The first report in the Solidarity Center’s “Justice for All” series, takes a hard look at Mexico’s century-long fight for independent, democratic trade unions and social justice. Author Lance Compa puts Mexico’s labor law and practice to the test against international worker rights standards reflected in International Labor Organization
conventions and the ILO’s 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
The Zimbabwe police have placed Zimbabwe Confederation of Trade Unions (ZCTU) President Peter Mutasa on a “wanted list” and branded ZCTU as a terrorist organization following the union confederation’s calls for a national mobilization against government corruption and demands for decent wages for workers during the novel coronavirus epidemic.
“For defending workers’ rights, we are called terrorists by ZANU PF,” ZCTU said in a Tweet, referring to the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front. “We are a bonafide trade union movement in terms of the law.”
Ongoing death threats and a sustained government crackdown forced Mutasa and ZCTU General Secretary Japhet Moyo into hiding in 2019, and union leaders across Zimbabwe have been repeatedly beaten, kidnapped and arrested with hundreds injured by security forces since the government of Emmerson Mnangagwa replaced long-time President Robert Mugabe in November 2017.
The United Nations in June called on Zimbabwe to immediately end a reported pattern of disappearances and torture that appear aimed at suppressing protests and dissent.
Since 2017, police have often used force to prevent worker protests against skyrocketing costs and shortages of essential items such as food and fuel. Zimbabwe’s currency has collapsed against the U.S. dollar and inflation has risen to more than 700 percent, wiping out Zimbabweans’ savings.
Zimbabweans Struggle as Inflation Destroys Salaries, Savings
The vast majority of workers in Zimbabwe support themselves and their families as market vendors, taxi drivers and in other informal economy jobs where pay is low and often uncertain, and sick pay and other benefits are nonexistent. In the formal sector, nurses, teachers and others have seen their incomes evaporate due to inflation, even as their salaries are already too low to cover basic needs.
Many Zimbabweans also face starvation, as parts of the country have been hit by severe drought. The UN World Food Program warned that food supplies will run out in 2020 unless urgent assistance is provided.
Yet the government imposed a $23 a month minimum wage during the pandemic lockdown that falls far short of the amount needed for families to survive, Mutasa said in a recent interview.
“Rent for a room is roughly $20, which means the majority of workers are earning just sufficient to pay rentals for one room. What about food, clothing, school fees, medical care, transport, etc.?”
ZCTU is urgently focused on “ensuring that workers get a reasonable minimum wage,” Mutasa said. “We also want an immediate change in the manner our country is governed. We have to fight against corruption, exploitation of our resources, illicit financial flows, shrinking democratic space, human and trade union violations as well as other governance deficiencies causing untold suffering to citizens.”
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.
Women’s rights groups and worker advocates in Jordan are hailing the re-opening of child care centers, a move they say enables women running small day care centers or working in larger nurseries to support themselves, while ensuing safe care for the children of women returning to their jobs after the novel coronavirus closures.
The more than 1,400 day care facilities across the kingdom opened July 4 under strict safety measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, including masks, social distancing and weekly exams for the children.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, “we called on the government to pay attention to women’s work conditions and labor rights in general, day care workers in particular,” says Randa Naffa, co-founder of SADAQA, an organization founded by working parents to advocate for family-friendly work environments.
As SADAQA campaigned to open day care centers, the organization joined with the Women in Business Arabia Network to create an online platform that shed light on the challenges day care center workers face, and spearheaded a Facebook campaign urging the opening of day care facilities.
“Women’s participation in the labor market is very weak, and the absence of the day care facilities is one of the reasons why women don’t join the labor market or withdraw from it,” says Naffa.
Women Back to Work Without Safe Places for the Children
Day care centers, which serve 50,000 children, remained closed weeks after other private-sector businesses were allowed to open, even though “working women had no choice but to go back to work,” says Tasneem Dudin, owner of a day care facility. Without access to licensed facilities, women were faced with a choice to leave their children alone at home or send them to unregistered nurseries that may not be following safe health practices, she says.
“Day care facilities are usually small projects for women who are struggling and facing the economic and social challenges,” Dudin says. Most facilities do not have bank accounts and typically employ workers day to day. Dudin estimates that some 90 percent of the facilities could not pay rent or workers’ wages after they were closed during the lockdown.
“The owners of these facilities couldn’t pay wages because of the economic crisis and many workers have been laid off and ended up unemployed,” says Mohammad Ersan, the host of Workers of the Country (عمال البلد), a worker-centered radio program launched last year in cooperation with the Solidarity Center. The June show featured Naffa, Dudin and others who discussed the need to open child care facilities.
Saba Yaseen says she cared for her two children, ages 5 and 2, throughout the lockdown as she teleworked from home, and her husband had to take off work to care for them when she had to leave for urgent matters. But once back at work, she would have not choice but to send the children to unregistered facilities if the formal facilities did not open, she said on the radio program.
Date: Friday, July 17, 2020
Time: 9:00-10:30 a.m. New York
A discussion moderated by the Solidarity Center’s Jeffrey Vogt with Clément Voule, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, to discuss the report he presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council on the 10th anniversary of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur (UNSR FoAA). Speakers include ILO Freedom of Association Branch Chief, Karen Curtis; Sri Lanka’s Ceylon Mercantile, Industrial and General Workers’ Union Legal Consultant Lakmali Hemachandra; and Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions President Peter Mutasa.
French and Spanish simultaneous interpretation will be provided.
Registration in advance is required.