Africa Unions Address Gender-Based Violence at Work

Africa Unions Address Gender-Based Violence at Work

Delegates to the International Trade Union Confederation–Africa (ITUC-Africa) last week passed a resolution drafted by women union leaders that will help the organization’s 101 affiliates address gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work, including pressing African governments to ratify International Labor Organization (ILOConvention 190.

Passed in June, Convention 190 is a new global treaty to prevent and address violence and harassment in the world of work that includes gender-based violence and harassment.

Delegates from more than 47 African countries gathered in the Nigerian capital of Abuja for the 4th Ordinary Congress of the ITUC-Africa’s Regional Organization November 21 and 22. Held every four years, the Congress sets labor’s priorities and direction on behalf of Africa’s working people, both internally and in its dealings with governments and employers.

“The trade union movement in Africa has tremendous power to influence the future not only of the continent but the world,” said AFL-CIO Vice President Tefere Gebre, speaking to delegates.

Some 45 women leaders of unions from across the continent—many of whom have long been engaged in a global campaign to end gender-based violence and harassment at work—presented their recommendations to the full Congress, which the ITUC-Africa leadership formally adopted.

The resolution includes the following recommendations for African unions and ITUC-Africa:

  • Women trade union leaders participate in worker negotiations with employers, so gender-based violence and harassment at work is prioritized
  • Going forward, negotiated agreements with employers include language that explicitly addresses gender-based violence and harassment at work
  • ITUC-Africa provide support for union affiliates that are lobbying their governments to adopt Convention 190.
Africa Unions Address Gender-Based Violence at Work

Africa Unions Address Gender-Based Violence at Work

Delegates to the International Trade Union Confederation–Africa (ITUC-Africa) last week passed a resolution drafted by women union leaders that will help the organization’s 101 affiliates address gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work, including pressing African governments to ratify International Labor Organization (ILOConvention 190.

Passed in June, Convention 190 is a new global treaty to prevent and address violence and harassment in the world of work that includes gender-based violence and harassment.

Delegates from more than 47 African countries gathered in the Nigerian capital of Abuja for the 4th Ordinary Congress of the ITUC-Africa’s Regional Organization November 21 and 22. Held every four years, the Congress sets labor’s priorities and direction on behalf of Africa’s working people, both internally and in its dealings with governments and employers.

“The trade union movement in Africa has tremendous power to influence the future not only of the continent but the world,” said AFL-CIO Vice President Tefere Gebre, speaking to delegates.

Some 45 women leaders of unions from across the continent—many of whom have long been engaged in a global campaign to end gender-based violence and harassment at work—presented their recommendations to the full Congress, which the ITUC-Africa leadership formally adopted.

The resolution includes the following recommendations for African unions and ITUC-Africa:

  • Women trade union leaders participate in worker negotiations with employers, so gender-based violence and harassment at work is prioritized
  • Going forward, negotiated agreements with employers include language that explicitly addresses gender-based violence and harassment at work
  • ITUC-Africa provide support for union affiliates that are lobbying their governments to adopt Convention 190.
16 Days of Activism Starts TODAY!

16 Days of Activism Starts TODAY!

Starting today, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, activists from unions, women’s groups and their allies around the world will take part in 16 days of action with a special mission: They will mobilize their members and coalition partners to encourage—and demand—their governments ratify Convention 190 and update or pass national laws ensuring workplaces are free of gender-based violence.

Passed in June by the International Labor Organization (ILO), Convention 190 is a new global treaty to prevent and address violence and harassment in the world of work that includes gender-based violence and harassment. It addresses the varied forms of work today and includes all workers, such as formal and informal workers, those under any contractual status, job seekers and trainees, and specifically recognizes women workers. It also defines the world of work: that is, where and how work and work-related activities are performed, including, where workers take a rest break or meal, washing or changing facilities, work-related trips, travel, training, work-related communications, employer-provided accommodations and commuting to and from the job.

Union women leaders and their allies fought to make Convention 190 a reality, recognizing that 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.

The annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is an international campaign coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership and used by activists around the world as an organizing strategy to call for the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence. (Follow the 16 Days campaign on Twitter at #16DaysCampaign).

This year’s focus on ending GBVH at the workplace builds on 10 years of action by workers and their allies pushing for an international treaty to address gender-based violence and harassment at work. Along the way, workers and their unions built broad coalitions, educated union members and boosted and expanded the collective strength that ensures their voices are heard.

“Convention 190 might sound like a lofty piece of legislation far removed from the struggles of women and vulnerable workers, but in reality it was drafted and fought for by grassroots organizations, unions and coalitions of mobilized workers from many countries. It reflects their lived experiences,” says Robin Runge, Solidarity Center senior gender specialist.

Laying the Groundwork for 16 Days of Activism

Gender, Sri Lanka, 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women, Solidarity CenterWorkers already are deep into the movement for ratification of ILO 190, many starting immediately after the ILO passed Convention 190.

