Sri Lankan Health Workers Protest Decree that Outlaws Strikes

Sri Lankan Health Workers Protest Decree that Outlaws Strikes

Health professionals in Sri Lanka took to the streets of Colombo this week to protest a recent presidential decree that public health and electricity provision are essential services, effectively banning all workers in those sectors from striking.

The Federation of Health Professionals (FHP) staged its protest in front of President Gotabaya Rajapakse’s office. The protest comes after three months of island-wide strike action by the Government Nursing Officers’ Association (GNOA), which demanded a resolution of salary anomalies, among other issues.

The president’s late-Friday decree, or gazette, came on the heels of protests on February 7 and 8.

Following a meeting with the health minister, the FHP said it would suspend further trade union action for two weeks until its demands were met. The minister committed to issuing a cabinet paper on February 21 to resolve salary issues.

GNOA suspended further actions after the issuing of the gazette.

Americas Human Rights Court Rules Workers Have Right to Strike

Americas Human Rights Court Rules Workers Have Right to Strike

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights this week issued an historic ruling that affirmed a worker’s right to strike.

The case arises out of a collective dispute in 1996 when efforts by the Union of Workers of the Judicial Body to negotiate a new collective agreement failed. The union went on strike in March 1996, having complied with the procedures but before the General Inspectorate of Labor had confirmed two-thirds of the workers supported the strike—the legal requirement in the Labor Code. The Attorney General obtained an injunction declaring the strike illegal, and the employer subsequently fired those who had participated in the strike. In 1999, the Supreme Court confirmed the dismissals, leading the union to take the matter to the Inter-American Commission in 2000. The commission rendered its decision on the merits in 2019, and the matter was referred to the court in 2020 for a final, binding decision.

Unions in Guatemala and throughout Latin America are hailing the decision. César Guerra, secretary of Labor and Conflicts at the Union of Banana Workers of Izabal-SITRABI, calls the court decision “an important precedent for the country’s labor judges to rule in accordance with our rights, especially on a subject as stigmatized as the strike.”

The decision “sets an important precedent for the country’s labor judges to rule in accordance with our rights, especially on a subject as stigmatized as the strike,” he says. Exploitation and abuse of worker rights is widespread on banana plantations throughout Guatemala.

The Inter‑American Court of Human Rights is an autonomous judicial institution created to apply and interpret the American Convention on Human Rights. The seven court members come from countries that comprise the Organization of American States.

“This is an important decision on the right to strike, not only for Guatemala, on which it is directly binding, but also because it sets an important precedent for the rest of the region and the world,” says Jeff Vogt, director of the International Lawyers Assisting Workers (ILAW) network. “Importantly, the court ordered Guatemala to amend its labor laws concerning the right to strike to prevent repetition.”

ILAW submitted an amicus brief in support of the workers and focusing on the right to strike, an internationally recognized right protected by International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 87 and now by the American Convention. ILAW was established in 2018 by the Solidarity Center.

The decision was hailed by Guatemalan unions. “As the SITRABI union, we feel extremely satisfied with the ruling of the Inter-American Court in favor of Guatemalan workers and trade unionism, which, despite arriving 25 years later, sets an important precedent for the country’s labor judges to rule in accordance with our rights, especially on a subject as stigmatized as the strike. And we hope, as stated in the judgment in its Reparations section, that the pertinent steps be taken to ensure that the ‘guarantees of non-repetition’ are fulfilled and that the right to strike of Guatemalan workers is effectively respected,” explains César Guerra, secretary of labor and conflicts at the Union of Banana Workers of Izabal.

No Law Can Prevent Basic Right to Strike

In its ruling, the court explained that the right to strike is protected by ILO Convention 87—a point that employers have been contesting since 2012. It went further to say that the right to strike is a general principle of international law. Further, the right to strike is directly justiciable under the American Convention and the obligation is immediately enforceable.

With regard to Guatemalan labor law, the court explained that “the conditions and prerequisites that the legislation establishes for a strike to be considered a lawful act must not be complicated to the point of making a legal strike impossible in practice.” The court further explained that, “While conditions for exercising the right to strike can be laid down in the framework of collective negotiation, these conditions must be reasonable and at no time should affect the essential content of the right to strike, or the autonomy of trade union organizations.”


Morocco Teachers Protest Limits on Strikes

Morocco Teachers Protest Limits on Strikes

Teachers carried out protests throughout January against a government crackdown on their fundamental freedom to strike, with rallies at the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training in the capital, Rabat, and across the country. Teachers also are protesting the working conditions of contractual teachers and the Ministry of Education’s refusal to engage in social dialogue.

Morocco, CDT union calls for nationwide protests Feb 10, 2021, Solidarity Center

The CDT is calling for nationwide protests February 10 around education worker demands. Credit: CDT

Morocco’s constitution has protected the right to strike since 1962, but the government seeks to revise the country’s labor law by adding significant obstacles to the right to strike, in violation of Morocco’s international legal obligations. Unions are calling on the government to engage in real social dialogue to develop legislation consistent with international law.

