“The new accord [USMCA] also includes provisions to permit collective bargaining and to close loopholes allowing Mexican employers to profit by mistreating their workers … On paper, the Mexican reforms would allow workers to organize unions outside of the company-controlled ‘white’ unions that exist to guarantee big employers labor peace. Even before the pandemic slowed government operations, implementation was behind schedule, according to Gladys Cisneros, Mexico program director for Solidarity Center, an AFL-CIO affiliate.”
As the COVID-19 crisis deepens in Ukraine and scandals are alleged regarding state procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), worker rights activists are leveraging trade unions’ collective power to advocate for better pay and conditions for working people and help provide emergency relief during quarantine. The country’s trade unions are persisting in delivering help and calling out injustices—no small task given that Ukraine last year was awarded the worst labor rights score in Central and Eastern Europe.
Worker-initiated advocacy measures include:
- Civil society activists and the five major trade unions of Ukraine that represent 7 million members continue to resist proposed changes to the country’s labor law, which, in violation of international labor law, would allow employers to fire workers for any reason and drastically reduce overtime pay.
- Ukraine’s construction workers’ union began a collective bargaining process to minimize the negative effects of the pandemic on the construction sector and initiated a criminal case against construction company Prosco for wage theft.
- Trade union activists are speaking out on behalf of an emerging small entrepreneurs’ movement that is protesting disproportionate government support for larger, mostly oligarchy-owned, businesses during the lock down, and demanding equal support for small and micro-businesses, including small-scale farms.
- Workers at Ukraine’s postal and delivery service Nova Poshta successfully lobbied their employer to provide all 30,000 Nova Poshta employees with PPE when needed and preserve the wages and benefits of those required to stop working during quarantine.
- The Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine, FPU, on April 29 provided a live-streamed question-and-answer forum for labor leaders from Kharkiv, Kryvyi Rih, Poltava, Lviv, Zaporizzhya, Ternopil, and Kamyanske to consult with FPU experts about worker’s legal rights under Ukraine’s labor law during the pandemic, and to share their members’ most commonly reported violations—including overwork, employer pressure to take unpaid leave and issues around telework.
- Leaders of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine, KVPU, on April 30 held a live-streamed conference with representatives of the medical workers’ union, rail workers’ union, independent unions of Donetsk region, the LEONI Wiring Systems union and others to catalog and discuss challenges reported by workers at home and on the job due to the pandemic—including job losses at shuttered mines in the Donetsk region, lack of PPE for medical workers and the uneven impact of quarantine on women.
- Trade unions in the Dnipro region successfully lobbied employers, local government and volunteers for increased support of medical workers at the frontline of the COVID-19 fight.
- Tower crane operators in Lviv held a wildcat strike, refusing to work until they receive their February and March wages and employer-provided PPE.
- Following an appeal from workers at the Kremenchuk machine-building plant, the local government in Poltava province allocated an additional $14,600 for medical worker needs, including face masks.
Worker-initiated relief measures include:
- Labor Initiatives (LI), a Solidarity Center-supported Ukrainian non-profit organization, is providing legal assistance to workers by distributing COVID-related information through its phone hotline, website, Facebook page and other social media. LI’s hotline provided some 100 consultations during the country’s first week of quarantine; its website FAQ on labor rights during the quarantine was viewed more than 60,000 times in March.
- The Trade Union of Healthcare Workers of Ukraine (HWUU) launched a hotline to collect and respond to emergencies reported by frontline healthcare workers, which include inadequate PPE and excessive workloads due to layoffs.
- Trade union members at Nova Poshta launched a COVID-19 email help line, provided disinfectants and children’s educational materials to all its members, and distributed 1,000 face mask vouchers to members deemed most at risk from COVID-19.
- The trade union representing workers employed by the Naftogaz state energy enterprise collected $300,000 for local healthcare worker needs, which was distributed to workers at 21 hospitals and 26 urgent-care centers.
- Also to support medical workers, the trade union representing workers employed by Ukraine’s Rivne Department of Culture collected $2,000 while the Rivne province union solidarity fund donated $50,000.
