Date: 1 October 2020
This high-level meeting of the General Assembly will focus on the overall theme, “The Future We Want, the United Nations We Need: Reaffirming Our Collective Commitment to Multilateralism—Confronting COVID-19 Through Collective Multilateralism.”
Protecting the rights of migrant workers must be an essential component of the United Nations Global Compact on Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration, according to union leaders who met recently in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to craft a worker rights agenda for inclusion in the global compact, the first inter-governmentally negotiated agreement to comprehensively cover all dimensions of international migration.
The December 1–2 meeting preceded a UN gathering to assess recommendations and discuss implementation of the global compact on migration. The 17 union leaders from across the Americas crafted a shared policy agenda and outlined plans to advocate within national and regional government bodies.
“It cannot be overstated how important the content of the compact will be in terms of creating policies that will affect economic inclusion,” says Neha Misra, Solidarity Center senior specialist for migration and trafficking. “This work will set the agenda for global action on migration and the role of displaced workers for at least the next decade. It is crucial that migrant workers, and the unions and worker centers that represent them, have a voice in the global compact negotiations process.”
Elena Villafuerte, PRODESC; Neha Misra, Solidarity Center; and María Carmen Molina from CSTS in Mexico were among panelists presenting labor’s joint position on labor migration.
In a panel presentation sharing labor’s joint position with UN participants, María del Carmen Molina, general secretary of the Confederation of Salvadoran Workers (CSTS), stressed the importance of protecting all workers’ rights, regardless of immigration status, and the responsibility of governments to ensure conditions so migration is by choice, not compulsion.
Misra and Solidarity Center partners from the Central American Regional Union Committee on Migration (Comité Inter-Sindical), ProDESC and Centro de Derechos del Migrante in Mexico took part in the civil society meetings prior to the UN’s formal session, and presented their recommendations to the full UN meeting December 4–6.
Union leaders also emphasized the need to ensure accessible pathways to regularization to ensure full rights for the world’s 150 million are migrant workers, and end the global expansion of abusive and exploitative labor migration programs. They agreed to take the issue of migrant worker rights back to their respective labor bodies to continue to educate and advocate on the issue.
The UN process to develop the global compact for migration began in April 2017. The UN General Assembly will hold an intergovernmental conference on international migration in 2018 with a view to adopting the global compact. Following the UN meeting, participants issued a joint statement summarizing their suggestions for implementing the global compact.
No global data document gender-based violence at work. But across the board, gender-based violence remains one of the most tolerated violations of workers’ human rights. Some 35 percent of women over age 15—818 million women globally—have experienced sexual or physical violence at home, in their communities or in the workplace.
The Solidarity Center and allies throughout the international labor, human and women’s rights communities are campaigning for an International Labor Organization (ILO) convention to stop violence and harassment at work. As part of the process, begun many months ago, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is now spearheading efforts to lobby governments and employer organizations around the world for their input and support. (The ITUC campaign toolkit includes talking points, resources and tips for lobbying your government.)
Allies are building awareness for passage of a convention and distributing an ILO questionnaire to their government representatives soliciting comments and support in advance of a September 22 deadline. When ILO member states ratify a convention, they commit to applying it in national law and practice, and complaints can be made against countries for violations. In June 2018, the ILO International Labor Conference (ILC) will take up the issue.
Gender-Based Violence: Worse Without Freedom to Form Unions
Domestic workers, whose isolation in employer homes makes them especially vulnerable to abuse, are strongly championing its passage. Building on the tactics of their successful global campaign for the 2011 ratification of ILO Convention 189 covering domestic workers—the last convention the ILO passed—they are reproducing those steps to ensure support for a convention to end gender-based violence at work, says Elizabeth Tang, general secretary of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF).
“Gender-based violence is always worse when there is no freedom of association,” Solidarity Center Policy Director Molly McCoy said earlier this year. “When workers are not organized (in unions), they don’t have resources to tackle gender-based violence.” McCoy moderated a Solidarity Center panel in New York on gender-based violence at work in conjunction with the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meetings.
Gender-Based Violence Includes Physical, Mental Abuse
In a detailed report issued in advance of the 2018 ILO conference, the ILO describes gender-based violence as affecting both women and men, but notes that unequal status and power relations in society and at work often result in women being far more exposed to violence and harassment, which can be physical, psychological and sexual.
