Africa 13.6.2017 08:38 am

Violence and repression of workers on the up, says ITUC

Photo: Supplied

Photo: Supplied

ITUC says that the number of countries experiencing physical violence and threats against workers had risen alarmingly.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) on Tuesday said the number of countries experiencing physical violence and threats against workers had risen alarmingly.

According to the annual ITUC Global Rights Index, the number of countries had risen by 10 percent in just one year, as attacks on union members had been documented in 59 countries, fuelling growing anxiety about jobs and wages.

In a statement, the ITUC said the report showed that corporate interests were being put ahead of the interests of working people in the global economy, with 60% of countries excluding whole categories of workers from labour law.

“Denying workers protection under labour laws creates a hidden workforce, where governments and companies refuse to take responsibility, especially for migrant workers, domestic workers and those on short term contracts,” Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said. “In too many countries, fundamental democratic rights are being undermined by corporate interests.”

The ITUC Global Rights Index 2017 ranks 139 countries against 97 internationally recognised indicators to assess where workers’ rights are best protected in law and in practice.

The report found that the Middle East and North Africa was the worst region for treatment of workers, with the Kafala system in the Gulf still enslaving millions of people.

“The absolute denial of basic workers’ rights remained in place in Saudi Arabia. In countries such as Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, conflict and breakdown of the rule of law means workers have no guarantee of labour rights.

“In conflict-torn Yemen, 650,000 public sector workers have not been paid for more than eight months, while some four million private sector jobs have been destroyed. The continued occupation of Palestine also means that workers there are denied their rights and the chance to find decent jobs.”

The report ranked the ten worst countries for workers’ rights in 2017 as Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Qatar, South Korea, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.

The report’s key findings included:

— 84 countries exclude groups of workers from labour law.

— Over three quarters of countries deny some or all workers their right to strike.

— Over three quarters of countries deny some or all workers collective bargaining.

— Out of 139 countries surveyed, 50 deny or constrain free speech and freedom of assembly.

— The number of countries in which workers are exposed to physical violence and threats increased by 10 per cent (from 52 to 59) and include Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, Indonesia and Ukraine.

— Unionists were murdered in 11 countries, including Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Mauritania, Mexico, Peru, The Philippines and Venezuela.

“We need to look no further than these shocking figures to understand why economic inequality is the highest in modern history. Working people are being denied the basic rights through which they can organise and collectively bargain for a fair share. This, along with growing constraints on freedom of speech, is driving populism and threatening democracy itself,” said Sharan Burrow.

The Philippines, South Korea and Kazakhstan joined the ten-worst ranking for the first time this year.

The report further said that conditions in Africa had deteriorated, with Benin, Nigeria and Zimbabwe being the worst performing countries – including many cases of workers suspended or dismissed for taking legitimate strike action.

The ITUC has been collecting data on violations of workers’ rights to trade union membership and collective bargaining around the world for more than 30 years and this is the fourth year the ITUC has presented its findings through the Global Rights Index.

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