Workers’ rights are being abused all around the world

It is not just in the developing world where trade union rights are at risk, according to a report by the International Trade Union Confederation.

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Owen Tudor is head of the European Union and International Relations department at TUC.

It is not just in the developing world where trade union rights are at risk, according to a report by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) .

Europe 2012 trade unions

As employers refused to let the ILO conference speak out against repression and harassment of trade unionists, the ITUC which represents 175 million workers in 153 countries, released its annual report on how workers’ rights are being violated worldwide.

Employers’ actions were condemned by global unions and it’s clear many governments and the ILO were also unhappy.

Workers in Colombia, Fiji, Guatemala and Swaziland, as well as across the Middle East and North Africa and even in European countries like Greece, will suffer continued denial of their rights as a result.

The ITUC annual survey reports that 76 trade unionists were murdered last year, with the Americas still the most deadly region. Thousands around the world were dismissed or arrested simply for exercising their rights as trade unionists.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

“Across the world, rogue employers are operating hand in glove with corrupt governments to exploit workers and deny them basic human rights. Trade unionists are standing up to this abuse and fighting for a better deal. It is disgusting that taking such a stand can result in imprisonment, beatings or even murder.”

Last year, workers paid dearly as they marched towards democracy in the Arab Spring. The repression of trade union rights has been particularly harsh in these regions. Trade unions played a leading role in the revolutions notably in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain. They paid a heavy price.

Hundreds of activists were killed in the clashes and thousands were arrested. But the creation of an independent trade union movement is well underway despite no effective freedom of association in nations such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Eritrea or Sudan.


See also:

In austere times, German trade union achieves above-inflation pay rise for workers 29 May 2012

Memo to EU leaders: If austerity fails, it’s austerity’s fault – not that of workers’ rights 19 May 2012

TUC warns EU – don’t undermine our employment rights 14 Feb 2012


The world economic crisis continued to impact unfairly on workers, as governments persisted in favouring austerity measures over stimulating growth and employment. The consequences have been devastating, particularly for the young.

Global unemployment reached 205 million in 2011 and together with ideological support for flexibility and reducing workers’ rights, led to a sharp increase in insecure work, making it extremely difficult for trade union organisations to defend workers’ rights, for example in South Africa, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Pakistan.

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the ITUC, said:

“The situation of hundreds of thousands of workers is very disturbing. Most of them do not enjoy the fundamental rights of collective bargaining and freedom of association, and are in precarious employment.  Their lives are thrown into disarray because they have to work long hours in dangerous and unhealthy conditions, in return for salaries so low they cannot meet their own needs or those of their families.”

The ITUC survey reveals how strikes are fiercely repressed in many countries by means of mass dismissals, arrests and detention, including in Georgia, Kenya, South Africa and Botswana, where 2800 workers were dismissed after a public sector strike.

Trade union rights do not only come under attack in the developing world however.  They are also under threat in many industrialised countries, including Canada, whose conservative government has repeatedly sought to undermine union organising and collective bargaining rights.

Migrant workers remain another very vulnerable group, particularly in the Gulf States where they represent the majority of the workforce in Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates but have few or no rights.  Among these migrant workers are some 100 million domestic workers, the great majority of whom are women with little knowledge of their rights and no means of enforcing them.

The ITUC is campaigning for the implementation of the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention no.189 on Domestic Workers, which gives these workers the right to form unions and enjoy decent working conditions.

Despite the employers’ reluctance to let the ILO highlight these issues, and discuss remedial action, unions will continue to fight for their rights around the world – north and south – including through global solidarity such as TUC campaigns on Colombia, the Middle East North Africa region and Fiji.


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