Nearly 700,000 public employees in Tunisia won a salary increase after waging mass actions for months, including a one-day general strike, in which they protested the erosion of their ability to support their families as their salaries failed to keep up with rising costs.
The agreement, announced today between the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) and the government, will ensure workers directly employed by the government will get nearly the same wage increase in 2018 and 2019 as those employed in public-private enterprises. Further details have not been announced. The agreement comes less than two weeks before UGTT was to launch its second two-day general strike on February 20–21.
High school teachers, who for nearly two months have boycotted exams to protest their poor wages and who yesterday waged a mass action at the prime minister’s office, will be covered under a separate agreement. The union’s Administrative Committee for Education will review the draft agreement tomorrow.
Even as public-sector workers struggle in Tunisia’s difficult economy, they also have been the target of wage freezes mandated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has demanded the government cut spending and balance the budget. The IMF and the government in 2016 entered into a loan program worth around $2.8 billion to address the country’s economic crisis.
Public-sector employees in Thailand are stepping up their campaign to save jobs and hard-won benefits that would be lost if lawmakers approve a draft law privatizing state-owned companies.
Some 50,000 state enterprise workers will lose their jobs or transfer to companies with fewer benefits, and their collective bargaining process will also be at risk under the Public Holding Company Act, according to union leaders of the State Enterprises Workers’ Relations Confederation (SERC). SERC, a Solidarity Center ally and Thailand’s largest trade union organization, represents 180,000 members.
SERC leaders and members are challenging a proposed law that would deny public employees the right to form unions. Credit: Solidarity Center
The dynamic Thai union activist Sawit Kaewvarn last week was elected SERC general secretary by SERC’s Executive General Assembly and plans to take a strong stand to stop privatization of jobs. SERC also is concerned the draft bill may lead to exemption of several state enterprises under the State Enterprise Labor Relations Act (SELRA), effectively prohibiting workers’ legal rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
Last year after the bill was introduced, hundreds of SERC members gathered to petition the prime minister to express their disagreement with the bill, which they say could maximize profit-making at the expense of public services.
Kaewvarn also is president of Thai Labor Solidarity Committee (TLSC), which is campaigning for Thailand to ratify International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 87 (freedom of association) and Convention 98 (right to organize and bargain collectively), and national labor law reform. Earlier this past summer, he mobilized TLSC members for a rally at the Ministry of Labor office in Bangkok to follow up on TLSC’s May Day demands, which include the ratification of the two conventions, a fair and living wage, implementation of occupational safety and health standards, effective allocation of safety and health funding, and enforcement of worker rights.
Sawit Kaewvarn was recently elected general secretary of SERC, a Solidarity Center ally and Thailand’s largest trade union organization. Credit: Solidarity Center
As TLSC president, Kaewvarn also is leading worker opposition to a Ministry of Labor proposal to expand the retirement benefit age from 55 to 60. Most workers in the private sector will be especially burdened, he says, because they must retire at age 55 and would struggle for five years before being entitled to the government-provided retirement benefit.
In June, Kaewvarn was elected general secretary of the State Railway Union of Thailand (SRUT). The election followed one last year in which the Ministry of Labor refused to register the results, which would have put Kaewvarn and his slate in office. Following a letter by the AFL-CIO to Thailand’s prime minister and Ministry of Labor urging the government to recognize the election results or order new elections, the government called for new elections in March and has now registered the results.
In 2009, Kaewvarn led Thai railway workers in a protest against unsafe working conditions, following a deadly train derailment. The State Railway of Thailand then dismissed several SRUT executive committee members, including Kaewvarn. Railway strikes are illegal in Thailand, a law the ILO says violates freedom of association. A National Human Rights Commission of Thailand found that the State Railway of Thailand violated freedom of association.
Thousands of public-sector employees rallied and marched as part of a national strike yesterday in which workers in local agencies and up to 80 percent in government ministries walked off the job. Workers seek to draw attention to the unwillingness of the government to negotiate with them on such issues as wages and retirement.
Members of the Moroccan Labor Union (Union Marocaine du travail), the Democratic Confederation for Labor (Confédération démocratique du travail), the General Union of Moroccan Workers (Union Generale des Travailleurs du Maroc) and the Democratic Federation for Labor (Fédération démocratique du travail) also denounced the government’s unilateral decisions in the absence of social dialogue and the unilateral approach for the retirement reform.
