Some 65 percent of countries now exclude entire categories of workers from labor law protections, while 81 percent of countries deny some or all workers collective bargaining, as democratic space for workers closes around the world, according to a new report.
Released today, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Global Rights Index 2018 reports that over the past year, trade unionists were murdered in nine countries—Brazil, China, Colombia, Guatemala, Guinea, Mexico, Niger, Nigeria and Tanzania—as the number of countries in which workers are exposed to physical violence and threats increased by 10 percent, from 59 to 65. In Colombia alone, 19 trade unionists were murdered last year—nearly double the 11 murders of the previous year.
The number of countries where workers are arbitrarily arrested and detained increased from 44 in 2016 to 59 in 2017. Some 87 percent of countries violated the right to strike. Of 142 countries surveyed, 54 deny or constrain free speech and freedom of assembly.
The 10 worst countries for overall worker rights violations are Algeria, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
“Democracy is under attack in countries that fail to guarantee people’s right to organize, speak out and take action,” says ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.
The Middle East and North Africa was again the worst region for treatment of workers, with the kafala system in the Gulf still enslaving millions of people. “The absolute denial of basic workers’ rights remained in place in Saudi Arabia,” according to the ITUC.
Haiti, Kenya, Macedonia, Mauritania and Spain have all seen their rankings worsen in 2018, with a rise in attacks on worker rights in law and practice.
The 2018 ITUC Global Rights Index rates 142 countries from one to five according to 97 internationally recognized indicators to assess where worker rights are best protected in law and in practice. The Index assigns an overall score placing countries in rankings of one to five.
1 Sporadic violations of rights: 13 countries, including Ireland and Denmark
2 Repeated violations of rights: 23 countries, including France and Estonia
3 Regular violations of rights: 26 countries, including Spain and Macedonia
4 Systematic violations of rights: 38 countries, including Haiti and Kenya
5 No guarantee of rights: 32 countries including, Honduras and Nigeria
5+ No guarantee of rights due to breakdown of the rule of law: 10 countries
Some 40 domestic workers from 17 countries across North and South America and the Caribbean shared organizing tactics, hammered out resolutions and participated in Solidarity Center training on gender-based violence at work at a recent conference in São Paulo, Brazil.
A Solidarity Center gender equality training was part of the domestic workers’ conference. Credit: IDWF
The conference is one of a series of regional planning meetings domestic workers around the world are holding in advance of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) congress November 16–18 in South Africa. Domestic workers from all regions will bring recommendations to the IDWF Congress. Latin American domestic workers voted to recommend the IDWF adopt resolutions involving safety and health, strengthening leadership of Afro-descendent domestic workers where they are a majority and supporting LGBT domestic workers who face double discrimination on the job.
Delegates also nominated new leadership for the region, Andrea Morales from Nicaragua and Carmen Britez of Argentina, both former domestic workers.
In one of the most powerful moments of the conference, migrant domestic workers and Afro-descendent domestic workers shared their strategies during a panel on racial equality and, in the process, “restored dignity back to themselves and to the work they do,” says Adriana Paz, IDWF Latin America regional coordinator.
“Most domestic workers labor in modern slavery conditions without being paid but instead just provided with board and room—just like in slavery times,” says Paz, who participated in the conference. “Added to this lack of rights and freedoms, Afro-descendant domestic workers face the structural violence inflicted on them because of the intersection of their race, class and gender.”
In Brazil, 70 percent of domestic workers are Afro-descendent as are a majority of domestic workers in Colombia, who also are often internal migrants, moving from rural areas to large cities for employment.
Steps to Ensure Brazil Enforces Domestic Worker Standard
Brazil’s ratification of International Labor Organization Convention (ILO) 189 on domestic workers’ rights earlier this year led to discussions about how Brazilian domestic workers could ensure the government is in compliance with the convention. Domestic workers from countries that have ratified Convention 189 say the first step is to push for creation of employer organizations so domestic workers have a collective employer with whom to negotiate contracts.
Enforcement of domestic workers’ rights is difficult in Brazil because the constitution does not allow authorities to “inspect” private homes, a challenge Argentine domestic workers say they have addressed by sending out mobile vans in neighborhoods where they find employers with domestic workers. From the vans, union staff and labor ministry representatives discuss with employers how to formalize workers and have paperwork ready for employers and specific materials for domestic workers as well.
Conference participants also took part in a Solidarity Center workshop on the upcoming International Labor Conference (ILC), where representatives from labor, employers and governments will negotiate a draft convention addressing gender-based violence at work. Five domestic workers from Latin America will attend the May 28–June 8 ILC, all of whom were active in the international campaign for passage of Convention 189 in 2011.
Domestic workers in the Africa, Asia and European regions held regional conferences earlier this year.
