76 trade unionists murdered around the world in 2008
As you open this year’s Annual Survey of Trade Union Violations, you may be thinking of the terrifying impact of the global financial and economic crisis which hit millions of working women and men around the world in both industrialised and developing countries in 2008.
The crisis emphasises the need to develop a global economy based on decent jobs and social justice and it underlines the need for a better distribution of wealth. Instead workers everywhere have begun to feel the full impact of surging unemployment on their lives and that of their families and communities as decent work and decent jobs disappear. They have also begun to see the growing impact on their rights at work.
Trade union rights are universally-recognised human rights at work. Two key International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions which define and guarantee them (conventions 87 and 98) have been ratified by 149 and 159 Member States of the ILO, respectively, out of a total of 182 worldwide.
Despite this formal recognition by governments, the ITUC is, this year again, documenting the continuous and often massive and harsh violations of fundamental trade union rights. This Survey is one of the ITUC’s means to expose and denounce those violations through its overview of the trade union rights situation in the world in 2008.
Countries where widespread and grave anti-union practices have unfortunately continued include: Colombia, Burma, Belarus, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Iran, Pakistan and the Philippines. Countries such as Honduras and Guatemala should this year be added to this list. In many other countries, where violations are not as outrageous, there is an overall growing tendency to undermine workers’ rights. Interference in trade union activities has been reported in Iraq, Kuwait, Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation, Turkey and Venezuela, among others. Despite some legislative proposals or measures in some Middle East countries and Gulf States, migrant workers are still denied trade union rights in many countries. In addition to that, companies continued to take advantage of poor legislation and weak implementation to undermine workers' rights.
Worldwide in 2008, at least 76 labour activists were killed as a result of their actions for workers’ rights. Latin America remains the deadliest continent for trade unionists with over 66 murdered in 2008. 49 Colombian trade unionists lost their lives (including 16 union leaders, 4 of whom were women), a 25% increase over 2007. Trade unionists were also killed in Guatemala (9), Honduras (3) and Venezuela (4) among others. In Asia, at least 6 murders were reported (Nepal and the Philippines), as well as 3 in Africa (Nigeria, Tunisia and Zimbabwe) and 1 in the Middle East (Iraq).
In countries in every region, trade unions continue to be banned, or their establishment restricted. China still bans independent trade unions. Those attempting to unionise groups of workers or organise protests are often arrested, with some given prison sentences and others condemned to ‘re-education through work’.
Certain categories of workers also continue to be excluded. This includes public servants, agricultural workers, migrant and domestic workers, etc. The right to strike is often unduly limited, with lists of public services in which strike action is restricted going far beyond the ILO definition.
Again this year, several thousand trade unionists and workers were dismissed for participating in strike actions or protests; thousands more were harassed or discriminated against and hundreds arrested. The situation of domestic workers, mostly women and migrant workers in the Middle East and the Gulf States as well as some African and Asian countries, is also disturbing. Outright denial and other violations of labour and trade union rights were common in export processing zones, for example in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Swaziland, Bangladesh, Kenya, Mauritius and Pakistan.
Furthermore, the ongoing globalisation of the world economy coupled with the global financial and economic crisis put inordinate pressure on labour markets, working conditions and workers’ rights everywhere. Workers continue to be threatened by employers with relocation, outsourcing and downsizing, with inevitable negative consequences for the effective exercise of their trade union rights.
New forms of employment relationships are also affecting fundamental rights. The use of bogus self-employment as well as subcontractors or labour agencies is increasing in industrialised and developing countries. This report documents cases in Korea, Croatia, Poland, Montenegro, Georgia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, South Africa, Chad and Morocco, amongst others. Sadly, we can only fear that next year’s Survey will paint a worsening picture.
This Survey, covering 143 countries, is also intended as a tool. It highlights wasted opportunities to promote better industrial relations, improve working conditions and productivity and to build or consolidate democratic institutions. It also illustrates good practice in cases where improvements are recorded. For instance, new legislation recognizing and enabling trade union organising has been adopted in Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mozambique and Australia.
You will find the full text of ILO core conventions 87 and 98 in the annexes as well as an overview of ILO decisions on key issues concerning trade union rights, which are often insufficiently known and understood.
Legislative frameworks and effective institutions should provide adequate protection and guarantees on freedom of association and collective bargaining. Unfortunately, in too many parts of the world, including Asia, the Middle East and the Gulf States, freedom of association is still not guaranteed by constitutions or labour laws.
Effective implementation of international conventions or even national labour laws and respect for trade union rights continues to fall far short of workers’ rightful expectations. This year again, the ITUC is reporting assassinations, abductions, arrests and imprisonments, as well as death threats, dismissals, harassments, acts of discrimination and intimidation against trade unionists.
Yet, millions of trade unionists and labour activists around the world continue to fight for workers’ solidarity, sometimes at the risk of losing their own lives or livelihoods. Prominent examples in 2008 included trade union leaders in Zimbabwe, Colombia, Guinea, Guatemala, the Philippines, Iraq and Iran.
I want to thank our affiliates, the Global Union Federations and all the persons who contributed to making this Survey possible, and to pay tribute to all those whose dedication to justice, equity and fairness at work has achieved so much for so many working people.
The ITUC remains the international voice and ally of trade unionists worldwide, especially when they can not rely on fair national legal systems to protect their fundamental trade union rights.
More than ever, the ITUC’s mission is to stand side by side with workers in their struggle for justice and the defence of trade union rights worldwide because "An Injury to One is an Injury to All!"