ReportsMike Phipps

ITUC report presents a worsening picture for trade unionists

ReportsMike Phipps
ITUC report presents a worsening picture for trade unionists

A new report by the International Trade Union Confederation presents an increasingly bleak picture for trade unionists in 2019. The ITUC Global Rights Index: the world’s worst countries for workers highlights the following:

- 85% of countries have violated the right to strike.

- 80% of countries deny some or all workers collective bargaining.

- The number of countries which exclude workers from the right to establish or join a trade union increased from 92 in 2018 to 107 in 2019.

- Out of 145 countries surveyed, 54 deny or constrain free speech and freedom of assembly.

- Authorities impeded the registration of unions in 59% of countries.

The Middle East and North Africa is the worst region, with Egypt and Algeria among the countries most hostile to trade unions, along with Iran, where 250 truck drivers were detained for striking against low wages last year.

But Asia has also seen a dramatic increase in violence against trade unionists, with ten assassinations recorded in the Philippines alone. Across the continent, strike action was brutally repressed, notably in Vietnam, where 500 protesters were detained following a march by 50,000 striking workers.

In Africa, court bans are increasingly being used to head off strikes and police have acted with unprecedented brutality, using live ammunition against protesting workers in several countries, including Ghana and Zimbabwe. Arbitrary arrest and detention of union leaders was used in Zimbabwe, Kenya and Guinea.

The situation worsened in the Americas too, with 34 trade unionists assassinated, notably in Brazil, Colombia and Guatemala, compounded by a complete lack of investigation by the authorities in the latter two countries. Summary dismissal of workers joining unions remains a key issue - in Peru one company replaced 1,500 workers with casual labour to avoid application of a collective bargaining agreement. Another tactics is government refusal to register a union, followed by a freezing of its assets if it continues to operate.

Europe has also seen an increase in violent attacks on trade unionists, with killings in Turkey and Italy, and brutal repression against strikers in France, Belgium and Turkey.

Migrant workers - an estimated 164 million people worldwide - are among the worst treated. One of the world’s worst countries for workers is Saudi Arabia. With the rights to freedom of association, assembly and collective bargaining denied to all workers, the 8.3 million migrant workers who constitute 90% of the private sector workforce are most affected. For some, the conditions are tantamount to slave labour: “Vietnamese migrant domestic workers reported being forced to work 18 hours a day. They were also denied food, frequently assaulted by their employers and prevented from returning home,” says the report.

Across the world, strikes have been severely restricted or banned in 123 out of 145 countries. Half the countries of Europe deny workers the right to join a union - in Africa over 90% of countries do this. Individual companies, including famous international brands, continue to take a ruthless approach to freedom of association.

The global trend is clear: the erosion of democratic rights internationally is taking place through a sustained attack on workers’ rights. Legal repression and extra-judicial violence are being used to silence workers. The full report is here