More than 1,000 workers were impacted by the sudden closure, during vacation, of the U.S.-owned Vald’or factory. They did not receive severance pay, as required by law.
In late December 2021, the factory owner sent a text message to workers asking them to return to work on January 6, 2022. Shortly after, workers received a second message telling them not to return, and the factory remained closed.
A month later, workers who lived near the factory witnessed the owner leaving the building with materials. The workers asked the owner what was happening. They were told that the factory was closing due to bankruptcy and a lack of orders.
Workers began demonstrating at the factory that evening and spent the night there. They called the Haitian Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MAST), and the next day, MAST representatives came to the factory along with the factory owner to meet with the workers, where the owner confirmed the factory’s closure.
The workers reached out to leaders of the Association of Textile Workers’ Unions for Re-importation (GOSTTRA), affiliated with the Confederation of Public and Private Sector Workers (CTSP), and Respect for Haitian factory workers (ROHAM), affiliated with Centrale Nationale des Ouvriers Haitians (CNOHA). GOSTTRA called on workers to meet at MAST’s regional headquarters on February 3 to ask that workers receive the severance pay and benefits owed them. Both unions at the factory, with the support of the Solidarity Center and Worker Rights Consortium, worked with Better Work Haiti, the Association of Industries of Haiti (ADIH), MAST and the government’s Textile Ombudsperson’s Office (BMST) to trace and contact workers, calculate what each worker was owed and inform workers about the distribution process.
PVH Corp, the owner of Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, agreed to cover workers’ severance and pension contributions, totaling $1 million. Severance pay for most workers was the equivalent of a half- or full-year’s wages. A number of women had health insurance claims, which were also covered.
GOSTTRA leadership heralds this victory for the factory workers–and for the entire Haitian labor movement. “What we learned from this experience is that if all the unions could work together, we would be better able to achieve our goals,” they say in a written statement.
On the eve of the Summit for Democracy, high-level U.S. government officials and domestic and international labor activists highlighted the fundamental role of trade unions to reinforce, expand and protect democracy around the world at an official summit side event.
The event Tuesday, March 28, “No Democracy Without Unions: Labor Movements as Defenders of Democratic Rights,” featured Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity; Fred Redmond, AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, president of the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas and a Solidarity Center board member; Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association; Kelly Fay Rodriguez, State Department special representative for labor affairs; and video messages from Maung Maung, president of the Confederation of Trade Unions-Myanmar, and Lizaveta Merliak, leader of Salidarnast, an association of exiled Belarus labor unionists. The event was co-hosted by the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development.
State Department Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights Uzra Zeya opened the event by underscoring “unions’ unique and critical contributions to democratic societies.” She emphasized the dangers faced by labor activists fighting for basic rights, including Chhim Sithar, a Cambodian union leader imprisoned for her organizing work, and the Belarussian union leaders recently sentenced to lengthy prison terms for exercising their fundamental right to freedom of association and assembly. “These cases are emblematic of closing space for civil society champions writ large around the world,” she said.
Deputy Undersecretary for International Affairs at the U.S. Department of Labor Thea Lee, event moderator, concurred. “Governments that cannot tolerate democracy, cannot tolerate criticism are the most vicious in silencing worker movements,” she said.
“The fact the authoritarian regimes have tried to silence activists like Maung Maung and Lizaveta only underscores their leadership as champions of democracy and democratic values,” Lee added. “Democratic, grassroots workers movements threaten dictatorship.”
Indeed, worker movements have brought down dictatorships. Fred Redmond cited the example of Brazil, where labor led a mass civil society movement—including key strikes in the 1970s—and helped return democracy to the country and where, at the beginning of this century, the administrations of President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva and President Dilma Rousseff—both former labor leaders—helped lift 40 million Brazilians out of poverty.
“The survival of democracy anywhere depends on working people defending it,” said Redmond.
The entire session can be viewed here. Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau spoke at a separate Summit for Democracy side event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which can be viewed here.
Workers from around the world, including those exiled from Belarus, Eswatini and Myanmar for forming unions, striking and trying to speak freely, describe why democracy is important—and why unions are key to democracy—in a special episode of The Solidarity Center Podcast.
One of the workers the episode highlights is Lizaveta Merliak, a union leader exiled from Belarus, who speaks out from Germany, where she and other union leaders were forced into exile.
“I’m one of a few trade unionists who escaped from Belarus after the liquidation and repression of democratic trade unions—unlike my comrades, leaders, and activists of democratic trade unions who are jailed and tortured in prisons.
