While all work has value, not every job is a “good job.” Millions of workers around the world, especially those in the informal sector, cannot enjoy the benefits of their own hard work and often are denied safe working conditions, social protections like health insurance, professional security and union rights and freedom.
The Solidarity Center partners with unions and other allies to support workers seeking to achieve decent work and dignity on the job, together. In Palestine, the Solidarity Center supports activists fighting for labor law enforcement and sustainable jobs, to improve the lives of all working people.
A new Solidarity Center photo essay, ’Sometimes I Am Lucky to Get A Task for Three Days’: Etaf Awdi Hamdi Eqdeeh, offers a look into the life of a mother and agricultural worker Etaf Awdi Hamdi Eqdeeh who lives and works in Khuza’a, near Khan Younis, Gaza.
Now in her 60s, Etaf visits area farms daily to look for any kind of temporary job because she cannot find a permanent job—and she helps support her multigenerational family.
“Sometimes I am lucky to get a task for three days,” she says.
In a historic achievement, delegates to the 11th Congress of Brazil’s garment worker union federation, CNTRV (National Confederation of Clothing Workers) last week voted for gender parity in leadership and adopted a pro-women’s rights agenda.
The union achieved parity not only in the overall number of women and men in leadership, but also in its top executive positions.
“Women are empowered at the highest levels in the organization,” said CNTRV President Cida Trajano.
In partnership with the Solidarity Center, CNTRV in recent years ran a nationwide women’s leadership project, preparing women workers to assume leadership positions, according to Trajano.
“This is proof that the effort to form and organize feminist activism is worth it,” she said.
Over the next four years, CNTRV will focus on a pro-women’s rights agenda, including developing programs to combat gender-based violence at work and empower women workers; allow greater space for feminist agendas in communications; consult with women leaders and activists when developing recommendations for public policies affecting women; and expand women’s participation in collective bargaining and wage negotiations.
The Solidarity Center supports women workers seeking greater voice at the workplace across a range of employment sectors in Brazil, including the chemical, garment and hospitality industries, and domestic work. Together with the CNQ (National Confederation of Chemical Workers) CNTRV and CONTRACS (National Confederation of Service and Retail Workers), the Solidarity Center conducts trainings and campaigns to equip women to advocate for safer working conditions and more equitable salaries on the job, and to assume more active leadership roles in their unions.
The democratization process that began after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in Ethiopia one year ago will run aground unless its citizens become increasingly rooted in inclusive civil society institutions, like trade unions, that are capable of overcoming deeply entrenched ethnic, cultural and geographic divisions, said Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU) President Kassahun Follo today in Washington, D.C.
Indeed, Ethiopia’s workers are already connected across regional and ethnic lines due to CETU’s countrywide reach and its inclusive approach to membership and worker rights. Follo, speaking at a National Endowment for Democracy (NED) panel discussion titled, “Ethiopia’s Democratic Opening One Year Later: Looking Back and Looking Ahead,” said organizations promoting inclusivity are crucial in a country where citizens from 80 ethnic groups are represented by more than 100 ethnically and regionally based political parties.
Taking advantage of an administrative structure that covers all nine regions of the country, CETU is uniquely positioned to take the democratization process beyond the capital, Addis Ababa, into lower levels of government across the country. “Change at the top is not enough,” said Follo.
CETU is Ethiopia’s largest multi-ethnic civil society organization, representing about 570,000 workers organized into nine affiliated industrial federations and approximately 1,700 trade unions. The federation, with Solidarity Center support, is striving to improve its member outreach programs through regional centers—in part to continue organizing in construction, agriculture and textiles sectors—but also to ensure that worker interests and recommendations are adequately represented to officials at all levels of government as the political and economic reform process moves forward.
Ethiopia has been one of the African continent’s best economic performers, growing at a rate of 10 percent for the past 15 years under state-directed development by a government that permitted no political opposition, but invested heavily in infrastructure, agriculture, education and other sectors. Although Ethiopia is the fastest growing economy in the region, it is also one of the poorest, with a per capita income of $783.
