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Trade Union Rights February 2021

This is a quick survey of some of the major trade union issues in the world today, collated from ITUC and the ILO News.

Stories taken from: https://  and

Vocational training hampered by COVID-19 pandemic

It was noted in an ILO press release on 1st February that according to a global survey of more than 1,350 providers of Technical Vocational Educational Training (TVET), many countries and training providers were insufficiently prepared to respond to the constraints that resulted from the crisis, although some rapidly shifted to distance learning.

It was also noted that a majority of survey respondents had reported disruptions to training, in particular to work-based learning due to enterprise closures, as well as the cancellation of assessment and certification exams.

However, on a more positive note, it was also mentioned that since the start of the crisis, innovations in teaching and learning had begun to emerge, according to the report, Skills development in the time of COVID-19: Taking stock of the initial responses in technical and vocational education and training .

AR Rahman: Let's use the power of music to fight child labour

It was argued in February that music transcends all barriers and it was noted that the Music Against Child Labour Initiative was launching an international song competition this February with AR Rahman as one of the esteemed judges

Music competition launched to raise awareness of child labour

ILO issued a press release on 3rd February noting that the Music Against Child Labour Initiative, which brings together musicians to raise awareness of child labour, was launching a song competition on 3 February 2021 to mark the UN International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour.

It noted that, “musicians of all genres are invited to submit a song to inspire governments and stakeholders to take action to eliminate child labour, which affects nearly 1 in 10 children worldwide. While child labour has decreased by almost 40 per cent over the last two decades, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to reverse that progress.”

Quality apprenticeships to improve skills of young Burkinabé

It was noted on 4th February that to remedy the skills mismatch and unemployment among young people, the project "Youth Employment in the Sahel Region" was implementing concrete actions linked to the key elements of the ILO approach to quality apprenticeships in order to improve and strengthen the national system.


It was said that, “to improve the creation and access to decent jobs for young people in West Africa, and particularly in Burkina Faso, the ILO is implementing this project through regional cooperation, capacity building, knowledge sharing, innovative and evidence-based labour market policies.

To remedy the skills mismatch and unemployment among young people, the project "Youth Employment in the Sahel Region " is implementing concrete actions linked to the key elements of the ILO approach to quality apprenticeships in order to improve and strengthen the national system. In addition, the programme is currently being piloted with the development of new educational tools, closely linked to the needs of the labour market. 150 young people benefit from training in two trades in the construction sector and they will be supported at the end of the training to increase their chances to integrate the labour market.”



ILO achieves carbon neutrality

It was noted in a press release on 8th February that the ILO had started working on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in 2016, by introducing an Environmental Sustainability Policy and an Environmental Management System. The goal then had been to improve the operations of the Organization, making them more environmental friendly.

It was further noted that, “in the past four years several measures to reduce environmental impact have been implemented at the ILO headquarters in Geneva, where 80 per cent of the waste volume of the building is now recycled or composted. A “Papersmart Policy”, covering the production and distribution of paper documents, has also been introduced.”


EU and ILO reinforce cooperation to shape just recovery from crisis and promote decent work

It was noted on 4th February that the European Commission and the ILO had signed a renewed exchange of letters  on Thursday 4 February, updating the framework for their longstanding cooperation that began in 1958. This is the third formal agreement, following previous exchanges of letters in 1989 and 2001

Commissioner Nicolas Schmit was reported as saying: “The world of work is profoundly changing. The pandemic is having an immense impact on employment and social affairs. Digitalisation and climate change transform the what, where and how of our work. We have to act now and seize the momentum to tackle these important challenges, but at the same time we have to ensure that we build in the social dimension in the transition. I look forward to continuing our good cooperation with the ILO to build a better future of work in the EU and across the world.”

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder was noted as saying: “Our partnership with the European Commission is very valuable to us. At a time when the world of work is facing so many challenges, we need to join forces for a human-centred approach to the future of work. I look forward to continuing our strong partnership.”




