Food delivery and passenger service drivers and are forced to follow the company apps. But if apps miscalculate and send drivers in the wrong direction, or lower wages for drivers stuck in traffic, it’s the driver who loses wages, or is even booted from the platform. The latest episode of My Boss Is a Robot shows that for app-based companies, these are not bugs–they are built into an algorithmic system designed to move money from workers and into the pockets of the rich corporate bosses.
From Thailand, delivery driver Niap Chunti Ta Kai See Kun tells Podcast Host and Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau that the app often shows his destination far closer than it really is–sometimes indicating a route straight through buildings.
“The distance in the Google Map, for an example, is five kilometers, but the distance in the application map is always shorter, like three kilometers,” he says. “I think that’s not a mistake, they intend to do that because that will reduce the pay and that will reduce the cost for the application. The shorter the distance, the less they have to pay us. But the longer the distance, the more they have to pay us.”
Drivers also work long hours and rush between deliveries because if they don’t, the app punishes them by lowering pay.
“And that’s why you see some drivers died on the wheel,” says Lawal Ayobami, an app-based driver in Nigeria. “There was no rest for the driver. They don’t even go to their family. They’re on the road because they want to make money.”
Delivery Drivers Stand Up for Their Rights
Delivery drivers around the world are standing up for their rights: Earlier this year, Nigeria’s Ministry of Labor recognized the Amalgamated Union of App-Based Transport Workers of Nigeria after delivery drivers organized in cities across the country.
“That means workers like Ayobami will begin to get the protections and benefits they deserve in this highly unregulated and informal sector,” says Bader-Blau.
Women and workers from marginalized communities suffered disproportionately from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and a new survey details the effects on Kyrgyz migrant workers in Russia.
The survey of almost 300 Kyrgyz women who are dependent on precarious, low-wage jobs in Russia finds that the pandemic exacerbated migrant workers’ vulnerability to economic precarity and that women migrant workers reported brutal conditions on the job, including sexual violence. Almost half a million Kyrgyz women were working in Russia in 2021.
The survey compiled data from Kyrgyz women working in Russia in caregiving, catering, domestic and janitorial work and garment manufacturing and retail sectors in 19 Russian cities, including Moscow, Novosibirsk and Yekaterinburg. The survey was conducted by local non-governmental organization Insan-Leilek Public Foundation, a long-time partner of the Solidarity Center in advocating for the rights of migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan.
“The pandemic played such a cruel joke on us,” said a survey respondent. (For their protection, respondents are quoted anonymously.) “They start with migrants; they are the first to be fired.”
Respondents reported increased health precarity during the pandemic due to limited non-resident medical services and higher virus exposure while working service jobs, as well as increased financial precarity following mass service-sector and retail layoffs. Without formal written work agreements—common for migrant workers and a violation of their rights under Russian labor law—many lost their incomes without compensation, which increased their food insecurity and other economic hardships.
Rampant Worker Rights Violations, Including GBVH
Many respondents reported health and safety violations and loss of dignity at work due to migrant status, unregulated use of chemicals and rampant sexual or other gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) by employers, supervisors and customers.
Sexual violence was common. Fourteen percent of those surveyed reported rape; two were victims of gang rape in their workplaces.
Sexual harassment was widely reported. Forty percent of participants said they were subject at work to comments about their bodies, obscene jokes and sexually suggestive gestures. Twenty percent reported violation of their personal boundaries, such as men touching their waist, breasts, buttocks and other parts of the body.
More than half of the respondents were working without contracts, leaving them without legal protection and vulnerable to the whims of employers—many of whom reportedly refused to sign employment contracts at the time of hiring.
More than two thirds of the women reported encountered discrimination at the workplace. Of that number, two thirds attributed it to their migrant status; half said it was because of their gender.
Many respondents reported wage and working conditions in violation of Russia’s labor code, including a quarter of respondents who suffered wage payment delays, half who did not receive overtime pay and four-fifths who were denied paid sick and holiday leave.
Half of respondents reporting rights violations did not know where to turn for help or were afraid to talk about it.
“I don’t want to seek help and it’s impossible to seek help,” said a survey respondent who reported being touched sexually at work but feared deportation if she reported the abuse.
