The ITUC has welcomed a decision by the International Labour Organisation to maintain pressure on Qatar over its ’kafala’ system of modern slavery.
The ILO’s Governing Body decided to keep open the possibility of a Commission of Inquiry into Qatar despite the Gulf state’s unprecedented deployment of dozens of lobbyists at the Geneva meeting aiming to shut down any possibility of the UN body’s strongest compliance procedure being applied.
Worker delegates at the ILO, with the support of representatives of employers and governments of democratic countries, refused an attempt by Sudan and the United Arab Emirates to water down the Governing Body’s decision, denying Qatar a propaganda coup.
Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said “Qatar is on notice and has until November when the ILO will revisit this case. The government has refused any serious reform in the years since it was awarded the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and ILO delegates have rejected the false and misleading claims made by Qatar in its report to the ILO this month. There is still hope for the more than 2 million migrant workers in Qatar, many of them trapped their and forced to work against their will.
“Governments, unions and business can see that Qatar has a choice. It can choose to stop the use of modern slavery and meet its international legal obligations on workers rights by, abolishing exit permits, introducing a minimum wage and ending the race based system of wages, establishing an independent grievance procedure and allowing workers representation.
“International businesses working in Qatar don’t want to see their workers or their reputation sullied by modern slavery.”
Foreign workers still need to get permission from their boss to change jobs or leave the country under the notorious exit permit system. A government committee which is supposed to resolve permit grievances has denied exit to scores of workers since it was formed at the end of 2016. Around a quarter of those appealing to the committee have received rejections from the authorities, by text message. There is still no minimum wage, worker deaths number in the hundreds each year even as Qatar suppresses publication of the true rates of accidents and disease, and the total ban on trade unions remains in force.
“This decision will also increase pressure on FIFA, which has pledged human rights respect in its major events after 2022, but so far failed to use its enormous leverage on Qatar to ensure real reform, and respect for international labour and human rights standards,” said Burrow.
The ILO’s decision on Qatar’s progress on labour reform in November will come five years before the opening match of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
The world of work is undergoing major changes of unprecedented speed and scale. Thailand, like other South East Asian countries, must face the challenges posed by these transformations head on.
In today’s economy, work carried out by women and men is being transformed by a set of complex and interconnected factors from technological innovation, aging societies and pressures on welfare systems and climate change, to labour migration, unpaid work and the evolving character of production systems and employment.
These changes are bringing high levels of uncertainty and anxiety particularly for workers and their families. And yet, the future of work is not pre-determined, either by technology or any other circumstance. The future of work will be the future chosen by the main actors in the world of work, typically governments, labour and business.
As a contribution to this vital discussion, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) launched the Future of Work Initiative which is the centrepiece of the ILO’s activities leading to its 100th anniversary in 2019. Under this Initiative the ILO and its member States are working together to deepen their collective understanding of this transformation. This is critical to meet effectively the policy challenges and to advance the shared commitment to decent work for all.
The ILO’s Director-General Guy Ryder said “The ambition is not to mark the ILO’s centenary in a purely ceremonial way, but with a process that will help to guide its work for social justice into its second centenary.”
In the two decades since the 1997 Asian financial crisis left Thailand reeling, many of the country’s leading economists and industry insiders spoke about the need to move up the value chain, invest in innovation and offer global markets higher quality goods and services. We have seen some encouraging progress in important economic sectors such as tourism, medical services, social enterprises and in selected niche businesses.
However, the Thai manufacturing sector by-and-large has continued to rely on a model based on semi- and un-skilled labour with limited technological investment. This will be hard to sustain and the inertia is proving costly.
Thailand’s difficulties to accelerate investment in human capital and technological upgrading has seen countries like Singapore and South Korea surge ahead. While Thailand aspires to emulate a similar development trajectory, the reality is that other regional neighbours like Vietnam and Indonesia are catching up fast.
The good news is that the Kingdom’s policymakers recognize the need to propel the country headlong into what has been labelled as “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”, or Industry 4.0. To that end, Thailand has announced its Thailand 4.0 agenda, an economic model based on creativity, innovation, new technology and high-quality services.
No matter how you look at it, this is a tall order. Countries with deeper talent pools and higher productivity are capturing a growing share of manufacturing investment. Such losses are significant given that the manufacturing sector accounts for over 30 per cent of Thailand’s US$395 billion GDP and employs 6.2 million people.