ILO joins partnership to promote global health

A press release on 9th February noted that the ILO had joined 12 other multilateral organizations in a partnership to promote health at work and elsewhere, and help countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.


Labour, freedom and happiness: The great driving forces of antiquity

In a discussion, on 11th February about workers’ right in ancient times, it was noted that slavery or forced labour had not been a generalized practice in antiquity. Furthermore, the so-called "strike papyrus" (now in the Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy), created in 1166 BC, contains evidence that the builders, artisans and scribes who had lived in the ancient Egyptian village of Deir el-Medina and worked on the tombs during the reign of Ramses III (thought to be from 1186 to 1155 BC), were free people. It was argued that, “the scroll shows that these workers, along with their bosses, stopped work in an organized and collective way to demand the payment of wage arrears and to protest at corrupt State administrators.”




Military coup in Myanmar: solidarity action

It was reported on 8th February that the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) was appalled at the seizing of power by the military in Myanmar and would do all within its power to stop the coup succeeding, ensure the release of those detained and bring an end to the violence and harassment of the people of Myanmar.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, was reported as saying: “We are demanding that all governments stand together and not recognise or appease the military takeover.

“Myanmar’s seat at the United Nations must be vacated, the UN Security Council must take action and we need an urgent special session of the UN Human Rights Council.

“The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must act to fulfil the democracy and human rights commitments in its charter. As a first step, sanctions should be targeted at the military leaders, including immediate financial sanctions that focus on the military’s business interests.

“All governments need to trace supply chains of military-run companies to ensure full and complete application of these sanctions.

“Of course, all military cooperation with Myanmar must cease immediately with a ban on weapons exports to the country. All lobby firms employed by Myanmar’s military should be exposed and held to account by governments.

“We need immediate support and assistance for all refugees fleeing persecution by Myanmar’s military, and diplomatic staff in foreign countries must be protected.

“International companies should provide support to workers where operations are curtailed and give support and protection to workers protesting the coup.

“We stand in solidarity with Myanmar’s workers and with the people of Myanmar and pay tribute to those brave, working people taking action to reject the military takeover.

“After 30 years of military dictatorship, we pledge to stand united with the people of Myanmar to ensure that the people’s vote is respected and that all those who have been democratically elected can form a legitimate government.”


Global unions ramp up pressure on governments and corporations to isolate Myanmar military junta

It was noted on 9th February that ten Global Unions representing more than 200 million workers from across the world had called on unions globally to ramp up pressure on governments and corporations to target the commercial interests of the Myanmar military junta.

The Global Unions signing this joint statement are:



ILO calls on Myanmar to respect freedom of association and restore democratic order

It was noted on 10th February that in the wake of the military takeover that had sparked widespread demonstrations in Myanmar, the Director-General of the International Labour Organization said workers and employers must be able to exercise their right to protest without violence or threats.


Post-COVID digital economy must include persons with disabilities

A press release on 11th February noted that Changes brought about by the expanding digital economy could help persons with disabilities gain more equal access to the world of work, or they could create greater barriers. It was reported that a new ILO report proposed actions to ensure that the post-COVID world of work is disability-inclusive.

It was further noted that advances in the digital economy, which had been significantly accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, were creating unprecedented opportunities to build a more inclusive world of work for the more than 1 billion people with disabilities globally, a new report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) says.

However, it was also noted that digital barriers also threatened to aggravate existing inequalities and exclusion, unless they were countered with effective and targeted initiatives, as highlighted by the study.



Trade Unions' engagement is key to implement the UN Reform and the Agenda 2030

It was noted on 15th February that on the occasion of the launch of two ACTRAV flagship publications for trade unions, Maria Helena ANDRE, Director of the ILO’s Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV) was explaining why the engagement of trade unions is key for the implementation of UN Reforms and achieving progress on the SDGs. It was reported that she also stressed the ILO’s expectations vis-à-vis the important role of workers’ organizations in development processes,


Where next for the automotive industry?