Many Kyrgyz citizens are forced to move to other countries to earn their livelihoods because of limited economic opportunities in Kyrgyzstan, where a third of the population lives below the national poverty line and migrant remittances in 2022 represented 30 percent of the country’s GDP.
Millions of workers—most of them women—face intimidation, humiliation, physical and verbal assault, and worse on the job. A July 27, 2023, international summit in southern Africa gathered representatives from the governments of Argentina, Canada, Germany, Lesotho, Spain and the United States—along with dozens of leaders from unions, business and worker and women’s rights organizations—to highlight and advance efforts to end gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in the world of work, with a focus on southern Africa.
Hosted by the Multilateral Partnership for Organizing, Worker Empowerment and Rights (M-POWER),* Lesotho Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU) and Lesotho Labor Council (LLC), the daylong summit explored how governments, corporations and unions can eliminate GBVH at work, particularly by ratifying and codifying International Labor Organization Convention 190 (C190) on violence and harassment, and by replicating the negotiated and binding Lesotho Agreements in supply chains elsewhere.
(Photos: Solidarity Center/Institute of Content Engineering)
Kingdom of Lesotho Prime Minister Samuel Ntsokoane Matekane (R) greets U.S. Department of State Special Representative for International Labor Affairs Kelly M. Fay Rodríguez (L) and United States Embassy Lesotho Deputy Chief of Mission Keisha Toms.
“We are all witness to the ever-increasing instances of gender-based violence and harassment at the workplace, not only in Southern Africa but across our beloved continent,” said Prime Minister Matekane, noting that Lesotho has committed to ethical sourcing through the U.S. African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) and the U.S. Millennium Challenge Compact II.
Below: Harry Nkhetse, senior facilitator and leadership coach, Tobaka Consultants, Mountain Peak Business Solutions, and summit co-emcee, with Marieke Koning, co-emcee and ITUC policy adviser.
THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENTS IN ELIMINATING GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE AND HARASSMENT AT WORK: C190
Eradication of GBVH is an urgent, compelling global challenge that will only be resolved when workers have the power to bring about change, for which they need rights to freedom of association and of collective bargaining, said Marieke Koning. The panel included government representatives from Argentina, Germany and Lesotho.
Collective bargaining agreements are the most effective mechanism for implementing progressive laws in Argentina’s experience, said Cecilia Cross, Argentina’s undersecretary for inclusion policies in the world of work (below left). “For Germany, the reason to ratify is that C190 sends such a strong global signal—that it really defines globally what is harassment at work,” said Dr. Anna Montén-Küchel, first secretary, labor and social affairs, German missions in South Africa, Lesotho and Eswatini.
“Efforts must be made at the global level as national efforts alone are not enough to tack this issue, which knows no borders,” said Joaquín Perez Rey, Spain’s secretary of state for employment and social economy, by video. “Gender-based violence and harassment have no place in our workplace,” he added.
U.S. GLOBAL LABOR PRIORITIES
Kelly M. Fay Rodríguez described the Lesotho Agreements as a model for other employers in Lesotho and beyond, and M-POWER as a vehicle for mobilizing like-minded governments to participate. “Culture change is required to create the conditions that allow workers, their families and their communities to thrive,” she said.
HOW WORKERS AND COMPANIES ARE ADDRESSING GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE AND HARASSMENT IN A GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAIN: FOCUS ON THE LESOTHO AGREEMENT
“I experienced so much harassment at the factory before the program at Nien Hsing was established,” said Popoti Ntebe, a UNITE member and factory worker. “Because of the high level of unemployment in our country, workers tend to be harassed because of poverty.”
THE ROLE OF TRADE UNIONS IN CREATING SAFER, FAIR AND HEALTHY WORKPLACES FREE FROM HARASSMENT AND VIOLENCE
To protect rights better, unions and other activists must maximize pressure on government, said Teboho Tolo (R), LFTU president, presenting with Zingiswa Losi, president, Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). “We must mobilize support!” he said.
WOMEN WORKERS’ PARTICIPATION IN DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE
Sethelile Ntlhakana, Lesotho field representative for Worker Rights Consortium, moderates the session.
