Join Solidarity Center and CIVICUS Friday, October 18, at 3 p.m. EST for the launch of a new report, Freedoms on the Move: The Civic Space of Migrant Workers and Refugees, by CIVICUS and the Solidarity Center. Participants at the event will share findings and recommendations on civic space barriers for migrants and refugees.
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants Felipe Gonzalez Morales will join other civil society activists to discuss how they are advancing freedom of association, expression and assembly for migrant workers and refugees. Panelists also include:
Griet Cattaert, International Labor Organization
Crispin Hernandez, Workers’ Center of Central New York
Neha Misra, Solidarity Center
Monami Maulik at the Global Coalition on Migration will moderate.
As globalization and the search for decent work push workers to migrate far from their homes, and as war and economic crises force millions across borders, there is limited data on whether and how migrant workers and refugees are able to exercise their fundamental civic freedoms.
Through two in depth surveys, one of migrant workers and another of refugees, Freedoms on the Move also explores the factors that make migrant workers and refugees more likely to try to assert their rights, the circumstances that make them more vulnerable to violations and abuses, and the perpetrators and enablers of denials of their rights.
Freedoms on the Move is an urgent call to action for unions and civil society advocating for civic freedoms in their countries. As the report states:
“International human rights law does not limit civil and political rights to citizens. Like everyone else, migrant workers and refuges should be able to enjoy the key civic freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. For migrant workers and refugees, these freedoms offer protection against discrimination, marginalization and scapegoating, which commonly affect them in their host or destination countries. When the rights to association, peaceful assembly and expression are open to migrant workers and refugees, they can organize and act to uphold their interests in their workplaces and communities, influence public opinion and hold public officials accountable.”
Stop back to access the full report on October 10, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!
More than 40 labor organizations in Haiti joined a call for vast nationwide legal reforms, including free and fair elections and the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse. The move follows weeks of massive demonstrations against rampant government corruption and wasteful spending that has devastated the economy.
The most recent round of protests began September 2, sparked by fuel shortages, spiraling inflation, a lack of safe drinking water, environmental degradation and food scarcity. Factories, schools, and businesses have sporadically closed with the near daily protests. In one of the largest rallies to date, thousands turned out on Sunday in a peaceful demonstration, with human rights organizations, popular artists, and business leaders joining unions, young workers and the many others hard-hit by the country’s economic crisis.
In the Joint Declaration for a National Rescue Government, issued October 11, more than 100 organizations—including three Solidarity Center union partners–urge all segments of society to join together to demand a return of public services and implementation of an emergency program for the most vulnerable groups. The Joint Declaration also seeks an end to the culture of impunity in the judicial system and demands a clean accounting of public finances.
A Solidarity Center survey this year found that the daily minimum wage for export apparel workers in Haiti is $5.07—more than four times less than the estimated cost of living. These workers—the majority of whom are women who support families—are forced to toil longer for less due to diminished purchasing power and are unable to cover daily necessities, including food.
“The High Cost of Low Wages in Haiti,” which tracked living expenses for garment workers from September 2018 through March 2019, recommends the government increase the minimum wage to an estimated $18.30 per day and allow workers to select their own representatives to the country’s tripartite minimum wage committee. Unions are advocating for these measures and raise them as key remedies to addressing the crisis underway.
Vanessa Cordoba, a goalkeeper on Colombia’s women’s national soccer team, is familiar with tough challenges. But when she debated whether to join some of her teammates’ high-profile campaign to end gender discrimination in the women’s soccer league, she had to confront a barrier many women in her position face: fear of losing her job.
“There is a point in life where you choose,” she said in a recent interview at the Solidarity Center. “And I decided I’m going to do it.”
Cordoba and other women soccer players are now pursuing an industry-wide collective bargaining agreement that includes the men’s teams.
“That’s the only way we can change things in soccer, says Cordoba. “We have more power if we bargain for the entire sector.”
Training Equipment: Two Medicine Balls and Beat-up Boxes
Colombia’s Atlético Huila women’s soccer players were forced to sleep on the airport floor following their championship win. Credit: Fare.net
Colombia’s professional female soccer team, launched in 1998, played in the 2011 and 2015 World Cup as well as at the Olympic Games in the same years. The professional women’s league was created in 2017, and in the following year, Colombia’s Atlético Huila won the Copa Libertadores, South America’s most important club-level tournament.
Yet women players are paid less than the men and only get three-month contracts, while men play on multiyear contracts. The men train in state-of-the-art gyms; women players’ equipment consists of two medicine balls and beat-up boxes to practice jumping. The Colombia Football Federation (FCF) even eliminated their $20 a day training stipend. A video on social media in December shows the Atlético Huila women’s soccer players forced to sleep on the airport floor following their championship win.
