Confederation of trade unions notes that democratic space is shrinking and corporate greed is on the rise
by The Dawn News / June 23, 2018
A recent report released by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) based on a survey of working conditions in 142 countries reveals that democratic space is shrinking even as corporate greed is on the rise. The ITUC Global Rights Index 2018 noted that “decent work and democratic rights grew weaker in almost all countries, while inequality continued to grow.”
According to the report, Algeria, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Turkey were the 10 worst countries for workers’ rights in 2018.
The report painted a grim picture of workers’ rights across the world, noting that 65 countries recorded instances of workers being exposed to murder, physical violence, death threats and intimidation. 87% of countries violated the right to strike and 92 out of 142 countries surveyed excluded certain categories of workers from the right to association, often on the basis of their employment status.
The report listed attacks on civil rights, arbitrary arrests, detention and imprisonment, exclusion of workers from labour protection, erosion of collective bargaining and increasing criminalization of the right to strike as the most violated rights in the world.
Three key global trends in the area of workers’ rights were chronicled by the report – shrinking democratic space, unchecked corporate influence and legislative influence. The first included the worsening situation in countries with repressive regimes and in areas where armed conflict continued; the repression of those protesting anti-worker policies in countries such as Brazil and Argentina; and legal action initiated against those mobilizing for labour rights.
The report also pointed out how large-scale lobbying by bodies such as the US Chamber of Commerce (which spent $82 million in 2017) had significantly influenced policies in a host of countries such as Moldova, Serbia and Montenegro. The EU, the IMF and foreign investors also played a key role in structural reforms that affected the lives and rights of millions in European countries such as Romania, Portugal and Greece. In Romania, nearly 1 million workers were denied the right to association on IMF advice, the report pointed out.
Samsung was among the global corporate giants that came in for harsh criticism in the aftermath of its anti-union policies being exposed during raids on its offices in Korea. The company was listed among those that violate workers’ rights across the world, and the report also carried testimonies from workers in its factories in Indonesia. “If you have money, you can buy law. That’s what Samsung do[es],” noted Herfin, a semiconductor worker in Indonesia.
Amazon too, the report said, had been “accused of intolerable working conditions in
low paid, insecure jobs in their warehouses in the UK and USA.” It also highlighted the statement by the Spanish union CGT that the company had terminated the services of its temporary workers for supporting strike action.
In the realm of legislation, the report pointed to certain positive developments, including in Iceland, where a new law mandates equal pay for equal work for both men and women. Also lauded were provisions in Canada for paid domestic violence leave, and in New Zealand for pay rises for care workers, in addition to the repeal of repressive laws. At the same time, the impact of harmful legislation in countries such as Brazil, China and Indonesia was also highlighted. In Brazil, the Consolidation of Labour Laws allows collective agreements to supersede legislative protection to workers and also denies certain sections of workers the right to association. Brazil also found mention in the report in the context of the imprisonment of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, which the report called “a dark message for working people.”
The report also highlighted oppressive practices such as the kafala system that is prevalent in countries like Saudi Arabia. Under this system, migrant workers are ‘sponsored’ by employers. The lives of these workers become tied to their employers and even their resignation or leaving the country is conditional on the employer’s permission, leading to a situation akin to that to slavery. Nearly 23 million workers in the Middle East are suffering due to this system, according to the report.
The report chronicles instances of persecution and even murder of trade union leaders across the world. It also has narratives of workers from a vast spectrum of occupations – from the domestic worker in Saudi Arabia who toiled for nearly 20 hours a day without any offs or leaves to the sewer worker in Philippines who noted how easy it was for companies to dismiss them if they did not work overtime as they were on monthly contracts.
At a time when migration is becoming a key issue across the globe, the ITUC also called for the adoption of the UN Compact on Migration to “ensure that all migrants and refugees have the right to organise in unions and bargain collectively, and to guarantee equal treatment and non-discrimination.”