For decades, investment in R&D has been modest at just 0.2–0.3 per cent of GDP. Vietnam, by comparison, has set a target of 2 percent R&D spending by 2020. Typically only the biggest players in Thai industry have taken on the financial risk to invest in R&D to accelerate innovation. Thailand’s scarcity of advanced researchers remains a challenge.
As automation and the use of robots expand and more lights-out factories become the norm, a certain level of organic job loss will occur. ASEAN countries may be at particular risk. According to a recent ILO’s report on transformative changes across ASEAN countries, about three in five jobs in the region face “a high risk of automation”.
At the same time, demand for lower-skilled labour in Thailand has waned in recent years. Many of these workers will be unable to acquire the skills necessary to remain employable in the manufacturing industry of tomorrow. The result is the risk of increased informality and subsistence service sector jobs, leading to a decline in overall labour productivity and the threat of premature de-industrialization.
Thailand’s shrinking labour pool presents yet another challenge. The Kingdom’s birth-rate has fallen dramatically from seven children per woman in the 1970s to just 1.5 children today. It’s also the third-most-rapidly aging society in the world, making it one of the countries facing the daunting challenge of a shrinking labour pool coupled with a greying population.
To significantly increase the numbers of graduates with the ability and know-how to thrive in high-tech industries and multinational working environments, major reforms must be carried out in Thailand’s education system. The latest rankings of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015 has shown the difficulties faced by Thailand’s youth to effectively compete at both regional and global levels, particularly in science, engineering, technology and mathematics. Indeed, the key to Thailand 4.0’s success lies in improving human resources by drastically reforming and improving the education system.
Thailand is at a critical juncture on its journey toward high-income status, and must evolve meaningfully if it is to bridge the gap with regional and global competitors. If Thailand’s policymakers are determined in their commitment to transform the country’s economic model — and to do so sustainably in keeping with the its sufficiency economy philosophy — legitimate progress toward this goal is going to require a candid and in-depth dialogue between government, labour and business on the future of work, the existing challenges Thailand is facing, and most importantly on collective solutions to shape a future guided by the principles of social justice and decent work for all.
The Attorney General has once again in Parliament made misleading statements in relation to Worker’s representatives in the FNPF Board. In trying to justify his Government’s decision to not have Worker’s Representatives on the Board of FNPF, he gave two reasons.
Firstly, he claimed that Mr. Urai and I were paid exorbitant amounts as FNPF Board members from 2007 to 2009. The facts are somewhat quite different. All Board members including Employers and Government representatives of FNPF were paid the same Directors fees. These fees were set many years prior to 2007 and were not reviewed during our tenure. The amounts quoted by the Attorney General are incorrect. FNPF never ever paid those amounts quoted. Board members were paid according to the responsibilities they undertook at various other institutions that they were forced to serve on. Again the fees paid by these institutions were set prior to 2007 and were not reviewed during our tenure. Current Board members are paid the same. The Attorney General appears to insinuate that the payments to Board Members were unjustified and wrong. I challenge him to prove this. There was nothing wrong with whatever payments all Board Members received. It clearly appears convenient for him only to single out Workers Representatives. While the Attorney General at every opportunity tries to distract people from the real issues by parroting these payments, he has not been as forthcoming with what he has been paid in salary, allowance and benefits he has drawn from the taxpayers funds over the years. It would certainly sound more credible if he was equally open about payments to him over the last 10 years. I had during the last election challenged the Attorney General to produce his tax returns, including payments from his Aunt’s firm of Aliz Pacific Limited and I would similarly do the same and that we let the public decide. He chose not to even respond to that challenge. I stand by this undertaking and even say, let’s do it for the last 10 years. If this man is sincere about his concerns, he will accept the challenge.