Their marginalization was compounded, says Cordoba, when Adidas used star player James Rodríguez to represent the men’s team for unveiling new jerseys, but recruited a former Miss Universe, Paulina Vega Dieppa, to promote the women’s jerseys. Cordoba expressed her displeasure about the move on social media.
“I understand that for publicity’s sake, they preferred to give the jersey to Paulina Vega, but in terms of respect and merit, THE PLAYERS count as well,” she Tweeted, a message the media quickly twisted into a Soccer Player v. Miss Universe narrative. Reflecting on her comments today she says, “If we are talking about marketing, development of the women’s league is a big part of the overall goal.”
‘We’re Not Afraid Anymore. We’re Here to Speak Up’
The longstanding gender discrimination against women players burst into the public in February, when former professional soccer players and Colombia national team players Isabella Echeverri and Melissa Ortiz released a video to highlight the disparities with their male counterparts, stating, “We’re not afraid anymore. We’re here to speak up.”
The video went viral, setting off a national dialogue at a time when the top-ranked U.S. women’s soccer team filed a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer alleging discrimination, and Latin America’s #NiUnaMenos (Not One More) movement campaigned for an end to sexual harassment and gender-based violence.
A handful of women soccer players gathered for a press conference in March to publicly back up Ortiz and Echeverri. Cordoba was among them.
“I figured my career would end after the press conference,” she said.
For Vanessa Cordoba, a goalkeeper for Colombia women’s national soccer, tackling gender discrimination was one of her biggest challenges. Photo from Cordoba Twitter
Members of the all-male FCF Executive Committee refused for months to meet with the women represented by the National Association of Professional Soccer Players union, ACOLFUTPRO, about their demands for equal treatment, but have since come to the table. The Solidarity Center is supporting the women players in their efforts and is assisting ACOLFUTPRO in preparing a proposal for negotiations with the Colombian Soccer Federation, and another to establish a sectorwide bargaining policy with the labor ministry.
Additionally, the Solidarity Center helped the union engage the national Ombudsman’s Office, which filed a constitutional complaint for gender discrimination against the employers of the individual soccer clubs and the federation. The Solidarity Center documented players’ testimonies and contributed legal arguments that form the basis of the complaint. In August 2019, Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the women players, ordering both the employers and ACOLFUTPRO to present plans for gender equality.
Cordoba, who graduated from Ohio University with a degree in communications, also works at Caracol, one of Bogatá’s top radio stations. Her father, Oscar Cordoba, a former star soccer player, at first sought to protect her from the controversy, but ultimately supports her efforts.
“I’m very passionate about gender equality,” she says. “Women’s soccer was able to open the door to change soccer in Colombia.”
“We have to look to our future, beyond winning this convention, to what it means to implement it in our countries and protect workers’ lives, human rights and dignity,” says Touriya Lahrech, a women union leader of the Democratic Labor Confederation (CDT) in Morocco and delegate to the final negotiations of Convention 190 (C190) at the International Labor Conference (ILC) in June 2019.
As with all international conventions, C190 must be ratified by individual governments before it becomes effective. The ILO requires that two countries ratify the convention before it becomes binding on all member states. In campaigning for ratification, union women leaders are advocating for changes in law and policy to address and prevent gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH).
Women Trade Union Leaders Mobilize Across Africa
Less than two months after the ILO adopted C190, women union leaders in South Africa, together with the country’s Employment and Labor Office and ILO representatives, successfully advocated for inclusion of C190’s ratification in Parliament’s policy agenda. South African union leaders are aiming for South Africa to be the first country to ratify the convention—by December 2019—a target set by Brenda Modise, social justice officer at the Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA).
“It will happen by December 2019 because of all the work we have done,” she says.
The rapid pace with which lawmakers agreed to debate the proposal reflects years of strategic, unwavering work by FEDUSA and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and their dozens of affiliates to address gender-based violence and harassment at the workplace, in their unions and through legislation.
In July, a coalition that included COSATU, FEDUSA and the National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU) created an advocacy roadmap, identifying government offices with which to hold discussions around the importance of ratifying C190. Women union leaders are working closely with women’s rights groups and other allies, who have joined the legislative push and broadened public outreach.
Over the last year, women across South Africa have waged protests and marches to demand the government take action to address gender-based violence, including through the #TotalShutdown campaign, a nationwide grassroots effort in which women labor leaders played a key role.
Much of the focus in South Africa, as elsewhere, is centered on domestic violence, and women union leaders are educating lawmakers and the public on the impact of domestic violence on the workplace, and the responsibility of employers and governments to address it, in line with C190.
In addition, they have been working in coalition to increase awareness of the prevalence of GBVH at work and the need for policy and legislative responses that include the “world of work,” such as when workers are commuting for work or attending work-related functions outside the workplace.