“These abusive measures constitute a flagrant violation of the constitution, of the guarantee of the right to strike and of national laws, as well as against international conventions that consider the right to strike a fundamental part of freedom of association,” the Democratic Labor Confederation (CDT) wrote in a December letter to Educational International. The global federation, Education International, strongly supports the CDT and the National Union of Teachers (SNE) in their efforts to push back against the government’s moves to limit essential worker rights.

The government also barred a planned December 22 sit-in on at the Education Ministry headquarters in Rabat, citing exceptional circumstances and the law on health emergencies. Union members and leaders called the ban illegal and said security service used force to disperse them before they could reach the Ministry’s headquarters.

The January actions follow a series of rallies and sit-ins across Morocco last fall, including a national general strike on December 1 and 2, as teachers protested the government’s move to reduce their seniority and promotion opportunities and its replacement of full-time teachers with teachers on contract who are paid lower wages and have no job security.

Education Officials Refuse to Meet with Teachers

Morocco’s workers and their unions have been left out of discussions regarding management of the COVID-19 crisis and educational continuity, according to the SNE-CDT. The union says the ministry has not fully addressed health and safety conditions for teachers, education support staff and pupils.

Education ministry officials have frozen dialogue with teachers, last meeting with them in February 2019. One of the union’s fundamental demands is for the government “to open a serious and responsible dialogue on the outstanding demands from 2014 to today, and the respect of trade union freedoms and the right to strike.” Among the unresolved issues are improved wages, a voice for teachers in the education reform process, investment in public education, teacher training and more staffing to lower classroom size.

In early January, the CDT also spoke out against the ministry’s unilateral decision to cancel upcoming examinations for middle and high school students due to the pandemic, highlighting another example of how the education ministry fails to involve the representatives of teachers and other employees of the public school system in decision making.

More Teachers on Contract, with Few Rights

In early 2019, a government decree removed the option of workers with renewable two-year employment contracts to integrate into the public sector, a move that means contract teachers have no access to fair wages and social benefits like pensions, health care or job security. The CDT has sought to replace fixed-term contracts with permanent employment.

The number of fixed-term teaching contracts is increasing in Morocco and undermines the core notion of public service. The change grants the government a waiver on its obligations, according to a recent CDT field study on the future of work in the education sector, carried out in collaboration with the Solidarity Center.  “Some of the direct results of casualization, as identified through the study, include instability, precariousness, dissatisfaction and lack of confidence in the profession’s future,” the CDT notes.

The study also finds an increasing number of women in all levels of the education system, and the future of work in the education sector must address this shift, says Younes Firachin, a member of the National Office of the National Education Union. That requires unions “to fully grasp these transformations” to effectively reach them and address their concerns, he says.

Employees throughout the public education system, frustrated by the lack of attention to their terms and conditions of employment, increasingly are joining the protests. On January 27, many who provide assistance to young children in kindergarten and primary school rallied in Rabat.

The CDT also announced a series of nationwide protests set for February 10 to mobilize administrative and technical assistants to call for their recognition by the Ministry of Education and Morocco’s public school system.

Workers Protest Morocco’s Moves to Limit Strikes

Workers Protest Morocco’s Moves to Limit Strikes

Workers in Morocco are protesting unilateral moves by the government to restrict strikes and limit other worker freedoms and are collecting signatures against a draft bill, now in parliament.

“The path the government wishes to follow by introducing this legislation on strikes is in total contradiction with the Constitution of Morocco, which guarantees public freedoms, as well as the right of trade unions and other civic associations to defend the rights of their constituents,” says Touriya Lahrech, a worker rights activist and member of National Council of the Democratic Labor Confederation (CDT). Lahrech also is an elected official in the House of Councillors, Morocco’s upper Parliament.

Stating that the right to strike is a “fundamental human right without any restrictions,” one guaranteed in Morocco’s constitution, the Moroccan Labor Union (UMT) says the government’s proposed law “binds it, criminalizes it and makes it impossible to practice.”

The unions are calling on the government to return to discussions with unions and employers, a longstanding practice that union leaders say the government has abandoned and which workers nationwide have protested for months. In February, workers held a general strike, followed by several days of marches to protest unilateral government actions affecting workers.

The unions also are urging the government to withdraw the draft strike law, which they say is counter to International Labor Organization (ILO) regulations covering freedom to form unions (Convention 87) and the right to bargain collectively (Convention 98).

The CDT says the government’s move to unilaterally revise the labor code stems from corporations seeking “flexibility” among civil servants and educators, a term employers often use as a euphemism to describe workplace policies that benefit management at the expense of working people.

Morocco unions are receiving international support for their struggle, including from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the AFL-CIO, the Arab Trade Union Confederation (ATUC) and the global union IndustriALL.

“IndustriALL global union urges the government of Morocco to withdraw the draft law on the right to strike, which was written and submitted unilaterally to Parliament for adoption, and has not been the subject of tripartite discussions with partners,” says IndustriALL General Secretary Valter Sanches.

Says Lahrech: “We demand that the government freeze all discussions on this draft legislation and engage in dialogue regarding collective bargaining, and social dialogue that guarantee the rights of the working class to defend its interests.”

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