Gloria Kente, an organizer with the South African Domestic Services and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU), in yellow, leads fellow panelists Mathekiso Tseote, NACTWU shop steward (left); Leboela Moteban, LFTU gender focal person; Thato Sebeko, LLC member; and Puleng Selebeli, United Textile Employees (UNITE) member, in song.
“No struggle can be won without women’s participation,” said Mathekiso Tseote.
CLOSING STATEMENTS AND COMMITMENTS
“The world is watching; this is a precedent,” said Laura Gutierrez, AFL-CIO global worker rights coordinator, about the Lesotho Agreements. The AFL-CIO in partnership with its M-POWER colleagues wants to replicate this kind of program in the region and around the world, she said, because “M-POWER partners together recognize that in order to advance worker rights, ALL workers must have the power and ability to organize freely.”
“We must highlight [C190’s] importance as a key instrument in bringing an end to violence and harassment at work and in particular ensuring that women have a safe place to work,” said Chris Cooter, high commissioner for Canada in South Africa, by video.
The M-POWER GBVH project’s launch in Lesotho marks the milestone that Lesotho has committed to upholding worker rights through promotion of decent work for all workers in all economic sectors, said Richard Ramoeletsi, Lesotho minister of public service, labor and employment, in closing remarks.
MORE FROM THE EVENT
* M-POWER is a historic global initiative focused on ensuring working families thrive in the global economy and elevating the role of trade unions and organized workers as essential to advancing democracy. The government of the UnitedStates and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) co-chair M-POWER, joined by steering committee members: the governments of Argentina, Canada and Spain; the International Domestic Worker Federation; the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU); the AFL-CIO; and Funders Organized for Rights in the Global Economy (FORGE). Additional partners include the governments of France, Germany and South Africa, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum, ProDESC, Solidarity Center and Worker Rights Consortium.
At the end of a day picking tea leaves under the July sun, women walk from the hilly fields down an embankment and into a muddy stream, fully clothed, to bathe before they return to their company-provided tin homes where they prepare dinner for their families.
The tea estate workers in Sreemangal, Bangladesh, say their work is much harsher now due to increased heat and more torrential rains. The changing climate also means that picking the daily quota of tea leaves, always difficult, is sometimes impossible. And when they cannot meet their quota, they are paid even less than their already meager wages.
Sreemati Bauri, a Bangladesh tea worker and union leader. Credit: Solidarity Center / Hasan Zobayer
“It often happens that in a heat wave, it’s a hardship to meet the daily quota [up to 25 kilos, 55 pounds] of tea leaves, and so they can’t make the daily wage of 170 taka ($1.55),” says Sreemati Bauri, a tea estate field supervisor and union leader.
“It’s already difficult to live with this little amount of money. If a worker can’t make their daily target, it’s difficult to survive. Due to the heat, it has become too hot for them to get their wage,” she said, speaking through an interpreter. Bauri, an executive member of the Jurivally Executive Committee, part of the Bangladesh Cha Sramik Union, supervises 300 women who walk long distances across tea fields each morning before they start picking leaves.
“The heat is more excessive than before,” says Sumon Kumar Tant, a field supervisor and union member. “They have to work under scorching sun. It’s as if they have to carry two times the burden—one the burden of tea leaves on their back, and the other, the weight of the heat.”
Better Working Conditions at Unionized Tea Estates
Bangladesh tea workers walk long distances across fields on their way to pick tea leaves. Credit: Solidarity Center / Gayatree Arun
“At higher temperatures and prolonged periods of exposure, heat stress can lead to exhaustion, it can lead to permanent disability, it can even lead to death,” says Sophy Fisher, discussing the findings of an International Labor Organization (ILO) report on the impact of heat stress on workers. And women are disproportionately affected by the impacts of rising heat due to the type of work they perform and physical issues such as pregnancy, according to a new study.
Climate change-related hardships add to tea workers’ already precarious working conditions. An estimated 13 million people in 48 countries work on tea plantations around the world, mostly women who are paid low wages and have few or no health and safety protections, including safeguards to prevent and address sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence. Tea plantation workers often are forced to rely on their employers for food, housing and education, adding to their vulnerability.