Kalthoum Barkallah, Solidarity Center senior program officer and master trainer in Tunisia, this week received a lifetime achievement award from the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT). The award, the nationwide union’s highest honor, is given to union activists for their dedication to union work and in recognition of their struggle in the defense of workers and human rights.
The UGTT award is the union’s highest honor.
“We are enormously proud of Kalthoum and the great contribution she brings to the labor movement through her incredible dedication and accomplishments,” says Hind Cherrouk, Solidarity Center country program director for the Maghreb region. “Kalthoum’s expertise in nurturing and training new generations of leaders, especially women unionists, has ensured the labor movement in Tunisia and beyond is served by new, skilled union activists.”
Presented by UGTT General Secretary Noureddine Tabboubi, the award reads: “Honoring sister and union activist Kalthoum Barkallah in appreciation for her dedication and perseverance in support for union work.”
In conferring the award, Taboubbi noted Kalthoum’s popularity among the UGTT’s union structures from local to national.
“When I began the struggle for democracy, freedom and the rights of women in 1979, I never for a moment imagined that there would be a day when I would be recognized or honored for my part in realizing these noble objectives,” says Barkallah.
Building Women’s Leadership in Their Unions
As an activist with the Tunisian General Federation of Railways, Barkallah was first elected as a deputy general secretary in 1983, heading up training within the union. She later was elected deputy general secretary in charge of international relations. In the railways industry, Barkallah was known as the “iron lady” for her determination and struggle to challenge her male colleagues in a male-dominated sector to achieve equality and justice for all.
As an active union leader with the UGTT, Barkallah built on the gender empowerment training she began in the railway sector to reach union members in a variety of industries throughout Tunisia, championing women’s rights there and supporting her sisters beyond its borders.
Barkallah, who in 2006 was elected president of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF)–Arab Women’s committee, also recently received an award from the ITF Women’s Committee for her fight and struggle in support of women workers in the transport sector.
Throughout her decades of service to workers and their unions, Barkallah balanced both work and family duties, raising two sons who each now have their own children.
Georgia’s new workplace safety and health law is a step forward but does not include sufficient enforcement mechanisms and only covers workers in a few industries, according to the Georgia Trade Union Confederation (GTUC).
“What Georgia’s workers desperately need are laws to force employers to take their safety seriously, and hold them criminally responsible when they do not,” says GTUC Vice President Raisa Liparteliani. For the current labor laws to have any effect, “we first need an inspection department with the clout to back them up,” she says.
Some 455 workers died and 793 were injured on the job between 2007 and 2017, according to the GTUC, using data from the Georgia Ministry of Internal Affairs. Already this year, 12 workers have died. These figures do not include workers who have died or were injured because of occupational illnesses like black lung disease, a common and often fatal workplace hazard for miners, or other on-the-job injuries that manifest after the immediate incident. Also, according to the GTUC, some industrial accidents are not reported in part because employers threaten or blackmail workers into remaining silent.
The law, in effect March 21, covers only workers in high risk, hazardous and dangerous work, and stipulates that workplaces may be inspected only at the invitation of the owner, who must be given at least five days notice.
“The law does not provide regulations that create an efficient, fully fledged labor inspection system in compliance with the International Labor Organization (ILO) convention on labor inspection (Convention 81), in which inspectors have unlimited, free access to all public and private workplaces without the permission of employers or other officials,” according to the GTUC.
Restoring Labor Rights
Under a previous government, Georgia’s labor laws in 2006 were replaced with a labor code focused on the rights of employers. A new government in 2015 created a labor inspection department in line to meet the requirements of an Association Agreement with the European Union. Yet since then, says Liparteliani, the number of people dying and being injured in the workplace has instead increased.
A major shortcoming of the new labor inspection department is that it says “nothing of other areas of labor rights,” she says.
“Labor rights are inseparable from safety issues; a vast majority of workplace accidents occur due to physical fatigue, which is understandable when workers can’t take holidays, can’t take days off when they’re ill, and are forced to work extra hours.”
As it works to establish a labor inspection system in compliance with ILO standards, the GTUC plans to bring the issue to the Tripartite Social Partnership Commission that oversees the European Union-Georgia Association Agreement.
Hello. I am Daw Tin Tin Thein. I am 43 years old. I have worked in this factory for nine years. I am responsible for sanitation and garbage collection in this factory. It means I am responsible for keeping this factory clean and tidy.
I have been a member of the trade union for four years. During these four years, I found that the negotiations and coordination between the factory owner and the CBA [collective bargaining agreement] have resulted in many successful resolutions.
Workers receive salaries and minimum wages. Workers also enjoy transportation services and social security benefits. We conduct educational activities under the leadership of CTUM [Confederation of Trade Unions-Myanmar].