Drivers in Nigeria won the country’s first union covering platform-based workers, a victory that shows it is possible for “unions to organize workers in the gig economy,” says Ayoade Ibrahim, secretary general of the Amalgamated Union of App-Based Transport Workers of Nigeria (AUATWN).
Platform workers in Nigeria join with Labor Ministry officials to finalize recognition of their union, AUATWN. Credit: AUATWN
The Ministry of Labor’s recognition of AUATWN empowers it to have a say in determining the terms and conditions of drivers working for Uber, Bolt and other app-based transportation companies in the country, and covers drivers who deliver food and passengers or engage in other services. The union worked with the Nigeria Labor Congress throughout the campaign for recognition.
In a statement approving AUATWN as union representative of app-based workers last week, the Labor Ministry pointed out that while the freedom to form unions and collectively bargain are internationally protected rights, workers in the informal sector, such as app-based workers, often are not included.
In Nigeria, as in countries around the world, app-based drivers often must work long hours to support themselves and pay for expenses like vehicle maintenance, insurance and car leasing. Excessive hours lead to accidents, says Ayoade.
“I work 15 to 18 hours a day. Long hours working is actually not safe for drivers,” says Ayobami Lawal, a platform driver in Lagos. “That is why you see in the news that the driver had an accident. It is because of fatigue, because there is no time to rest.” Drivers also risk being assaulted and even killed on the job, as platform companies do not screen riders. By contrast, riders have access to drivers’ name and personal phone numbers.
In April 2021, platform drivers and their associations in Nigeria went on strike, demanding that Uber and Bolt raise trip fares to make up for the increased cost of gas and vehicle parts. They also launched a class action suit in 2021 against Uber and Bolt, seeking unpaid overtime and holiday pay, pensions and union recognition. Following the protests, Uber increased fare costs on UberX rides and UberX Share in Lagos, a move that did little to improve drivers’ pay and nothing to improve conditions.
‘We Must Be United’
App-based drivers in Nigeria began seeking union recognition in 2017, after drivers’ income was slashed by 40 percent, says Ayoade, a father of three who that year was forced to drive 10-hour days to make the same income he had previously earned for fewer hours. When Uber and Bolt first launched, drivers were paid enough to work without putting in long hours. But the companies’ price wars to lure passengers and increased driver fees, including commissions up to 25 percent per rider, slashed driver pay.
As the process to register a union with the government dragged, platform worker associations made key gains in mobilizing workers through Facebook, WhatsApp and, most recently, Telegram. The campaign also includes legal action and lobbying Parliament to extend labor laws and social protections to workers in the informal sector.
Three worker associations engaged in the campaign—the National Union of Professional App-based Transport Workers (NUPA-BTW), the Professional E-hailing Drivers and Private Owners Association of Nigeria (PEDPAN) and the National Coalition of Ride-Sharing Partners (NACORP)—last year joined together to form AUATWN.
“We cannot go to war with a divided mind,” says Ayoade. We must be united before we can achieve. The fact that we are united now, we are fierce. We’re trying to involve everybody.”
App-Based Workers Making Gains Worldwide
Unions face unique challenges organizing app-based workers, but by mobilizing members through online apps, unions also have the ability to involve more workers in meetings, education and other opportunities.
“Everybody is included,” says Ayoade. “It’s a more democratic process. We have delegates for unit leadership. If the delegates can’t join for a physical meeting, they can join anywhere.”
Members’ questions can be quickly answered on social platforms and the union operation is more transparent. For instance, he says, members “will see how the money to the union is moving from the app to the account. Every member knows how the money will be used.”
Platform workers in countries worldwide are joining together to better wages, job safety and other fundamental rights guaranteed by international laws. In Kyrgyzstan, gig workers at Yandex Go formed a union and won better wages, while a new report finds that workers on digital platform companies who are pursuing their rights at work through courts and legislation are making significant gains, especially in Europe and Latin America. The Solidarity Center is part of a broad-based movement in dozens of countries to help app-based drivers and other informal sector workers come together. Members of the International Lawyers Assisting Workers Network (ILAW), a Solidarity Center project, have assisted platform workers in many of these cases.
While celebrating the new union, Ayoade also is mindful of the cost some workers paid for a lack of decent work.