- Members of the trade union representing workers at oil-transporting company Ukrtransnafta distributed 2,256 food baskets to elders in need at a cost of $31,500.
- Unions in Pavlograd purchased 20 medical ventilators for hospitals in Pavlograd, Pershotravensk and Ternivka, and purchased $112,000 of PPE.
- KVPU-affiliated trade union activists at Antonov aircraft company helped ensure the safety of workers who are transporting medical equipment and PPE globally, including to COVID-19 hotspots.
- The trade union representing nuclear sector workers in Ukraine donated its entire reserve fund of $38,500 toward the purchase of PPE and relief for medical workers.
- Nuclear sector workers in Mykolaiv province collected $7,300 for medical workers at Yuzhnoukrayinsk hospital.
- The local chapter of the industrial workers’ union in the city of Kryvyi Rih organized self-manufacture of face masks for its members and others, producing more than 1,000 masks through March.
Haitian garment workers face increasing difficulty in covering basic expenditures as prices soar while wages hover far below the cost of living, according to a new Solidarity Center report.
The High Cost of Low Wages in Haiti (2019), a new Solidarity Center survey tracking living expenses for garment workers from September 2018 through March 2019, shows that the daily minimum wage of 420 gourdes (about $5.07) for export apparel workers in Haiti is more than four times less than the estimated cost of living. Consequently, workers—the majority of whom are women supporting families—are forced to toil longer for less due to diminished purchasing power and are unable to cover daily necessities, including food.
Report recommendations include that government increase the minimum wage to an estimated living wage of 1,750 gourdes per day and allow workers to select their own representatives to the country’s tripartite minimum wage committee.
“Any substantive discussion on democracy in Haiti needs to address the issue of a living wage for Haitian workers,” said Joell Molina, Solidarity Center regional program director for the Americas. “When workers earn enough to meet their basic needs, they can stop focusing on daily survival and shift their energy toward participating in civic spaces to better their communities and enhance their democracy.”
Even though Haiti has incrementally increased the minimum wage since the passage of HOPE II—U.S. legislation qualifying exports for duty-free access to the U.S. market in exchange for factory adherence to international labor standards and domestic labor law, among other criteria—wages have not kept pace with inflation.
The cost of living in Haiti has increased by 74 percent since the Solidarity Center’s last assessment in 2014. Based on the current minimum wage, workers must spend more than half (55 percent) of their take-home pay on work-related transportation and a modest lunch, leaving insufficient funds to cover other necessities. Some workers say they can only afford to eat once per day.
A follow-up to similar cost-of-living surveys conducted in Haiti in 2011 and 2014, The High Cost of Low Wages in Haiti presents pricing data collected across communities in which garment workers are concentrated, including Delmas, La Plaine, Petionville, Tabarre, downtown Port-au-Prince and the airport zone near the Metropolitan Industrial Park. The locally appropriate basket of goods surveyed includes clothing, communication, education, energy, food, healthcare, housing, transportation, water, and savings and discretionary spending.
The apparel industry represents one of the few sources of formal employment in Haiti and provides factory jobs to as many as 52,000 workers. Despite the requirements of HOPE II, the independent monitoring program Better Work Haiti routinely reports rights abuses, including improper payment of wages and benefits, health and safety violations, sexual harassment and repression of freedom of association. In addition to poor working conditions, many workers labor with persistent hunger due to their inability to afford enough food.
Workers in Haiti face daunting obstacles when seeking to exercise their rights to better wages and working conditions. In the 2018 ITUC Global Rights Index, which ranks 142 countries according to 97 internationally recognized indicators to assess the extent to which worker rights are protected in law and in practice, Haiti was found to systematically violate worker rights.
In a historic achievement, delegates to the 11th Congress of Brazil’s garment worker union federation, CNTRV (National Confederation of Clothing Workers) last week voted for gender parity in leadership and adopted a pro-women’s rights agenda.
The union achieved parity not only in the overall number of women and men in leadership, but also in its top executive positions.
“Women are empowered at the highest levels in the organization,” said CNTRV President Cida Trajano.