On 15th February 2021 it was reported that the automotive industry was facing disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic, trade disputes and a digital revolution, as well as concerns about the industry’s environmental footprint and working conditions in its complex supply chains. It was further noted that representatives from governments, employers and workers in the automotive industry were meeting virtually that week at the ILO to discuss future challenges and opportunities including skills and training needs.


Myanmar: Junta’s cyber law brings age of darkness

photo: SENTRO

It was noted on 15th February that while Myanmar’s military coup leaders escalated violent suppression of popular dissent and continued to arrest and detain hundreds of people without any due process, their planned cyber law would place the entire population under ongoing surveillance and eliminate freedom of speech.


A circular economy can promote decent work

It was noted on 16th February 2021 that COVID-19 had shown that health, decent work and environmental sustainability were strongly linked. It was argued that the principles of the circular economy – repair, re-use and recycle – were key to achieving sustainable supply chains and could help to promote decent work.

ILO to release report on the impact of digital labour platforms on the world of work


It was reported on 17 February 2021 by ILO News, that the International Labour Organization (ILO) was to launch its flagship report, World Employment and Social Outlook (WESO) 2021: The role of digital labour platforms in transforming the world of work on Tuesday 23 February, 2021.

It was noted that, “the report focuses on two main types of digital labour platform: online web-based platforms, where tasks are performed online and remotely by workers, and location-based platforms, where tasks are performed at a specified physical location by individuals, such as taxi drivers and delivery workers.”

It was also noted that the report, “ examines how digital labour platforms are transforming the world of work and how that affects employers and workers. The report draws on the findings from surveys and interviews conducted by the ILO with some 12,000 workers and representatives of 85 businesses around the world in multiple sectors.  It also includes recommendations on how to ensure that digital labour platforms provide decent work opportunities and foster the growth of sustainable businesses.”

ILO Director-General calls for greater equality on World Day of Social Justice

It was reported that ILO Director-General Guy Ryder had called for global solidarity to support vaccine roll-out and economic and social recovery from COVID-19 crisis, in his message for World Day of Social Justice.



Belarus: Further Attacks on Unions and Journalists


On 18th February, it was reported that in a further crackdown on trade unions that week, the authorities in Belarus had ransacked the offices of the REP radio and electronics union and had targeted the BAJ journalists’ union.


Income support to help 17,000 garment workers in Lao PDR hit by COVID-19

It was reported on 23rd February that the Lao Social Security Organization (LSSO) had that day announced that one-time cash transfers totalling US$ 1.8 million would help mitigate workers’ lost income and support business continuity while reducing employers’ staff turnover costs.


Rapid growth of digital economy calls for coherent policy response

It was noted on 23rd February that the growth of digital labour platforms was presenting opportunities and challenges for workers and businesses and a need for international policy dialogue.

It was argued that digital labour platforms had increased five-fold worldwide in the last decade according to the ILO’s latest World Employment and Social Outlook 2021 report and that this growth had underlined the need for international policy dialogue and regulatory cooperation in order to provide decent work opportunities and foster the growth of sustainable businesses more consistently.



Iraq: Jobs, and cultural heritage the focus of new ILO-EU-UNESCO collaboration

It was reported on 24th February, that with support from the European Union, the programme would use employment-intensive approaches to create decent jobs and upgrade skills and employment services for internally displaced persons, Syrian refugees and host community members, while preserving and rehabilitating cultural heritage sites


Q&A with Corinne Vargha on the launch of the 2021 CEACR Report

In a comment on 25th February, it was noted that The Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) was one of the key elements of the ILO’s supervisory system for International Labour Standards. It is an independent body composed of 20 high-level legal experts, charged with examining the application of ILO Conventions and Recommendations by ILO Member States. It was further noted that it had just published its annual report.


It was sated that the key message was that, “ the COVID-19 crisis  did not suspend obligations under ratified international labour standards (ILS) and the concrete commitments made by ILO Member States to protect the dignity and freedom of people at work remained during the current pandemic, and will strengthen the resilience of societies in building back better. Any derogations should be exercised within clearly defined limits of legality, necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination.”

Collated by Peter Sagar, A Living Tradition CIC, March 2021

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