Human rights at work: annual report shows we really must do better

A new report out this week records a year's worth of violations of fundamental human rights for working people. Breaches of the ILO's eight core conventions (banning forced and child labour as well as discrimination at work, and providing for freedom of association and free collective bargaining) are all too frequent. But this year's report from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) which has 175 million members in 153 countries focuses in particular on

  • attacks on trade unionists in the Middle East and North Africa in the wake of the Arab Spring;
  • the vulnerability of workers in insecure work; and
  • the problems facing 100 million domestic workers, mostly women, whose rights were set out for the first time in an ILO Convention adopted a year ago this month.

Workers' rights are defended by trade unionists and campaigning groups like Amnesty International, despite the hostility of employers and governments. 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."

This year's report, which appears online with an interactive map so you can focus immediately on countries of concern, mentions in particular the high death rates in Colombia and Guatemala; the imprisonment of trade union activists in Bahrain and persecution in Fiji and Swaziland; and the repression of strike action through mass dismissals, arrests and detention was widely reported, including in Georgia, Kenya, South Africa and Botswana, where 2,800 workers were dismissed after a public sector strike.

There is still no freedom of association at all in some countries, notably Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Eritrea, Sudan and Laos. Jordan has a tightly regulated single trade union system and in China and Syria the single trade union is still used as a means not to protect but to control workers. There was good news in Burma however, where the Labour Organisation Law was signed by the President in in October, laying the foundation for workers to form unions.

Owen Tudor

 

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