“Some of the people we started together with in this campaign, they lost their life along the line,” he says. The lack of insurance or social benefits mean that if drivers are attacked or robbed or even die on the job, they and their family are left all on their own. “They have children, they have parents, who received nothing,” he says.
Although he is bullied and even threatened for his work, Ayoade says such tactics only make him see his efforts are effective. “God gave me the opportunity to help people in this struggle. I am doing something that is improving people’s lives.”
Domestic workers in Honduras increasingly are exercising their rights on the job in the country, where they have few labor law protections and so are especially vulnerable to abuse. More than 100 workers recently joined SINTRAHO (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadoras del Hogar), National Domestic Workers Union, which in October became the first legally registered domestic worker union in Honduras.
Following eight months of outreach, education, training and organizing, domestic workers formed SINTRAHO to address their difficult working conditions. Most domestic workers are women and many live in their employers’ homes, where they often are subjected to sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence. As in many countries worldwide, Honduran law excludes domestic workers from mandated breaks, minimum wages and access to social security.
“In Honduras, there are more than 100,000 domestic workers, and we believe that the best way for us to be heard and recognized is to organize ourselves and fight for our rights as workers in a sector that has been hidden,” says Silma Perez, SINTRAHO president.
Recognizing that most domestic workers in urban centers are internal migrants from rural areas, often from marginalized indigenous communities, leaders of FESTAGRO, the agroindustrial union federation supporting SINTRAHO, say it is especially import to support these workers as they organize for improved conditions. FESTAGRO’s confederation, CUTH, and Solidarity Center, also provide support for the new union.
Global Movement for Domestic Worker Rights
Domestic workers in Honduras are part of a worldwide mobilization of domestic workers seeking their rights, forming unions and associations, and pushing for their governments to ratify International Labor Organization Domestic Workers Convention (No. 189). Convention 189 is a binding standard in which domestic workers are entitled to full labor rights, including those covering work hours, overtime pay, safety and health standards and paid leave.
As tens of thousands domestic workers around the world mobilized around ILO 189, which was adopted in 2011, their efforts led to formation of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF). Since then, domestic workers have campaigned for their governments to ratify it, and 29 countries have done so, meaning they are bound to its regulations, which include clearly stated work requirements, safe working conditions, paid annual leave and the freedom to form unions.
Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama are the only Central American countries that have ratified Convention 189, and SINTRAHO is planning a ratification campaign in Honduras. SINTRAHO also plans to push for greater protections for domestic workers under Honduran national labor law, including a fair minimum wage and access to social security protections.
SINTRAHO is the first national union in Honduras to specifically mention the rights of LGBTI workers in its statutes, and created an Executive Committee position for Secretary of Gender and Diversity to recognize and value its members’ diverse backgrounds.
“SINTRAHO will take on the challenge of organizing many more workers in the coming year in order to fight for national laws that will directly benefit us as domestic workers,” says Perez.
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.
Coal miners in Ukraine have protested underground over the past 15 days to demand months of unpaid wages after 33 miners at the state-owned Lysychansk coal mines refused to leave from their underground shift. The miners are demanding wages they did not receive from June to September 2018, as well as for several months from 2015 to 2017.
KVPU Chairperson Mykhailo Volynets (second from left) visited with coal miners waging an underground protest. Credit: KVPU
While the Ukraine government promised to transfer some of the $10.6 million owed to these miners, Mykhailo Volynets, chairperson of the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine (NPGU), said even if this promise is honored, some workers may not be paid. Cleaners and boiler house workers are among those who will not receive any of the funds, although they have also not been paid for four months.
Members of the NPGU held solidarity rallies at several locations in Ukraine’s Lviv and Donetsk mining regions. Across Ukraine, workers at state-owned coal mining enterprises are owed roughly $28.5 million in unpaid wages, and this month the figure will reach $42.6 million as October wage payments are due.
Volynets, a former mine worker, visited the men in the mine this week and said he is “deeply concerned about their health and lives. “These miners show genuine courage and integrity during their struggle for justice and fair payment,” Volynets says.
“The air atmosphere and air humidity in mine are also a point of concern. The miners are in dangerous conditions at a depth of 600 meters (1,968 feet). These people work in such extremely difficult and dangerous conditions, and their wages aren’t high.”
In Ukraine, a skilled miner may be paid as little as $280 to $320 a month. Ukraine has the lowest wages in Europe.