The country needs an economic transformation that parallels its political transformation, said Follo. Workers in Ethiopia’s industrial parks—established by government to encourage foreign direct investment (FDI)—earn poverty wages of less than $30 per month. CETU is therefore advocating with government and employers for any new labor law to include an adequate minimum wage.
“Otherwise, how can [workers] eat?” Follo asked.
Union members in Colombo, Sri Lanka, successfully lobbied for a safer workplace by convincing their company to improve policy guidelines to help prevent gender-based violations in the workplace.
Union members in Sri Lanka celebrate a new workplace policy addressing sexual harassment. Credit: Solidarity Center/Sean Stephens
The effort was inspired by a Solidarity Center awareness-raising training in December on gender-based violence at work in which four workers from the South Asia Gateway Terminal (SAGT)—Ansley De Bruin, Mayura Kanchana, Nilanka Rathnayake and Ruwan Weerasinghe—took part. SAGT operates in Colombo’s shipping port.
“We have spoken to our [human resources] department many times over the past two years on setting a policy against gender-based violence in the workplace,” says Ansley De Bruin, youth wing president of the National Union of Seafarers Sri Lanka (NUSS). “We realized that it would be a hard push to get a code of conduct put in place regarding gender-based violence, so we felt the best thing to push for would be a whistleblower policy.”
After the training, the four participants again met with human resources. Based on their proposal, the organization not only introduced a whistleblower policy a couple of weeks later but also released a separate policy against sexual harassment.
Credit: Solidarity Center/Sean Stephens
The training program outlined incidences that constitute gender-based violence at work and the actions union members can take in supporting the adoption of a global ILO convention (regulation) on gender-based violence in the workplace. It was organized by the National Union of Seafarer’s Sri Lanka (NUSS), along with the International Labor Organization (ILO), International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) and Solidarity Center.
De Bruin says he is grateful SAGT understands its workers’ fundamental rights to a safe, violence-free workplace.
“This is not only a victory for the union but also for the organization and its staff. I would like to thank my organization the South Asia Gateway Terminal for hearing and implementing a system that protects all its staff.”
Recent massive teacher protests in Morocco demanding the government create permanent employment contracts is not an issue confined to the education sector—the extent to which decent jobs are available affects the future of the country, say leaders of the Democratic Labor Confederation (CDT).
A recent government decree making it no longer possible for workers with renewable two-year employment contracts to integrate into the public sector as before means workers have no access to fair wages and social benefits like retirement. The move “outlines the direction and policies of the state to dismantle the public service as a right of citizenship and to disengage from its responsibility towards citizens,” according to a CDT statement.
At least 10,000 teachers protested Sunday in Rabat, Morocco’s capital, to demand the government replace renewable contracts with permanent jobs that offer civil-service benefits, including a better retirement pension.
The Sunday protests came hours after police used water cannon to disperse an overnight demonstration. Many teachers had spent the night in the streets of Rabat after the first event before marching on Sunday from the education ministry to Parliament.
The weekend protests follow nationwide strikes in the education sector on March 13 and 14, and union leaders say more protests are likely.
More than 25% of Young Workers Are Employed
While overall unemployment hovers around 10 percent, more than one-quarter of young people in Morocco are without jobs.
Half of Moroccans who have jobs work in the informal economy, generally in precarious positions with low wages on farms, in construction, textiles and in the food and tobacco industry.
“Despite the strong opposition of the unions, the government is determined to continue hiring with contracts in the education sector and in the public sector in accordance with the recommendations of the international financial institutions, which demand a reduction in the wages,” the Moroccan Labor Union (UMT) says in a statement.
International lenders are pressuring Morocco to trim civil-service wages and cut back on public-sector services.
In addition to CDT and UMT, other unions supporting the march include the Democratic Federation of Labor (FDT), General Union of Moroccan Workers (UGTM) and the National Teaching Federation (FNE).