In partnership with the Solidarity Center, CNTRV in recent years ran a nationwide women’s leadership project, preparing women workers to assume leadership positions, according to Trajano.
“This is proof that the effort to form and organize feminist activism is worth it,” she said.
Over the next four years, CNTRV will focus on a pro-women’s rights agenda, including developing programs to combat gender-based violence at work and empower women workers; allow greater space for feminist agendas in communications; consult with women leaders and activists when developing recommendations for public policies affecting women; and expand women’s participation in collective bargaining and wage negotiations.
The Solidarity Center supports women workers seeking greater voice at the workplace across a range of employment sectors in Brazil, including the chemical, garment and hospitality industries, and domestic work. Together with the CNQ (National Confederation of Chemical Workers) CNTRV and CONTRACS (National Confederation of Service and Retail Workers), the Solidarity Center conducts trainings and campaigns to equip women to advocate for safer working conditions and more equitable salaries on the job, and to assume more active leadership roles in their unions.
Even as an uneasy but relative peace takes hold in northeastern Nigeria, the death toll and violence of the past several years is having long-term effects on returning teachers, healthcare workers and civil servants in Borno state, according to a joint survey completed by public-sector unions last month.
The unions, with Solidarity Center support, documented hundreds of deaths by violent attacks—attacks in which many public-sector workers were specifically targeted.
The Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Borno State Wing, estimates that it has lost more than 500 members, some to homemade bombs hurled at concrete classrooms. The Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), Borno state, counted losses in the hundreds. The Borno state branch of the Nigeria Civil Service Union (NCSU) estimates more than 70 members were killed by gunshot or bomb blast.
Although many public-sector workers are now returning to their jobs, Mamman Bukar, Borno state NCSU Chairman, said almost 75 percent of civil servants represented by the union who are back on the job are struggling.
“People have started moving around, doing their normal jobs” he said, but, “some lost their senses because of the trauma of the situation.”
A male healthcare worker, for example, described a bloody armed assault on the hospital in which he was working on February, 11, 2014, when insurgents raided the pharmacy and murdered his supervising physician. Although the worker spoke on camera to record the eyewitness account, he asked for safety reasons that his interview and name not be publicly released.
Others described similar violent scenes at their workplace: “Then I saw half of a body on the ground,” said a civil servant with the Ministry of Agriculture, describing the aftermath of a bomb attack in May last year on the State Secretariat in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri. He also asked to remain anonymous.
Nurse-midwife Liyatu Haruma, who surveyed members of the National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives, said she learned that the long-term impact on her colleagues is, “deep and close.” Many of them were injured, had their houses burned or witnessed people being killed, she said.
Borno state teacher Muhammad Kirala, who collected eyewitness accounts from his colleagues, said teachers he interviewed described watching colleagues “slaughtered like animals,“ with knives, run down by vehicles, or killed in bomb blasts as they attempted to escape gunmen.
Workers also reported serious economic consequences of the violence on them and their families, including the loss of income during long periods when their workplaces were too dangerous or damaged to access. Many who were injured said they did not receive compensation for medical expenses. Some said they could not pay for the health care they need to return to work successfully, and that the state is not providing support.
“[They] don’t have money to remove bullets from them,” said Yusuf Inuwa, head of the Borno state Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN).
Several workers showed interviewers remaining physical damage, including shrapnel still embedded under their skin.
A civil servant who spent almost four months in the hospital recovering from severe bomb-blast injuries to his leg and foot—and reporting anonymously for safety reasons—said he had received emergency funds from his union, but no salary for the time he was in the hospital nor government compensation for his injuries.
“Presently, I want my salary,” he said.
Missing workers were not counted in the unions’ surveys. An estimated 1.8 million people have been displaced in Borno State, including more than 19,000 teachers.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the proper response of ILO member states in post-conflict situations within their borders is promotion of full employment and special action to assist all persons whose usual employment has been interrupted, per Recommendation No. 71– Employment (Transition from War to Peace), 1944. A revision of the Recommendation, which began last year, will include new post-conflict state responsibilities, including promoting employment, reinforcing state institutions, and fostering social protection, social dialogue and respect for fundamental rights.