“Tea workers give a lot of sweat for their work,” says Bauri.
Workers in the Bangladesh Cha Sramik Union, a Solidarity Center partner, have achieved workplace improvements not offered at nonunion plantations, with employers required to provide daily hour-long lunch breaks and a medical facility. Tant cites the rapid benefit payment by a company to the family of a tea picker killed on the job by a falling tree branch as an example of how the union’s intervention ensured proper compensation.
Still, more progress must be made, he said, citing the need for pregnant workers to get more time off than the four months’ paid maternity leave granted under the country’s labor law.
Little Accountability Global Tea Supply Chain
Bangladesh tea worker, Sanchari. Credit: Solidarity Center / Hasan Zobayer
Rooted in colonial era exploitation, tea plantations are rife with worker rights abuses. Accountability in the global tea supply chain is particularly lacking, with a recent report finding few corporations willing to provide the information necessary to determine how workers are treated and little due diligence across the supply chain.
Based on research into news stories from 2022, the report found human rights abuses in Bangladesh and four other countries involving low or unpaid wages, lack of safety and health protections, and employer intimidation of workers seeking to improve their workplaces through unions.
Involving workers in the due diligence process is essential for supply chain transparency, according to Natalie Swan, a BHRRC labor rights program manager. “That means not relying on certification, not relying on a human rights policy or a supplier code of conduct.”
Solidarity Center believes workers must be at the center of workplace solutions, including those involving climate justice, in which the needs of workers and their communities are involved in achieving a fair or just transition to a more equitable and sustainable economy to mitigate the impacts of climate change and enable adaptation for impacted communities.
A garment union leader in Bangladesh and four garment union leaders in Honduras were killed over the weekend, murders the Solidarity Center and global union and human rights organizations are strongly condemning, and which they say highlight the need for employers and governments in every country to ensure workers can safely exercise their basic rights to form and join unions.
“The perpetrators of these horrific murders must be brought to justice,” says Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau. “Assaults on workers and union leaders for trying to form unions and exercise their fundamental rights are increasing worldwide. These heinous actions highlight the growing attacks on democratic freedoms, and must be answered with strong measures to safeguard worker rights and all forms of democracy.”
Shahidul Islam. Credit: Shahidul Islam.
Shahidul Islam Shahid, a union leader in the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF), was killed June 25 in Gazipur, after he and union co-workers met with factory workers to discuss how to address unpaid wages. The workers at the Prince Jacquard Sweaters Ltd. had not been paid in May or June and had not received their Eid-ul-Azha holiday bonus. Shahidul, president of the BGIWF Gazipur District Committee, agreed to take up the issue with the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments at Tongi the next day.
When Shahidul left the factory after the discussion, a group of assailants stopped him. They shouted at him, “You are here for workers’ pay!” and started viciously punching and kicking him. The perpetrators beat him unconscious and left him on the road. Bystanders took him to a nearby hospital, where was pronounced dead. Shahidul, a father of two, was the sole financial supporter of his family. His wife is suffering from a life-threatening illness.
In a statement, the Solidarity Center says it joins BGIWF “in demanding that all stakeholders, including global brands sourcing in Bangladesh, hold suppliers accountable to basic human rights standards in garment factories.
“We call on the government of Bangladesh to step up their protection of trade unionists who are exercising their fundamental rights to organize—rights protected under Bangladesh and international law.”
SITRAGSAM President Xiomara Beatriz Cocas, former president d current delegate, Delmer Josue García, delegate José Rufino Ortíz and delegate Lester Arnulfo Almendarez. Eduardo Alexander Melendez, the son of SITRAGSAM president Xiomara Cocas, also died when armed assailants entered a billiards hall where the group was celebrating a birthday, and began firing.
The attack took place in the same week in which the union had received the announcement from apparel maker the Gildan corporation announced it was shuttering its Gildan San Miguel factory. The union was in initial discussions about the closure, which will leave 2,700 workers unemployed.
The Solidarity Center is calling on the Honduran government “to take all necessary measures to fully investigate these crimes and bring those responsible to justice” and “to ensure the safety of the workers employed in the area, especially those who join together to defend their rights and represent their collective interests.”
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