In Indonesia, women union leaders laid the groundwork for their campaign last year by assessing the extent of GBVH at several factories. In late 2018, they interviewed their co-workers at garment and footwear factories and engaged them in informal focus groups. These unique worker-to-worker discussions found high-levels of gender-based violence on the job.

Among 105 Indonesian garment workers who took part in interviews and focus groups, women reported managers and other leaders hit them, pulled their hair, groped, touched and kissed them at work, and asked for sex. One was even threatened with death.

Now, an alliance of Indonesian union and nongovernmental organizations are building on the work of the garment union leaders to create material to lobby the government and parliament to ratify Convention 190. Women activists also are educating union members who are helping institute practices to ensure targets of sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence at work are able to report their experiences without retaliation.

In garment factories, for instance, workers form “safe circles” that includes worker representatives and a supervisor to jointly monitor commitments by the union and management to end GBVH.

“The safe circle can be considered as end goal of this approach: creating a safe condition for all workers in the production line,” says Sumiyati, chairperson for Women and Children’s Affairs at the National Industrial Workers Union Federation (SPN–NIWUF), a Solidarity Center partner.

 Mobilize from the Ground Up

Led by the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine committee on gender issues and women’s rights, union activists in Ukraine took part in a two-day workshop on violence and harassment in the world of work in October and participants built on their discussions to devise an action plan for educating union members and ensuring Ukraine becomes one of the first countries to ratify Convention 190.

“Ratifying ILO Convention 190 by Ukraine would untie the hands of lawyers,” says Inna Kudinska, a lawyer affiliated with the worker legal center, Labor Initiatives, and Solidarity Center in Ukraine. “Thus far, we rely on claiming common labor law violations in cases of violence, harassment or mobbing, but we cannot adequately protect workers without relevant legislation.”

he Committee of KVPU (the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine) on gender issues and women’s rights held a

In Morocco, where ratification of Convention 190 is a key element in annual plan of the women’s committee of the Democratic Labor Confederation (CDT), the CDT is educating members about its importance and is set to launch a national campaign for its ratification.

Touriya Lahrech, a union leader of the Democratic Labor Confederation (CDT) in Morocco and delegate to the final negotiations of Convention 190 in June, is worked with representatives in parliament, where she is an elected representative, to organize informal meetings with the ministry of employment and vocational training before raising the issue in the full House of Representatives.

The 16 Days of Activism campaign is a tool in workers’ long struggle to achieve workplaces free of gender-based violence, where all workers are treated with dignity.

“To write a new script for workers, we need to mobilize from the ground up—grassroots worker movements, human rights and women’s rights NGOs, industry voices and corporate foundations,” says Runge. “When we all call on governments and businesses to change, our collective voice becomes impossible to ignore.”

Bangladesh: Garment Worker Safety Gains Threatened

Bangladesh: Garment Worker Safety Gains Threatened

On the seven-year anniversary of a deadly Bangladesh factory fire that killed 112 mostly young, female garment workers and injured more than 200 others, progress made by workers to improve their workplaces is threatened by the country’s crackdown on their right to organize.

From the November 24, 2012, Tazreen factory fire through this month, Bangladesh’s garment sector has seen at least 3,883 worker injuries and at least 1,310 deaths due to factory fires, fire stampedes and other safety lapses, including the April 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse and subsequent incidents.

After the Rana Plaza building collapse, worker demands for change and an international outcry spurred the Bangladesh government, international brands and some ready-made garment employers to address workplace dangers by providing workers and managers with factory-based safety training and empowering workers through organization into trade unions—measures that have improved safety for some workers.

Fire and building safety programs implemented by Bangladesh trade unions in partnership with the Solidarity Center since 2012 have trained more than 7,000 garment worker union leaders, safety committee members and rank-and-file members to identify, report and advocate for the remediation of fire and building safety hazards. The program also certified more than 400 workers as master health and safety trainers.

“[Workers] know to call a mechanic if there is a short circuit in the machine; they also notify if there are wires lying around on the floor,” says sewing machine operator and Solidarity Center safety trainer Mosammat Moushumi Akter of the Rumana Fashion Limited Workers Union in Gazipur. “I have learned these and also taught my co-workers,” she said.

Building worker power has paid measurable safety dividends: In 29 factories where garment workers organized trade unions and became empowered to negotiate with employers, workers secured collective bargaining agreements that contain legally binding safety and health provisions holding responsible parties accountable for preventing and addressing workplace safety violations.

“Faulty wiring that could easily spark a deadly fire is getting repaired; the paths to emergency exits are being cleared; and dehydrated workers are gaining access to clean drinking water,” said Solidarity Center Asia Regional Programs Director Timothy Ryan.

Where workers and management have collaborated on safety and where workers are empowered to raise safety issues with less fear of retaliation, progress has been made. More than 85 percent of life-threatening safety issues raised by workers trained under Solidarity Center’s program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor were remediated by management during the past two years.

