonstrated the political will to make legislative changes that facilitate greater access to employment and education for people with disabilities, but further progress is needed to ensure legal protections are enforced in the workplace.
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