Union members have sought enforcement of an agreement made in April 2011 with the previous government that improved civil servants’ salaries, boosted the minimum pension and promoted union freedom. The national strike follows a November 29 action in which tens of thousands of workers from all four unions rallied and marched to call attention to how the government’s inaction has eroded their ability to support their families. Workers also took part in a month of protest in May, and say they are planning another national strike in coming weeks.
Public employees in Peru rally against a civil service law that takes away collective bargaining rights (above and below). Photos: Marcela Arellano Villa
Seeking to reach a collective bargaining agreement with the Peruvian government, three public-sector union confederations presented a joint petition to government officials in recent days. The bargaining proposal includes the freedom for workers to form unions, and stresses that worker rights should not be negated even though civil service is a “vocation and calling.”
Peruvian unions took inspiration from their brothers and sisters in Colombia, Argentina and Uruguay, who have negotiated similar industry-wide collective bargaining agreements.
The industry-wide bargaining proposal “is an opportunity to advance respect for freedom of association and collective bargaining in the public sector, which are currently under threat,” said Jorge Villa Garcia, deputy secretary general of the National Federation of Administrative Workers in the Education Sector (FENTASE). “It’s a chance for us to negotiate fair wages and establish agreements that will prevent conflict and help us build a better Peruvian civil service.” Villa Garcia is also Public Services International (PSI) coordinator for Peru
Last July, the government passed a new civil service law that eliminated the right of more than 500,000 public administration workers to collectively negotiate salaries, narrowed the definition of the type of unions they may establish and prevents “essential service” unions from striking (without defining essential services).
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has criticized the new law for its unfair restrictions on collective bargaining and the right to strike. Some members of the Peruvian Congress and human rights organizations have noted that portions of the law are contrary to international labor legislation and say it provides no mechanisms to promote the provision of quality public services. Three separate lawsuits charge the civil service law violates the constitution, and members of the Peruvian Congress have sponsored five bills to modify it.
Peru’s new civil service law is part of a “second generation” of neoliberal state reform that includes the country’s privatization of its health, education and other public services, actions that entail the elimination of many public-sector jobs, according to PSI. Public-sector worker rights are under attack in Latin America and elsewhere around the world, even as rising inequality and lack of jobs, especially for young workers, further limit the ability of working people to support themselves and their families.
The Solidarity Center actively assists public-sector workers in defending their rights across the Andean region, including in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, and in coordination with PSI, the global union federation that represents public-sector workers worldwide.
Public-sector workers in Peru are challenging a new civil service law that eliminates the right of more than 500,000 public administration workers to collectively negotiate salaries, narrows the definition of the type of unions they may establish and prevents “essential service” unions from striking (without defining essential services). The law also sets up a punitive annual evaluation process and provides government agencies with numerous justifications for downsizing, which public employees fear could lead to mass layoffs.
Congress passed Law 30057 earlier this month amid a flurry of last-minute action, surprising union leaders and progressive legislators who had crafted a compromise bill that never made it to a full vote.
When union members and their allies called for repeal of the law during peaceful marches across the country, police tear-gassed crowds, including those in Arequipa, the seat of Peru’s constitutional court. Union members are now collecting signatures to reopen congressional debate on the law and are preparing a complaint for the International Labor Organization (ILO). They also will march in July 27 rallies commemorating Peruvian independence. (Take action: Tell the president of Peru you won’t stand for the erosion of worker rights!)
In addition, public administration unions are engaging with consumer activist groups and other civil society organizations to build a shared understanding of how the law adversely impacts access to quality public services. Peruvian unions are sharing with the public how privatizing public services not only undermines quality and affordability, but also destroys public employees’ fundamental rights on the job, including access to a career path based on training opportunities.
Legislators, including a majority of the governing party, voted for the law despite concerns raised by their colleagues and public-sector unions, and the findings of an ILO technical report. The ILO found that the law suffers from an assumption that the exercise of collective rights is inherently against the public’s interest.
Peru’s public administration union federations affiliated with the Central General de Trabajadores del Peru (CGTP), along with other public-sector unions, sought dialogue with the newly formed public sector labor agency, SERVIR, after discussions about the new law began last year. Union federations affiliated with CGTP include the Intersectoral Confederation of State Workers (CITE), the Confederation of State Employees (CTE) and the National Association of State Sector Unions (UNASSE).
In coordination with global union federation, Public Service International (PSI), and the Solidarity Center, public administration workers from across Peru held forums in December 2012 to generate proposals for the law and have met regularly since, generating awareness and activism, particularly as the debates in Congress have heated up.
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