In addition, the ILO uses the term “world of work” for a proposed convention, because gender-based violence occurs not only in the physical workplace, but during the work commute, at work-related social events, in public spaces—the primary venue for informal workers such as street vendors—and in the home, in particular for domestic workers and teleworkers.
Addressing violence and harassment through an international standard is key to the objectives of achieving decent work for all and addressing gender inequality in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Goal 8 and Goal 5). A new standard would be preventative, by addressing negative societal and workplace cultures, and “should also be able to respond to the new challenges and risks which might lead to violence and harassment in the world of work, such as those arising from changing forms of work and technology,” according to an October 2016 report by the UN Meeting of Experts on Violence against Women and Men in the World of Work.
“Why does being low-wage and a migrant mean being sentenced to a lifetime of being separated from your family? It shouldn’t and doesn’t have to,” says Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau. Speaking at a United Nations meeting on migration today in New York, Bader-Blau contrasted the unchallenged right of capital to move freely across borders with the lack of rights and labor protections for migrant workers.
Being low-wage and a migrant should not mean being sentenced to a lifetime of being separated from your family–Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau Credit: Solidarity Center/Neha Misra
“We have not seen a commensurate expansion of the rights of people to go along with the incredible expansion of the rights of business, especially not for the migrant workforce. If we want to talk about the human rights of migrants, we really need to directly challenge those assumptions.”
Bader-Blau addressed the Fourth Thematic Event, “Contributions of Migrants and Diaspora to all Dimensions of Sustainable Development, including Remittances and Portability of Earned Benefits.” The July 23–25 meeting is among six thematic sessions held between April 2017 and November 2017 to gather substantive input and concrete recommendations to inform the development of the UN Global Compact on Migration.
Migrant Workers Should Be Free to Bargain with Employers
Neha Misa, Solidarity Center migration and human trafficking senior specialist, also spoke at the consultation, where she asked participants to “imagine if migrant workers could fully participate in the right to organize and collectively bargain.”
“We have seen time and time again how collective bargaining agreements provide migrant workers with the ability to earn a decent wage, and they may even be used to lower the costs of recruitment and provide migrant workers with more safe and secure ways to remit their earnings back home. Collective bargaining agreements also help to protect women migrant workers from gender-based violence and other forms of discrimination in the workplace.”
Misra, who also presented on behalf of the Women in Global Migration Network (WIMN), says “women in migration are not ‘vulnerable,’ in need of ‘rescue’—they are advocates for their rights and agents of change.” Current migration policies must be changed from being about ‘protecting women’ to ‘protecting women’s rights,’ she says.
The Solidarity Center is a member of WIMN and the Global Coalition on Migration, both of which took a strong role at the session.
Misra detailed a list of recommendations for inclusion in the UN Global Compact, including embedding core labor and human rights standards. (Read her full statement and recommendations here.)
Many workers migrate for jobs because none exist in their home countries—Jonatan Monge Loría, chief coordinator of CI-Regional. Credit: Solidarity Center/Neha Misra
Addressing labor migration also means attending to the conditions that foster this phenomenon from origin countries, says Jonatan Monge Loría, chief coordinator of the Central American Regional Inter-Union Committee for the Defense of the Migrant Workers Rights (CI-Regional).
“Many dependent economies lack productive development policies that generate the quantity and quality of jobs that are required for decent work and livelihoods that sustain families,” says Loría. “It is no secret that poor development conditions and lack of job opportunities in origin countries are the trigger for this type of migration.”
Loría spoke on behalf of CI-Regional, a Solidarity Center partner, and the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA/CSA) and the Trade Union Council for Technical Assistance. (See Loría’s full remarks in English and Spanish.)
‘Borders Are Not Exempt from Human Rights’
At the Third Thematic Event last month in Geneva, Asia Region Director Tim Ryan addressed the issue of governance of migration, saying “it is dangerous to think borders can be hermetically controlled, and borders are not exempt from human rights.
“Governments must move beyond an emphasis on temporary migration programs that restrict workers’ ability to exercise their rights—from freedom of association and voting rights to family unification—to regular migration programs that allow for visa portability, the ability to change employers, exercising political and social rights, freedom of movement, family unity and pathways to residency and citizenship in destination countries.” (Read Ryan’s full statement here.)
