People Power in Peru Pays off

People Power in Peru Pays off

After thousands of Peruvian workers took to the streets on Thursday, the Peruvian government backed off a proposal (Supreme Decree 4008) that would have made it easier for employers to conduct mass layoffs. The proposed legislation also would have allowed employers to provide wage increases, up to 20 percent, in the form of bonuses which are not included in calculating benefits, and it would have limited the Labor Ministry’s oversight.

Spearheaded by the General Confederation of Workers of Peru (CGTP), the action led to workers’ second big victory this year. In December, young workers mobilized up to 30,000 workers and their allies in a series of marches protesting a new law that reduced salaries and benefits for workers under age 25. Lawmakers repealed the law in January.

Still on the books is a law passed in December that makes it easier for companies to conduct mass layoffs if they show two consecutive months of financial losses. This legislation, Supreme Decree 013, allows employers to eliminate 10 percent of their workforce if they can meet stipulated criteria—a loophole that empowers employers to target trade unionists, pregnant women, workers suffering from occupational safety and health illnesses and older workers. CGTP leaders, who met last week with the National Labor Council, say they are making progress in discussions to amend the law, and are meeting with the Prime Minister today.

Union leaders say worker awareness, mobilization and union-driven proposals for labor law reform are key to passing measures to improve workers’ standard of living, beat back regressive labor reforms and create the conditions for regaining union density and decent work in Peru.

The union movement plans further rallies and strikes in coming months, with public-sector workers set to mobilize for their rights on Wednesday.

In July 2013, the government passed a new civil service law that eliminated the right of more than 500,000 public administration workers to collectively negotiate salaries, narrows the definition of the type of unions they could establish and prevents “essential service” unions from striking (without defining essential services).

Public employees say the law violates International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 151 that protects the right of public-sector workers to form unions. They are seeking to raise their case at Committee on Application of Norms in the annual ILO conference in June 2014. All four confederations are formally coordinating to take the issue to the meeting, and together with the global union Public Services International, the Solidarity Center is working to prepare the labor delegates for a united front to advocate on this key Peruvian labor issue at the ILO.


Uzbek Cotton Harvest: Extortion, Bribery, Forced Labor

Uzbek Cotton Harvest: Extortion, Bribery, Forced Labor

Extortion and bribery fueled the forced labor behind Uzbekistan’s cotton harvest in autumn 2014, a coerced mass mobilization that took teachers, health care workers and millions of other employees away from their duties for several weeks, according to a report released today by the nonprofit Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights.

While fewer children were pushed into the fields during the most recent harvest, the study found an unprecedented degree of extortion of individuals and businesses that included keeping people in fields even though there was no more cotton to pick so that workers had to continue to pay for room and board, and the setting of unattainable quotas so people had to pay to make up deficits.

“The Government’s Riches, the People’s Burden,” which builds on the Uzbek-German Forum’s preliminary findings last November, reports that the government mobilized more public employees in the 2014 harvest than in previous years, likely to make up for fewer child laborers. Uzbekistan has cut back on the use of child labor in the cotton fields, following worldwide condemnation—including by the U.S. State Department, which in October placed Uzbekistan among 12 countries with the worst forms of child labor.

“Students and the sick suffer during the harvest time,” says Nadejda Atayeva, president of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia. “Schools and health clinics cannot function with so many staff sent to pick cotton. Students cannot receive the quality of education that they deserve, and medical care is inaccessible to people, even when they are very ill.”

At least 17 people died and numerous people were injured as a result of the cotton harvest and poor or unsafe working and living conditions, according to the report, which details how workers were forced to toil long hours picking cotton in unsafe and unhealthy working conditions that often included no access to clean drinking water. Workers were forced to live in garages, unused farm buildings or local schools in crowded and unsanitary conditions often without heat or hot water, even during cold weather at the end of the season.

The annual cotton harvest, estimated to exceed $1 billion, disappears into an extra-budgetary fund in the Finance Ministry to which only the highest-level officials have access, the report states.

“The enrichment of officials creates a powerful disincentive to enact real reforms of the cotton sector, and unlawful practices undermine the rule of law, nurturing an environment in which the government denies its use of forced labor and impunity prevails,” the report’s authors write.

The report concludes with specific recommendations for governments and nongovernmental organizations to address Uzbekistan’s abuses of human rights, including investigating and prosecuting companies that benefit from or contribute to the forced labor system of cotton production, which is in violation of international and national laws.

Experienced Uzbek-German Forum monitors, fluent in Uzbek, researched the cotton harvest and labor practices in the capital, Tashkent, and in six regions in Uzbekistan.

Zimbabwe Unions Set to Protest Repression, Economy

Zimbabwe Unions Set to Protest Repression, Economy

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) will take to the streets in six cities on Saturday to protest economic stagnation and an increasingly repressive environment for workers, civil society activists and human rights defenders.