The Nigeria Labor Congress, which ensured its ILC delegation included an equal percentage of women and men, and a woman in C190 negotiations, has prioritized working with the Nigerian government and its allies to ensure ratification, says NLC President Ayuba Wabba, who also serves as president of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
In September, the Central Organization of Trade Unions-Kenya (COTU-K) hosted members of the Organization of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU) and representatives from the Federation of Kenya Employers and the Kenya Ministry of Labor to discuss the convention and plans for moving toward ratification in OATUU’s 18 member countries. Employer and government representatives also heard from women workers who described how they have been harassed and assaulted at work because of their gender, and why governments need to ratify ILO 190 to remedy and prevent the abuse.
Uruguay Moves for Ratification
The South Africans will have some competition to be first to ratify. Uruguay’s executive branch this week sent a request to the General Assembly that it ratify both C190 and the International Labor Recommendation on violence and harassment (No. 206). The Uruguayan Ministers of Labor and Social Development signed a commitment to C190 on Friday.
Unions in Bahrain and Palestine Rally for Ratification
One month after the ILO passed C190, Palestinian union members organized a broad coalition to ensure government adoption. Credit: PGFTU
In Bahrain and Palestine, the countries’ major union federations have thrown their full support behind achieving government ratification.
In July 2019, one month after the ILC, the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) launched a campaign in coalition with the union of Palestinian women and labor ministries to ensure C190’s adoption. At a packed union press conference in Ramallah, the minister of women and the labor ministry representative indicated their intent to draft legislation to move ratification.
PGFTU Secretary General Shaher Saad said that in addition to campaigning for ratification, the federation will pursue efforts to amend Palestinian labor law to achieve equality for everyone in the workplace and noted its team of inspectors also enforce the Palestinian labor law, including combating and preventing harassment and violence in the workplace.
The General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GBFTU) hails the government’s recent initiative to amend the country’s labor code, with penalties for harassment at the workplace, (which doubles if the perpetrator is the workers’ supervisor), and is urging the government to build on the move by ratifying Convention 190. The federation also is connecting the campaign for passage of C190 with its efforts to urge the government to sign ILO conventions covering freedom of association (Convention 87) and the right to form unions and bargain collectively with employers (Convention 98).
Standing Up to Fierce Employer Opposition in Central America
In Central America and the Caribbean, where employer groups from Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama have combined forces to oppose C190, union activists condemned the move and remain committed to advocating for ratification by their governments. In Honduras, the Anti-Union Violence Network already has presented petitions signed by union leaders and members to the Honduran government and Ministry of Labor advocating for ratification, and in coalition with unions, will campaign for its passage.
The FEASIES federation of El Salvador, representing maquila and domestic workers, has joined forces with women’s rights and LGBTQI organizations to condemn employers’ opposition to ending violence and harassment at work and to advocate for ratification of C190. Four major unions in Guatemala—FESTRAS, CUSG, CGTG and UNSITRAGUA—are advocating for the adoption of the convention, after the Network in Defense of Labor Rights in Guatemala engaged the unions in the campaign to end gender-based violence at work. The network also is building alliances with LGBTQI and women’s rights organizations to further strengthen the campaign for passage.
The domestic workers’ union federation FETRADOMOV in Nicaragua is lobbying the government and holding member trainings around the convention along with its affiliate, SITRADOTRANS, a union of transgender domestic workers that has helped elevate the specific vulnerabilities to gender-based violence and harassment faced by transgender and gender non-conforming workers in the informal economy.
Documenting GBV to Support Ratification of Convention 190
In Indonesia, where a recent report found 71 percent of 75 women workers said they had been subjected to gender-based violence at work, unions are building on their education and awareness raising about gender-based violence at work to advocate for ratification of C190.
The National Union of Workers (SPN), which partnered with some 50 organizations and unions in a nationwide campaign seeking government support for ILO adoption of the convention in 2017 and 2019, has shifted its energy to campaigning for ratification, says Izzah Inzamliyah, Solidarity Center program officer in Indonesia.
In May 2019, women trade union leaders in Indonesia and Cambodia released reports documenting sexual harassment, including sexual violence and verbal abuse based on gender as well as other forms of GVBH against women in garment factories. The women led the studies and wrote the reports after taking part in awareness-raising and information-sharing workshops hosted by the Solidarity Center. They will use the information and recommendations to educate lawmakers and others about the need to adopt laws and policies to prevent and address gender-based violence and harassment at work, including C190 ratification.
Union women leaders and their allies around the world who have launched campaigns advocating for ratification of Convention 190 recognize it offers the best opportunity for changing structural systems that feed sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence in the world of work.