Understanding the scale and depth of corporate power’s impact on workers, the environment and public services—and channeling that knowledge into joint action to coordinate and maximize an effective response—is crucial to decreasing economic inequality and reclaiming space for the 99 percent, panelists said yesterday in New York City.
“Our solidarity is what’s important in addressing global power”—Kate Lappin, APWLD. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
“Our solidarity is what’s important in addressing global power,” said Kate Lappin, regional coordinator of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD). “The answer is not about blaming migration or ‘the other,’ the answer is solidarity,” Lappin said, speaking at “Impact of Corporate Power on Women’s Economic Empowerment,” a session sponsored by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), Solidarity Center, APWLD and Global Policy Forum.
The panel was one of several sessions the Solidarity Center and its partners held in conjunction with the March 13–24 meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Some 200 union women activists from around the globe are taking part in events.
The panel stems from the 2016 report, “Challenging Corporate Power: Struggles for Women’s Rights, Economic and Gender Justice” produced by AWID and the Solidarity Center, in conjunction with Just Associates (JASS). The report explores how corporations in collusion with elites and other powerful actors are exerting their power to transform economic and political systems. The report then illustrates how this power impacts women and oppressed peoples.
Earlier this week, the Solidarity Center and International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) convened sessions examining the prevalence of gender-based violence at work and mobilization strategies for championing passage of an International Labor Organization (ILO) convention preventing gender-based violence on the job. Yesterday, three women union activists shared their experiences helping women form unions at the AFL-CIO panel, “Building Power for Women Workers in the Changing World of Work.”
Workers Have Power because Their Labor Fuels Economy
The labor movement and women’s movement have a lot to learn from each other—Lisa McGowan, Solidarity Center. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
One of the most promising areas of cross-movement collaboration is the campaign to end gender-based violence at work, said Solidarity Center Gender Equality Director Lisa McGowan.
“It’s a really powerful issue—it helps bring together lots of different movements, primarily the labor and women’s movements—who have a lot to learn from each other,” said McGowan.
Last fall, the Solidarity Center held a multi-session workshop on building alliances around ending gender-based violence at work during the AWID Forum in Brazil, part of the Solidarity Center’s outreach efforts to connect with women’s movements and other likeminded allies around the issue. More than 2,000 women activists from around the world attended the AWID event.
“Of the 100 largest economies today, 31 are countries”—Barbara Adams, Global Policy Watch. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Barbara Adams, senior policy adviser at the Global Policy Forum, discussed how growing economic inequality is hitting women workers especially hard, as wages decline along with women’s ability to exercise their rights.
Describing the increasing influence of corporate money on governments, which often contract out public services to less accountable private-sector providers, Adams said the stated goal of some corporate players is “governance without government.
“Of the 100 largest economies today, 31 are countries,” she said. “It’s no longer one person, one vote, but one dollar, one vote.” Unlike governments, corporations cannot be held accountable through the democratic process.
The role of the union movement is especially key in such an environment, said McGowan. “Workers have power because their labor is what fuels our economy,” she said.
Building on worker power in relation to corporations, the challenge for all progressive allies is to link the movements and link the strategies, she said.
Feminist Futures: Building Collective Power for Rights and Justice
Ana Abelenda, AWID, described the cross-movement dialogue behind “Challenging Corporate Power.” Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Ana Abelenda, AWID economic justice coordinator and panel moderator, described the process behind the “Challenging Corporate Power” report, which is based on a 2016 cross-movement dialogue convened by AWID and the Solidarity Center. Facilitated by JASS in São Paulo, Brazil, the meeting brought together women trade unionists; women workers; feminists; indigenous and black women; lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex (LBTQI) activists; and women human rights defenders to discuss, debate and share understanding of corporate power and what it means to their struggles and their lives.
The report reflects the participants’ explorations of successful movements to demand accountability—for labor rights violations, ecological damage, trade liberalization and privatization. Women beer promoters in Cambodia, for example, are increasingly forming unions with the Cambodian Food Service Workers Federation (CFSWF) to protest poverty wages, sexual harassment and violence, long working hours and toxic working conditions in bars and restaurants.
CSW meetings this month involve hundreds of high-level government delegates who, for the first time, are discussing women’s economic empowerment and the role of labor unions as core to achieving women’s rights—a huge milestone for working women around the globe in achieving recognition of their workplace struggles by the world’s human rights body—and one that worker rights organizations like the ITUC and Solidarity Center have long championed.
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