Nurul Islam and three other men from his village in Burma’s Rakhine state believed the Rohingya brokers who promised to take them to Malaysia for jobs. Instead, the men were herded at gunpoint deep into a forest with 350 other migrant women, men and children, and told if they did not pay up to $2,300 each, they would be beaten and killed.
Beaten by his captors over four days, Nurul, 30, eventually called his uncle in Malaysia who agreed to pay the traffickers. But after he was released and contacted the police, he was taken to a government shelter where he again was deceived—a government official demanded $560 dollars for his release.
In a rare case of justice for survivors of human trafficking, the official, Anat Hayeemasae, a member of the Satun Provincial Administration Organization, was sentenced yesterday to more than 22 years in prison for human trafficking and ordered to pay Nurul $3,560.
Lawyers Working with HRDF Key to Prosecution
The success resulted from a more than year-long effort by lawyers working with the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF), a Solidarity Center ally. They joined with the Rohingya Association of Thailand to investigate and file charges.
The result, says HRDF Secretary General Somchai Homlaor, “serves the objectives of HRDF’s Anti Human Trafficking in Labor Project to provide legal aid to a victim of human trafficking and to ensure the right of the victim of human trafficking to have access to justice process.”
Anat was found guilty of violating Thailand’s 2008 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act and its 1979 Immigration Act, among other charges. He was among government officials from the Immigration Office who rescued Nural in March 2014 at Songkhla’s Hat Yai bus terminal.
Massive Human Trafficking in Thailand
Anat’s prosecution is especially noteworthy in an area where massive human trafficking occurs with impunity. In May, hundreds of bodies were found in 139 mass graves at suspected human trafficking camps on the border of Malaysia and Thailand. According to local news, Malaysian border patrol knew about the camps for 10 years, says Karuppiah Somasundram, education director for the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC). No arrests have been made.
Last month, the U.S. State Department retained Thailand on the bottom ranking of its annual Trafficking in Persons Report. The “Tier 3” ranking means Thailand is failing to comply with minimum standards to address human trafficking.
Migrant workers, primarily from Burma and Cambodia, work in slave-like conditions on Thai fishing boats, fueling the country’s $7 billion seafood export industry and making it the world’s third-largest exporter. Many migrant workers toil in forced labor and are held against their will on the boats where they are beaten and even killed. A Guardian series last year reported on the horrors endured by migrant workers who often are tricked by labor recruiters and sold into bondage. Estimates of migrant workers in Thailand range from 200,000 to 500,000.
A 2013 survey by the International Labor Organization (ILO) of nearly 600 workers in the Thai fishing industry found that almost none had a signed contract, and about 40 percent had wages cut without explanation. Children were also found on board. A 2009 U.N. report found that about six out of 10 migrant workers on Thai fishing boats reported seeing a co-worker killed. In another report, migrant workers say they were trafficked and forced to work for up to 20 hours per day with little or no pay. Many migrant workers in Thailand are in debt bondage.
Construction workers in Peru are celebrating a new contract that significantly improves wages and benefits, and are hailing a new legislative order, which in part addresses ongoing violence against union members in the building and construction trades.
The new one-year contract gives workers up to a 5 percent wage increase and includes education benefits for workers’ children up to age 22. Construction workers also will receive bonuses for hazardous work, time off when working more than 27 consecutive days on a project, and an additional 25 percent of their wage when working at night.
The FTCCP also negotiated an agreement with the Peruvian Chamber of Construction to conduct free professional training courses at the federation’s training and recreation centers in conjunction with the National Training System for the Construction Sector Ministry of Labor and Employment Promotion.
“The collective bargaining agreement benefits the workers, democracy and the country,” La Federación de Trabajadores en Construcción Civil de Perú (Federation of Civil Construction Workers of Peru, FTCCP) said in a statement.
With the new contract, FTCCP members’ average base pay will be $750 per month, and up to $1,250 per month with overtime. The vast majority of Peru’s workers, 70 percent, are employed in small and micro enterprises where workers generally earn a $250 per month minimum wage. Approximately half of workers in the construction sector are union members. Non-union workers can request “me too” clauses for their individual contracts that bring them up to the union wage scale.
In another sign of construction workers’ growing influence, Peru’s executive branch published a legislative decree in mid-August that charges police special units with preventing violence against construction workers.
More than a dozen construction union leaders have been murdered in the past five years, most recently last month, when Miguel Cotelo Villanueva was murdered leaving a union organizing meeting in Casma, Peru.
In addition, the decree takes steps to ensure safety and health on construction sites by requiring local governments to notify the police when construction permits have been filed, enabling timely workplace inspection and enforcement of labor and safety standards.