Although significant fire and building safety improvements have been achieved, progress is being threatened by attacks on workers’ right to organize. Workers seeking to improve safety in their factories in 2018 reported employer intimidation, threats, physical violence, loss of jobs and government-imposed barriers to union registration.

Attacks on garment union leaders and workers protesting poverty wages in 2018 and 2019 also have had a chilling effect on organizing. From December 2018 to March 2019, the worst phase of the crackdown on worker rights, union application rates fell by 75 percent in comparison with the same period in 2018.

Without collective power to hold employers accountable for maintaining safety gains, worker rights advocates fear that backsliding is inevitable.

“Many people are concerned that there may be another Tazreen and Rana Plaza tragedy,” says Rakibul Hasan, Solidarity Center program officer in Dhaka. “Without the protection of the union and a way to speak out without fear of retaliation, workers are still in danger.”

Four million garment workers, mostly women, toil in 3,000 factories across Bangladesh, making the country’s $25 billion garment industry the world’s second largest, after China. Wages are the lowest among major garment-manufacturing nations in the region, while the cost of living in Dhaka is equivalent to that of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Luxembourg and Montreal. Bangladesh’s ready-made garment industry accounts for 81 percent of the country’s total export earnings and is the country’s biggest export earner.

(Video below in English)

Global Outrage over Honduran Union Leader’s Murder

Global Outrage over Honduran Union Leader’s Murder

The international human rights community is condemning the murder on Saturday of Jorge Alberto Acosta, executive member of the Workers’ Union of the Tela Railroad Company (SITRATERCO) and president of the union’s Savings and Credit Cooperative section.

Acosta’s murder comes just three weeks after the kidnapping and torture of Jaime Rodríguez, former president of the Union of Middle School Teachers (COPEMH).

The assassination follows more than a year of death threats that Acosta documented with the Anti-Union Violence Network in Honduras. According the Network, Acosta said he was informed by the Honduras’ National Anti-Extortion Force (FNA) on April 14, 2018, that three people had set up an operation near his house to plan his execution. Previously, FNA informed him of the capture of an alleged gang member who confessed there was a plan to kill him.

In May 2018, the Honduran state issued protective measures for Acosta due to the risks he faced for his human rights activity. Physical assaults, death threats, surveillance, attacks and burglaries against other union officers also have been documented and reported.

During 2018, the SITRATERCO Executive Committee sought out the Honduran government’s relevant law enforcement and human rights agencies to denounce a series of systematic acts of anti-union violence directly related to their work.

‘The Government Must Protect Threatened Union Leaders’

Jorge-Acosta murdered union leader in Honduras, Solidarity CenterFollowing Acosta’s murder, the Coordinating Body of Latin American Agricultural unions (COLSIBA) echoed calls by Honduran unions that the state provide real, robust protection to Acosta’s family and SITRATERCO leadership and seriously undertake the protection of all threatened unionists currently authorized protective measures.

In a statement, four members of the U.S. Congress condemned the murder and said the Honduran government must thoroughly investigate and prosecute the assassination.

“The labor movement of Honduras is in more danger than ever. Yet the Honduran government fails to provide the legally mandated protection systems, does not investigate or prosecute those who threaten or kill union activists, and utterly fails to enforce its own labor laws,” the lawmakers said in the statement. “As the AFL-CIO and Honduran unions have documented, the government of Honduras has failed to comply with its legally mandated obligations under the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) to prevent anti-union violence, among other rampant violations.”

The agricultural worker federation FESTAGRO and its affiliated unions joined the call to demand justice for Acosta, #JusticiaparaJorge. The agricultural unions, whose members have been threatened, attacked and murdered in recent years for their efforts to seek basic rights on the job, urged the government to protect threatened rights activists.

“We demand immediate protection of the leaders from various unions who fight to improve the living conditions of the Honduran population and mainly in the agricultural sector, where violence is more marked and continuous. According to the report of the Network Against Anti-union Violence, more than 70 percent of attacks occur in this sector,” FESTAGRO, a longtime Solidarity Center partner, said in a statement.

In August, 55 members of Congress sent a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative and the Acting Secretary of Labor citing ongoing labor and human rights violations, including anti-union violence and threats at Honduran plantations as repeated violations of the CAFTA labor chapter. For example, workers’ efforts to form unions affiliated to FESTAGRO have been violently repressed. SITRATERCO, the union that founded the Honduran labor movement, is also a founding member of the FESTAGRO federation.

In 2012, the AFL-CIO and 26 Honduran unions and civil society organizations filed a complaint under CAFTA’s labor chapter. The complaint, filed with the Labor Department’s Office of Trade and Labor Affairs, alleges the Honduran government failed to enforce worker rights under its labor laws. In a February 2015 report, and again in October 2018, the U.S. Trade and Labor Affairs office documented that the Honduran government demonstrated no progress on emblematic cases or systematic rights violations.

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