Hundreds of thousands of public employees across Tunisia waged a one-day strike today after talks with the government failed to address the rising cost of living and sinking wages, even as it increases taxes and cuts social programs.
“The strike on June 16, 2022, is an opportunity for workers to affirm their unity, hold on to their rights, and defy the usurpation and threats, including unconstitutional and illegal burdens,” the Tunisia General Labor Union (UGTT) says in a statement.
At least 96 percent of public employees from 159 state institutions and public companies took part in the strike, according to the UGTT, which says the strike enabled workers “to express their anger at the deterioration of their working and economic conditions, the low wages and the threat to their livelihoods.” The UGTT, which represents nearly 1 million workers, says the government is “undermining the principle of negotiation and backtracking on previously agreed deals.”
Flights were cancelled as members of the Transport General union observed the strike. In Tunis, the capital, striking workers rallied at the UGTT building where they staged a sit-down strike, waving signs, “Do not neglect public institutions!” and “I love the country!” Members of organizations such as the Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights, Democratic Women, and the Economic Forum turned out to support striking workers.
Government Bailout at Workers’ Expense
Tunisian workers rallied at the UGTT building during the one-day general strike. Credit: Montasar Akremi / UGTT
The government is seeking a $4 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in exchange for cuts in food and energy subsidies, wage freezes and privatization of state-owned enterprises.
The UGTT has rejected proposed spending cuts and, with year-over-year inflation at 7.8 percent in May, is seeking wage increases for public-sector workers. UGTT also is demanding that state-owned companies, including electricity and fuel, not be privatized and wants the government to adhere to a December 2021 agreement in which it will negotiate with unions on policies affecting workers. UGTT also is calling for the immediate, case-by-case review and reform of public institutions.
“The current government is determined to make [workers] bear the consequences of its choices,” UGTT says, citing the current and previous governments’ failure to address its financial crisis.
Global union organizations are backing the UGTT in its efforts to end the impasse with the government, with the AFL-CIO, the European Trade Union Confederation, IndustriALL and others sending letters of support.
Platform delivery workers in Ukraine, many of them displaced from their homes, are demanding decent wages as they continue to work in the midst of war.
On May 12, delivery drivers in Lviv went to Bolt Food’s headquarters to deliver their suggestions and seek an open dialogue with the company. Participants dressed to conceal their identities because they say the company has punished workers in the past with “robo-firings” and “robo-suspensions” by excluding them from the app.
Many of the delivery riders in Lviv have fled cities impacted by the war in Ukraine. In several cases, they are homeless or the only breadwinners left for their families.
In a video produced by Ukraine’s Labor Initiatives, workers describe their situations.
“I am from Mykolaiv,” says one worker. “Mom and Dad lost their jobs there. I don’t have a place to live here and I don’t even have enough money to eat. Bolt … said they would support favorable conditions. Both for themselves and for couriers. But they simply did not warn anyone, removed the minimum pay, lowered all the ratios.”
“How are the IDPs supposed to live,” he asks, “who have no housing, no work [and] don’t have anything to eat?”
Another worker describes the deterioration in pay. “They took away the minimum payment for delivery. And the ratios were reduced by almost half. Here a colleague has calculated that it, approximately, will give a reduction of wages by 52 percent.”
Workers said the company has failed to explain the reasons for the changes. Meanwhile, workers who rely on cars and motorcycles and have to keep their vehicles fueled in order to work face rising gas prices.
“Fuel is among my expenses,” said one worker. “Now I don’t know if I can even pay for it.”
The demands of these workers clearly show that platform-based companies abuse worker rights in extreme environments using the technology the companies have set up to maximize profits.
Delivery companies are “not regulated properly,” one delivery rider said. “Each service acts as they want. Some platforms employ people as ‘private entrepreneurs,’ some just saying ‘You are plugged into the platform” and you should be grateful for it. Because of that, many issues arise.
“And if after all this,” he continued, “some trade unions … will be formed, that will be great. People should have the instrument to solve the issues. Strange as it may sound, that may even be worth their lives.”
Violence broke out on Wednesday, February 23, as Haitian police opened fire on garment workers demonstrating for higher wages and killed a reporter, according to witness reports. Two other reporters were injured at the scene in Port-au-Prince.
Maxihen Lazzare, who worked for Haitian media group Roi des Infors, died of his wounds at a hospital on Wednesday. Haitian police responded to Lazzare’s death in a press release saying they are launching an investigation and that the police are implicated.