Ukraine miners have received international support with the global union IndustriALL sending miners a solidarity letter and calling on the Ukraine government to immediately pay all wages in arrears.
When Rose Omamo started work in 1988 as a mechanic in a vehicle assembly plant in Kenya, she was one of two women in a workplace dominated by hundreds of men. Her employer refused to recognize the women’s basic requests, and even her union, the Amalgamated Union of Kenya Metal Workers, negotiated contracts that excluded their concerns.
So Omamo took action. She demanded her employer provide breastfeeding accommodations for women workers and such fundamental workplace amenities as sanitary receptacles in the restrooms. Soon, she was elected union shop floor leader, and after winning a series of increasingly high positions, now holds the highest office, general secretary, in the 11,000-member national Metal Workers union. Omamo also is national chair of the Congress of Trade Unions–Kenya (COTU-K) Women’s Committee and serves on the COTU-K executive board.
Her male co-workers saw “I could fight for the men, and they put their trust in me,” she says.
Women, race and youth are all crosscutting issues about workers who are most oppressed.—Rosana Fernandes, Brazil CUT. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Halfway across the globe in Brazil, Rosana Fernandes began working at age 22 at a plastics product factory in São Paulo, where she quickly ran for leadership in her factory union and soon was elected to a top-level position at the national Central Union of Workers (CUT). There, she created the Collective of Chemical Youth Workers section to advance the interests of young workers in her industry.
Now deputy secretary of CUT’s Secretariat of Combating Racism, Fernandes says the issues she has worked on as a union leader—women, race and youth—are all “crosscutting policies about workers who are most oppressed.”
Omamo and Fernandes are two of a 20-member Solidarity Center Exchange Program delegation of women union leaders from Kenya and Brazil here in St. Louis for the AFL-CIO 2017 Convention. While in St. Louis, the group will meet with Mayor Lyda Krewson, the city’s first female mayor, and will travel to Atlanta, where they will explore with leaders from U.S. unions and nonprofits their strategies for empowering women within their organizations.
On the Frontlines for Vulnerable Workers
Leaders in their unions, Omamo and Fernandes also are frontline advocates for empowering women and young workers to take roles in their unions.
“Most of labor move leadership is male dominated,” Omamo says. “What I have come to realize, personally, is that the biggest challenge has been, ‘How can a male trust a woman to lead them?’”
When Omamo ran for national office in April 2016, her slate included two other women, who ran for treasurer and assistant treasurer. Both were elected. “Now we have shop stewards in unions and branch officials and national officials” who are women, she says.
From the national union level, Fernandes has advocated for broader and deeper inclusion of young workers. “We must effectively incorporate youth into policies in way that renews the union movement,” Fernandes says, speaking through a translator. “Society is constantly changing itself and unions need to keep up. We need policies that are not just for youth but with youth.”
Global Solidarity to Achieve Global Goals
In her 17 months as general secretary of the Metal Workers union, Omamo has initiated trainings across the union’s 11 branches in dispute resolution, labor law, grievance handling and collective bargaining negotiating. The workers, many of whom are illiterate, are now effectively negotiating collective bargaining agreements for the first time without national union participation.
“We need to give them tools and skills to be able to represent workers effectively on the shop floor,” she says. She also has streamlined operations and tackled the union’s debt, reducing it from 4.5 million Kenya shillings ($43,200) to 1.2 million Kenya shillings ($11,520).
In Brazil, where Afro-Brazilian workers are disproportionately paid less and work in the most dangerous jobs with little job security, Fernandes is now focused on creating fair playing fields for racially disadvantaged workers.
“It’s very clear racial equality is not alive in labor market,” Fernandes says. For instance, the country’s 8 million domestic workers are overwhelming Afro-Brazilian, “a legacy from slavery that work in the home should be automatically done by black women who don’t deserve to have decent wages or (decent) working conditions,” she says. “It’s 2017, and we’re still fighting for fundamental rights for domestic workers.”
For both women leaders, global solidarity is essential to address the common struggles in their countries and around the world.
“It’s also time for us to unite together to fight together to work together in solidarity and to say we want to change the world of work so that the work that will be done by our members will be decent and not precarious,” says Omamo.
And like all the women on the Solidarity Center delegation, Omamo is ready for the challenge.
As she puts it: “I don’t believe in failing, I believe in achieving.”
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.