The decree also mandates that union dues must be paid by the employer into the union’s financial institution.
The FTCCP is a member of the Confederación General de Trabajadores del Perú (General Confederation of Workers in Peru, CGTP), both Solidarity Center allies.
More than 60 people from Latin America—including the Dominican Republic, Chile, Colombia and Honduras—along with U.S. representatives met last week in Brazil to affirm labor’s continued commitment to racial equality through a broad-based economic justice movement, mark the 20th year of trade unions’ efforts to eliminate race-based economic inequality in the Americas, and call for Colombians of African descent to be included in peace talks in that country.
“There is a persistent, violent and dehumanizing racism in our societies. As Afro-descendants, we must continue the fight for our dignity,” said Francisco Quintino, president of the Inter-American Union Institute for Racial Equality (INSPIR), a labor coalition dedicated to fighting for racial justice in the Americas.
“This is an issue of humanity,” he said.
INSPIR has worked with trade union partners and like-minded allies across the Americas to combat racial and ethnic discrimination in the workplace and give union leaders tools to promote equality in their organizations and society since its founding by the AFL-CIO, three Brazilian national centers (CUT, Força Sindical and UGT) and the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA) in 1995.
“The tie… is our common cause of fighting racism, within the labor movement, and hopefully, too, as part of a broader social and economic justice movement for racial equality,” said Joslyn Williams, general secretary of INSPIR, who also represented the AFL-CIO at the conference as D.C. Metro Labor Council president and a trustee for the U.S.-based Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU).
Fred Redmond, vice president of the United Steelworkers (USW), also attended on behalf of the AFL-CIO and CBTU.
Delegates to the Continental Conference passed a resolution calling for Colombians of African descent to be represented in peace negotiations and post-conflict implementation in that country.
More than 150 people attended the opening ceremony of the 20th Anniversary Celebration and Continental Conference, held August 17–19, 2015, in São Paulo. Brazil’s Minister of the Promotion of Racial Equality Policies, Nilma Lino Gomes, keynoted the event.
The Solidarity Center works with INSPIR in Brazil to empower Afro-descendant workers to fight for their rights and overcome the tragic legacy of the more than 400 years of slavery, through education, collective bargaining and policy advocacy.
More than 200 participants from 45 countries took part in Labor Migration: Who Benefits? A Solidarity Center Conference on Worker Rights & Shared Prosperity Aug. 10-12, sharing strategies on empowering migrant workers through organizing unions and associations, reforming the often exploitative labor recruitment process and ensuring access to justice for migrant workers.
Driving the dedication, passion, commitment of the activists who assembled in Bogar, Indonesia, over these past few days are the stories of migrant workers–whose strength, resilience and hope for improving their lives fuels their search for good jobs to improve the lives of themselves and their families.
Several migrant workers described their struggles and successes, via video, throughout the conference. Here are their stories.
Police entered trade union offices today and, following earlier arrests blocking street protests, are creating a climate of intimidation limiting public challenge to a recent court ruling causing thousands of workers to lose their jobs, with more job losses expected.
“The mass retrenchments emanating from the Supreme Court ruling of July , 2015, will exacerbate an already difficult position for the working people of Zimbabwe,” says Godfrey Kanyenze, director of the Labor and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ), a Harare-based economic think tank.
Several truckloads of riot police entered offices of the country’s main trade union confederation, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), this morning in Harare, continuing a campaign of intimidation against workers protesting mass job losses.
Overwhelming police presence, and brief detention of protest organizers in Harare, prevented marches scheduled to take place across the country on Saturday. Riot police entered ZCTU offices, dispersing a crowd of protesters gathered there and detaining ZCTU Secretary General Japhet Moyo and President George Nkiwane, along with a handful of other trade union leaders preparing to lead the protests.
A ruling handed down by the Zimbabwe Supreme Court last month prompted the popular protests, organized by Zimbabwe’s largest labor federation, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).
The ruling makes it legal for all employers to terminate workers’ contracts at any time, without offering them layoff benefits, by giving them three months’ notice. Up to 18,000 people have already lost their jobs, and more job losses are expected.
“This ruling marks the last nail on formal employment,” says Kanyenze.
In recent years there has been a dramatic shift in Zimbabwe of workers from the formal to the informal sector—where jobs are comparatively precarious, low-paid and without social protection.
Almost 95 percent of the estimated 6.3 million people in Zimbabwe’s workforce were defined as employed in the informal economy, according to a 2014 government report. And, in the three years to 2014, informal-sector employment grew by 29 percent, from 4.6 million people to 5.9 million.