The union coalition released a statement denouncing Wednesday’s violence and condemning “the kind of conspiracy of the police and employers to block the mobilization to force us to accept a minimum wage that cannot meet our needs so that they can continue to suck blood and exploit workers.”
Protests have been ongoing since Haitian workers staged a peaceful demonstration calling for an increase in the minimum wage earlier this month. In January, a coalition of nine trade unions issued an open letter to the prime minister seeking a minimum wage increase from 500 gourdes (about $4.82 a day) to 1,500 gourdes ($14.62). They noted that wages have been stagnant for years while the increasingly high cost of living and rising inflation were eroding workers’ ability to live with dignity.
In response to garment worker demands, the government mandated a new minimum wage earlier this week, bumping pay to about $6.53 a day.
In 2019, the Solidarity Center conducted a wage assessment, with Haitian workers and their unions, and found that garment worker wages then covered less than a quarter of the estimated cost of living.
Haiti remains in the midst of multiple crises as the country grapples with the question of who will lead the nation in the aftermath of the assassination of President Jovenel Moise. Most recently, the dramatic rise in the cost of living has led workers to demand an increase in the minimum wage.
On January 17, a coalition of nine trade unions sent an open letter to the prime minister seeking a wage increase from 500 gourdes ($4.82) per day to 1,500 gourdes ($14.62). In the letter, they decried the current inflation rate of 22.8 percent and the difficulty of living on subsistence wages, and demanded a response by January 31, 2022.
The letter notes that three years have passed since the last adjustment to the minimum wage. Burdened with rising prices of basic necessities and services such as transportation, health care and education, workers need three to four times their current wages to survive. Article 137 of the Haitian Labor Code mandates that if the inflation rate exceeds 10 percent, the wage is to be adjusted.
The letter was signed by: SOTA-BO-Batay Ouvriye (textile union), Association of Textile Workers Unions for Re-importation-GOSTTRA (textile union); ROHAM, a union affiliated with Centrale Nationale des Ouvriers Haitians (CNOHA); SYNTRACO (textile union at Caracol industrial park); SOVASHG (textile union at S&H factory); SOKOWA (textile union at CODEVI industrial park); SOFEZO (textile union at Ouanaminthe); SROD’H, affiliated with CNOHA; and AASP (association of security professionals).
Trade unionists amplified the letter with social media messages saying, “Since 2019, the same salary. In the meantime, the price of transportation and food increased.”
On January 18, workers at SONAPI industrial park in Port-au-Prince—home to many of Haiti’s garment factories—held a spontaneous demonstration to call for a minimum wage increase. A member of GOSTTRA recorded a video of the protest.
The protest occurred as Prime Minister Henry was appearing at SONAPI for the installation of Dithny Joan Raton as the new labor ombudsperson for the garment industry. Since then, demonstrations have been widespread throughout industrial parks in the country.
More than 2,000 garment workers in Bangladesh are celebrating a new collective bargaining agreement that includes a 10 percent pay increase—double the amount required by law—and creation of a committee to prevent violence and harassment on the job. The pact, negotiated by the Hop Lun Apparels Ltd. Sommilito Sramik Union (HLALSSU), is retroactive to January.
The new agreement comes as many garment workers in Bangladesh and around the world are being laid off without pay because major fashion brands are canceling orders due to lack of demand during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
2,000+ Bangladesh garment workers have new contract that includes a 10 percent wage increase and a day care facility for their children. Credit: SGSF
“The guarantee of promotions for women to the higher posts and the establishment of the sexual harassment committee will empower the women and provide safeguards against sexual abuse and harassment in our factory,” says Aklima HLALSSU president.
Under the new contract, Hop Lun will set up a day care facility for workers’ children younger than age six, who will be guaranteed quality care and education. Factory management will provide free ultrasound tests for all pregnant workers, subsided food in the factory canteen, and guarantee a minimum of 20 women workers will be promoted annually.
Under Bangladesh law, women workers are entitled to 16 weeks’ maternity leave, yet employers often do not grant garment workers the required leave. The new contract provides enforcement of the law.
“It is because we have a strong union that we could maintain a good relation with the factory management and sign this collective bargaining agreement,” says Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation (SGSF) General Secretary Nahidul Hasan Nayan. “That is why, during this COVID-19 crisis, Hop Lun factory maintained the highest standard of safety for its workers and has provided each and every employee with proper protective equipment.”
The contract also includes provisions to streamline union representation, with the employer providing space for a union office and automatically deducting union dues. Union leaders will be involved in trainings and workshops and joint meetings with management.
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