“We must support the aspirations for democracy in every way we can and, at the same time, preserve and develop the idea of grassroots democracy at workplace. We will revive the independent trade union movement in Belarus, with the aim of creating a democratic society based on the principles of social justice and decent work.”
A survey of more than 600 workers with disabilities in Nigeria’s formal and informal sectors, conducted by the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) Women Commission and the Solidarity Center in collaboration with Nigerian unions and disability rights organizations, finds that most workers with disabilities cannot access decent work as defined by the UN International Labor Organization (ILO).
“It provides evidence for what we have been saying for so long [and is] a powerful tool for advocacy,” says Nigeria disability advocate and FAECARE Foundation Executive Director Ndifreke (Freky) Andrew-Essien.”
“Securing Equal Access to Decent Work in Nigeria: A Report by Workers with Disabilities,” reports quantitative data collected from 322 men and 338 women workers with disabilities across seven geopolitical zones and the Federal Capital Territory in Nigeria, supported by qualitative data collected from union members. The study—for its sample size and breadth, as well as for the collaboration between trade unions and disability rights organizations—is the first of its kind. An estimated 1 billion people experience disability worldwide, the majority in developing countries. According to the World Health Organization’s 2011 World Report on Disability, between 25 million and 27 million people experience a disability in Nigeria, the majority of whom live below the poverty line. Indeed, disability, gender and low socioeconomic status interact to keep people in poverty.
The survey found that, regardless of legislation aimed at addressing diversity in the Nigerian workplace, disabled workers do not experience the same access to employment opportunities as their counterparts without disabilities and often face physical, social, economic and/or environmental barriers to participation.
Findings and Recommendations
Most of the 660 workers surveyed are self-employed and in the informal sector. Almost half of respondents earn less than Nigeria’s minimum wage and say their work environment is not accommodating to their disability. Most (62 percent) cite transportation as the most significant obstacle to accessing work, followed by a lack of disability-friendly facilities (33 percent) and poor communication with or unsupportive co-workers (19 percent). Nearly a quarter of disabled workers say they work more than eight hours without overtime pay. A similar number had experienced gender-based violence or harassment (GBVH) during the previous two years.
Researchers conclude that a variety of actions—by the Nigerian government, employers and unions—could build an inclusive working environment that respects, includes and accommodates disabled workers. This includes the revision of laws to outline reasonable accommodations in employment and the creation of a disability tax fund to provide adequate social security benefits. In addition, unions, along with disabled workers, should work together to demand reasonable accommodations at work and greater accessibility.
The ILO defines decent work as work that is available to all equally, is productive and delivers a fair income and security in the workplace, provides equal access to social protections—such as pensions, and adequate and affordable healthcare—and affords workers freedom to participate equally in decisions affecting their work lives.
To address obstacles preventing elimination of gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in the world of work, union women and their allies marked International Women’s Day with a public event advocating for ratification of UN International Labor Organization Convention 190 (C190).
Women in Kyrgyzstan are routinely subjected to various forms of discrimination—including unequal pay and lack of opportunities for career advancement—and harassment that includes sexual harassment, verbal abuse and even mockery, said Textile and Light Industry Trade Union Chairman Almash Zharkynbaeva.
“[GBVH] harms women’s mental health and well-being, leading to long-term emotional and psychological trauma,” says Zharkynbaeva.
The event was convened to recognize publication of a March 2 ratification motion that moved the draft law to parliament and, on March 8 International Women’s Day, opened the draft law to public comment on Kyrgyzstan’s draft law public discussion portal.
Publication of the draft law represents a three-year Solidarity Center campaign to educate government officials, labor inspectors, unions and the public on the use of C190 to end violence and harassment in the world of work. The Solidarity Center secured commitments from trade unions and parliamentarians to support the ratification process, advised on language now included in three union bargaining agreements to protect workers from violence and harassment, and coordinated a sectoral union campaign appealing to the Ministry of Labor for ratification of C190.
The convention is a powerful tool to combat discrimination and harassment in the world of work, says Eldiyar Karachalov, chair of the Republican Committee of the Trade Union of Construction and Building Materials Workers, but significant progress will require unwavering commitment from employers, workers and the government.
C190 was adopted during the ILO’s annual meeting in Geneva in 2019 following a decade-long campaign by women trade unionists and feminist activists, led by the International Trade Union Confederation, the Solidarity Center and other labor allies. Since 2019, 25 countries have ratified the convention, of which ten have begun enforcement.
Hear more about the global campaign to end GBVH in the world of work.
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