Over the years, the ZCTU has tracked the steady decline in the country’s economic situation and its widening informal economy—where more than 80 percent of Zimbabweans work for irregular pay or no pay at all. And it has decried the ever-dwindling number of formal jobs: down by nearly 10,000 positions in 2013 and more than 5,000 in 2014, according to its calculations.

As the economy sputters, the government is threatening to cut wages, pushing to gut the country’s labor laws and blaming workers for the country’s terrible economic situation.

The march will take place in an increasingly threatening environment for activists. Last month Itai Dzamara, a leading pro-democracy advocate, was abducted. He remains missing, and leading civil society organizations—including the ZCTU—are calling on the government to ascertain his whereabouts and prosecute his abductors.

Police in the cities of Bulawayo, Mutare and Masvingo initially refused to grant permission for the demonstrations, but reversed their decisions after the Harare police agreed to allow the demonstration there, according to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

In 2010, an International Labor Organization (ILO) commission found serious government interference in ZCTU meetings and demonstrations in violation of ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association and Convention 98 on collective bargaining. The ITUC notes that while the government pledged to the ILO that police and security forces would receive training and education to prevent such violations in the future, the interference continues.

Liberian Unions Key to Stopping Ebola Spread

Liberian Unions Key to Stopping Ebola Spread

In Liberia, no new cases of Ebola have been reported in the past week and the overall death toll, while horrific at nearly 4,200, is far less than some health experts predicted last year—a result based in part on the coordinated efforts of the Liberian trade union movement.

Since September, Liberian union volunteers have provided Ebola awareness and preventative education to 75,843 workers and their families. In addition, volunteers have supplied 25,175 hand-washing buckets and soap to 48 workplaces and 63 communities in 13 counties, according to the Liberia Labor Congress.

The Congress also provided food to family members of Ebola victims who were quarantined, and donated 500 gallons of fuel to national and community radio stations, enabling them to step up Ebola education and awareness broadcasts for residents in remote areas inaccessible to volunteers.

“The fight against Ebola by the Liberian labor movement was crucial, as it was the first and only Ebola awareness program that directly reached and impacted on the lives of workers and their families, including community members,” says Liberia Labor Congress Secretary General David Sackoh.

The global labor movement assisted in funding the program, including the United Steelworkers in the United States and Canada and the Solidarity Center, which set up a fund for donations. Solidarity Center allies, the United Workers’ Union of Liberia (UWUL) and the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL), took lead roles in the Ebola prevention and education efforts.

Last August, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf appointed the Liberia Labor Congress as a member of the National Taskforce on Ebola, and shortly after, the Congress launched the Ebola Awareness Education and Preventive Measures at the Workplace and the Community Campaign.

The Congress, together with the nongovernmental organization, the Movement for Labor Rights and Justice, mapped targeted workplaces and communities where Ebola cases had been registered by the government and international organizations. The Congress and its unions then selected 75 volunteers from among local union leaders, shop stewards and shop-floor members to carry out the project.

The volunteers then took part in a week-long training at UWUL, and each was tasked to reach at least 200 people in eight communities, providing them with Ebola awareness and prevention education and hand-washing supplies.

3 Years Later, No Justice for Slain Garment Worker Leader

3 Years Later, No Justice for Slain Garment Worker Leader

Three years after the torture and murder of garment worker union leader Aminul Islam, his killers have not been brought to justice.

Bangladesh_Aminul credit

No one has been prosecuted for the torture and murder of garment worker union leader Aminul Islam.

The AFL-CIO and eight other global global labor rights organizations have written to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the anniversary of his murder to demand his killers be located and prosecuted.

Aminul, 39, disappeared on April 4, 2012, and his body was found a few days later with signs of torture. He was a plant-level union leader at an export processing zone in Bangladesh, an organizer for the Bangladesh Center for Workers’ Solidarity (BCWS), and president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation’s (BGIWF) local committee in the Savar and Ashulia areas of Dhaka.

Despite international outcry, including a U.S. congressional hearing and then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s call for justice in the case, Aminul’s murder has gone unsolved. He had sought to improve the working conditions of some 8,000 garment workers employed by Shanta Group, a garment manufacturer based in Dhaka.

After the United States revoked preferential trade benefits for Bangladesh in 2013, citing human and labor rights abuses, the Bangladesh government dropped criminal charges against two garment worker leaders who worked with him, and announced it would step up the search for the people responsible for his torture and murder. Instead, the government dropped an investigation against a suspect and has taken no further steps to resolve the case.

“A sewing machine and a dozen colorful threads still give hope and strength to labor leader Aminul Islam’s family” but his widowed wife, Husne Ara, works around the clock to pay for food and school tuition for her children, writes the Bangladesh Daily Star.

Husne Ara said that Aminul could not speak over the phone because “he feared it was tapped.

“Even in the middle of the night, he received arbitrary phone calls from the intelligence,” she says.

Since Aminul’s murder, more than 1,200 garment workers were killed in the 2012 Tazreen factory fire and the 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza. After Rana Plaza, at least 44 workers have died in garment factory fire incidents in Bangladesh, and more than 900 people have been injured.

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