Says Rose Omamo, general secretary of the Amalgamated Union of Kenya Metal Workers who was a key worker representative throughout discussions on the convention:
“Gender-based violence is a disease that cannot be treated without an international standard that sets rules and regulations for making sure countries can adopt laws on gender-based violence in the world of work.”
With Solidarity Center support, trade union women leaders from Brazil, Cambodia, Georgia, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Palestine, South Africa, Swaziland, Tunisia and Zimbabwe participated in the ILC. Several took lead roles in the negotiations as part of the workers’ group to ensure the experiences of women workers remained central to the negotiations, along with the need for gender-specific, structural responses to address the impact of violence and harassment.
The adoption of Convention 190 culminated a decade of tireless leadership and advocacy by women trade union leaders around the world who raised awareness about the scope and incidences of gender-based violence and harassment at work and its impact as one of the most prevalent and oppressive forms of abuse.
Through cross-movement coalition building with anti-gender-based violence organizations and participatory research on the experiences of women workers in diverse workplaces, women union activists led the successful campaign that incorporated their experiences in developing definitions of key terms, such as gender-based violence and harassment, and ensuring that the convention covers all workers and the entire world of work, including informal workers, the majority of whom are women.
Callers to a recent radio show about taxi workers in Jordan had many questions, including:
Why are taxi drivers classified as independent contractors rather than as employees who are eligible for better wages and benefits?
Why do Jordan’s laws prohibit taxi drivers from joining the country’s transport workers union?
The worker-centered radio show, Workers of the Country (عمال البلد), launched in July by the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Jordan (FITU), offers the audience an opportunity to hear worker struggles and connects workers with the union—several callers to the August program asked how they could join FITU.
Hosted by Mohammad Al Ersan, in cooperation with FITU President Suleiman Al Jamani, the show has featured union activists and experts on domestic worker rights, labor law and sexual harassment and gender-based violence at work. Peppered with clips from worker rallies and opportunities for the audience to engage with speakers, the show offers a rare look at the day-to-day lives of working people and their efforts to improve their lives and livelihoods.
The segment on taxi drivers highlighted the drivers’ challenges in making a living, a struggle they share with “gig workers” and those in the informal economy around the world. As “self-employed” workers, the nearly 70,000 taxi drivers are excluded from labor laws, and so have no contract, paid leave, retirement or other social protections, Al Seryani said on the show. To make enough to get by, they work long shifts, up to 18 hours per day, which endangers drivers and passengers, he said, and they have suffered for decades without fundamental labor rights.
A union member who called in reinforced Al Seryani, saying the union was established because of the oppression the drivers face, and Manasour Murad, a member of Parliament who also called in said the Ministry of Transport lacks the strategic planning necessary to provide efficient transportation services, including the ability to improve drivers’ working conditions.
Workers’ Struggles, Union Support
In bringing workers’ struggles to the forefront, the 50-minute program probes issues rarely highlighted in the mainstream media yet which are fundamental to the country’s economy and the working people who build it. Fundamental to the discussions are the ways in which unions enable workers to achieve a voice in improving their workplaces and standing up for their rights.
For instance, in exploring sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence (GBVH) at work during the show’s second segment, guests highlighted the role of unions in defending workers who experience GBVH on the job and how unions are a resource for assisting workers in reporting abuse while preventing retaliation for standing up for the right to a violence-free workplace. Wijdan Abu Ghanam, leader of the FITU women’s committee, Reema Khaled, an agriculture union activist, and Reem Aslan, a working women’s rights activist and founding member of the Association Sadaqa, a Jordanian women’s rights association, took part in the discussion.
In an another program, Salem Al Mefleh, a lawyer in Jordan, discussed migrant domestic worker rights and the difficulty in enforcing laws to protect them. The segment also featured Hayel Al Zenen, director of the country’s domestic worker directorate, and a domestic worker activist from Ethiopia who discussed how migrant domestic workers in Jordan often labor 24 hours with little food and no leave. Some employers refuse to let them leave the house and never even pay their wages, according to the activist, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her job.
With an estimated 440,000 to 540,000 migrant workers in a country with fewer than 10 million people, migrant workers are an essential part of the economy yet have few rights under labor laws, including the ability to form unions—a situation all-too often replicated across Gulf countries and around the world.
Meeting the Challenges of Restrictive New Labor Laws
The labor law also now makes it easier for employers to arbitrarily fire workers, says attorney and women’s rights activist Hala Ahed, who joined Hamada Abu Nijmeh, director of the Worker Center, in a discussion on the new labor codes. Further, independent unions like FITU are now unable to register as unions under the labor law.
Despite the challenges, Al Seryani says that as an independent union, FITU has achieved significant victories for workers in improving wages and working conditions, a message the country’s new worker-centered radio program is conveying each week through the voices of workers themselves.
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