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101 Trade Unionists Murdered in 2009; Pressure on Workers’ Rights Grows as Crisis Hits Jobs

The ITUC’s Annual Survey of Trade Union Rights has documented a dramatic increase in the number of trade unionists murdered in 2009, with 101 killings – an increase of 30% over the previous year. The Survey, released today, also reveals growing pressure on fundamental workers’ rights around the world as the impact of the global economic crisis on employment deepened.

Of 101 murdered, 48 were killed in Colombia, 16 in Guatemala, 12 in Honduras, six in Mexico, six in Bangladesh, four in Brazil, three in the Dominican Republic, three in the Philippines, one in India, one in Iraq and one in Nigeria. Twenty-two of the Colombian trade unionists who were killed were senior trade union leaders and five were women, as the onslaught of previous years continued. The rise in violence in Guatemala and Honduras also followed a trend developing in recent years.

“Colombia was yet again the country where standing up for fundamental rights of workers is more likely than anywhere else to mean a death sentence, despite the Colombian government’s public relations campaign to the contrary. The worsening situation in Guatemala, Honduras and several other countries is also cause for extreme concern,” said ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder.

This year’s report again records an extensive list of violations suffered by trade unionists struggling to defend workers’ interests, this time in 140 countries. Many other violations remain unreported, as working women and men are deprived of the means to have their voices heard, or fear to speak out due to the consequences to their jobs or even to their physical safety. Along with the appalling list of killings, the Survey provides detailed documentation of harassment, intimidation and other forms of anti-union persecution.

A further ten attempted murders and 35 serious death threats were recorded, again mostly in Colombia and Guatemala. Furthermore, many trade unionists remained in prison and were joined by around hundred newly imprisoned in 2009. Many others were arrested in Iran, Honduras, Pakistan, South Korea, Turkey and Zimbabwe in particular. The general trade union rights’ situation has continued to deteriorate in a number of other countries, including Egypt, the Russian Federation, South Korea and Turkey.

Anti-democratic forces continued to target union activity, aware that unions are often in the front line in the defence of democracy. This was evident in Honduras during the post-coup violence and in Guinea during a protest demonstration against the ruling junta which turned into a terrible massacre on 28 September.

Numerous cases of strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
-breaking and repression of striking workers were documented in each region. Thousands of workers demonstrating to claim wages, denounce harsh working conditions or the harmful effects of the global financial and economical crisis faced beatings, arrest and detention, including in Algeria, Argentina, Belarus, Burma, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Honduras, India, Iran, Kenya, Nepal, Pakistan and Turkey. Dismissals of workers due to their trade union activities were reported in many countries. In Bangladesh, six garment workers on strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
for a pay increase and settlement of outstanding wages died after a police intervention.

Union busting union busting Attempts by an employer to prevent the establishment of a trade union or remove an existing union, e.g. by firing union members, challenging unions in court, or by forming a yellow union. and pressure continued to be widely used by employers. In several countries, companies threatened workers with closure or transfer of production sites if they organised or joined a trade union. Often employers simply refused to negotiate with legitimate workers’ representatives while the authorities did nothing. Some labour codes were amended to permit more “flexibility” and to unravel social welfare systems, which often impacted the existing industrial relations industrial relations The individual and collective relations and dealings between workers and employers at the workplace, as well as the institutional interaction between unions, employers and also the government.

See social dialogue
systems and thus curtailed trade union rights.

The undermining of internationally-recognised labour standards saw more and more workers facing insecurity and vulnerability in employment, with some 50% of the global workforce now in precarious jobs. This affected workers in export processing zones, especially in South East Asia and Central America, domestic workers, particularly in the Middle East and South East Asia, and migrants and agricultural workers. Many of the worst affected sectors have high concentrations of women workers. Furthermore, the growth of informal employment and the development of new “atypical” forms of employment were seen across both regions and industrial sectors. The difficulties faced by these workers to organise or exercise their trade union rights are directly related to their highly vulnerable position in the labour market.

The Survey also highlights many cases where, while trade union rights are officially protected in legislation, restrictions on legal coverage and weak or non-existent enforcement added to the vulnerability of workers already struggling in the depths of the crisis. Severe restrictions or outright prohibition of strikes also exist in a large number of countries. Furthermore, complex procedural requirements, imposition of compulsory arbitration arbitration A means of resolving disputes outside the courts through the involvement of a neutral third party, which can either be a single arbitrator or an arbitration board. In non-binding arbitration, the disputing parties are free to reject the third party’s recommendation, whilst in binding arbitration they are bound by its decision. Compulsory arbitration denotes the process where arbitration is not voluntarily entered into by the parties, but is prescribed by law or decided by the authorities.

See conciliation, mediation
and the use of excessively broad definitions of “essential services essential services Services the interruption of which would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population. Can include the hospital sector, electricity and water supply services, and air traffic control. Strikes can be restricted or even prohibited in essential services.

See Guide to the ITUC international trade union rights framework
” provisions often make the exercise of trade union rights impossible in practice, depriving workers of their legitimate rights to union representation and participation in industrial action industrial action Any form of action taken by a group of workers, a union or an employer during an industrial dispute to gain concessions from the other party, e.g. a strike, go-slow or an overtime ban, or a lockout on the part of the employer. .

The ITUC report notes that 2009 was the 60th Anniversary of the ILO International Labour Organization A tripartite United Nations (UN) agency established in 1919 to promote working and living conditions. The main international body charged with developing and overseeing international labour standards.

See tripartism, ITUC Guide to international trade union rights
Convention 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining collective bargaining The process of negotiating mutually acceptable terms and conditions of employment as well as regulating industrial relations between one or more workers’ representatives, trade unions, or trade union centres on the one hand and an employer, a group of employers or one or more employers’ organisations on the other.

See collective bargaining agreement
, which has still not been ratified by countries such as Canada, China, India, Iran, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam. Thus, approximately half of the world’s economically active population is not covered by the Convention.

“This year’s ITUC survey shows that the majority of the world’s workers still lack effective protection of their rights to organise trade unions and bargain collectively. This is a major factor in the long-term increase in economic inequality within and between countries. Inadequate incomes for much of the world’s workforce helped cause the global economic crisis, and is making it much harder to put the economy on a path of sustainable growth,” said Ryder.

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