We have not forgotten that he was not even prepared to release the Auditor General’s report prior to the last elections and even after releasing them after the elections scuttled the full examination of those reports in Parliament by removing the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee and putting his very own in that position. There are many other such examples; let’s say the Cyclone Winston’s funds, despite many calls from all circles to make public the amounts of funds received, from whom and the disbursements, nothing has been forth coming. People affected by the Cyclone continue to live in tents today. The current $1,000 handouts, supposedly from the Indian Government. There is absolutely no accountability nor transparency or even any form of monitoring of where the funds are actually going and how many new businesses have come up. He may also want to justify the real exorbitant pay rise and allowances he and his cabinet received. He may want to tell the public why he and the Prime Minister need to be paid $2,000 to $3,000 a day as travel allowance. It would be interesting for him to reveal how much allowances he and the Prime Minister have been paid over the last 10 years apart from salary and benefits. This would put matters in the right perspective and definitely redefine the word “exorbitant”. This Government has been the least transparent and accountable Fiji has ever had and yet has the audacity to point fingers and attempt to malign others.
The second reason given is that, Mr. Urai and I made bad decisions on Natadola and Momi projects. The fact is that neither of us were on the Board of FNPF when decisions were made to undertake those projects. These decisions were made much prior to 2007. We were brought in to save the Natadola Project which we did and it is common knowledge that we saved millions of dollars which members of FNPF would have lost had we not taken some very drastic actions at the time. We have letters of commendation from the FNPF external auditors for the work that we did in Natadola. As for Momi, we had absolutely nothing to do with that project. Records can be examined. The AG was aware of these facts but appears to have had a convenient memory lapse. I again challenge him to tell the public what wrong decisions is he referring to that the Workers Representatives have taken or is it just hot air to justify removing workers representatives from the FNPF Board and putting in his own people so that FNPF simply becomes another department of Government.
The Fiji Trades Union Congress has been adamant that the FNPF belongs to the workers of this country and not the Government. There were perfectly good reasons for having a tripartite board to maintain checks and balances. We reiterate that the Board of FNPF was removed in 2009 because the Board would not agree to a Government request for another $500m to be put aside to fund the Government budget deficit for that year. The strategy of this Government is to distract from the real issues. It is time to come clean Mr AG and not take advantage of Parliament and your very own Fiji Sun and FBC.
The contribution of women to the economy is grossly under-recognised and under-valued, and the discrimination they continue to face bears witness to how entrenched and pervasive gender-prejudice remains.
Tax is part of the architecture that perpetuates this injustice, yet how and whom we tax, and how we spend public money, are in our direct control. Progressive taxation must be implemented to help women achieve full and equal participation in the labour market.
While women are putting in the work, a rigged system means they don’t reap the rewards. The gender pay gap means that women get paid 24 per cent less for work of equal value.
Women are also over-represented in the informal economy. This means no minimum wages, no access to the rule of law and no access to social protection. What’s more, women do up to 10 times more unpaid care work than men, work which weaves the very fabric of communities but which goes completely uncompensated. All that before even mentioning the discrimination women face in recruitment as well as the gender-based violence many experience in the workplace.
The result is that women are poorer than men. They are further disproportionally penalised by regressive taxes such as flat VAT and sales taxes. Targeted efforts to reverse this trend and give appropriate recognition to the work of women is vital. To start with, governments can implement innovative tax practices that target where this work is taking place.
The use of service vouchers in domestic work is one such example. Domestic workers are among the most exploited and women account for 80 percent of them worldwide. Informality accounts for much of the vulnerability in the sector.
Trade unions have been involved in the design and implementation of service voucher schemes that incentivise formalisation by offering benefits including preferential tax rates. Similar tax incentive schemes exist for childcare. They result in the freeing up of time otherwise dedicated to responsibilities that are often assumed by women.
Even with these tax incentives, such schemes have proven to be net contributors to the public purse. They provide win-win solutions to facilitate women’s access to the labour market and provide working women with access to job security, social protection, paid holidays and the rule of law.
Investing in the care economy
The other side of the coin is where tax money is going. A recent ITUC study, entitled Investing in the Care Economy: A Pathway to Growth shows that investing 2 per cent of GDP in the care economy in just seven countries would create over 21 million jobs.
Instead, public budgets on social protection and public care are being cut, resulting in a twofold consequence for women: they find it harder to get decent work in sectors which employ mostly women, and they are often the first in line to fill the gap at home as unpaid carers.
Making progress depends, of course, on resources. Meanwhile however, the hole in the pocket of states is growing: illicit financial flows, along with a global tax system, facilitate tax avoidance and enable the wealthy to avoid contributing their fair share.
Soaring rates of inequality are a direct consequence. The labour movement adds its voice to the call for governments and international institutions to tackle these grave shortcomings as a matter of urgency.
The most recent report from the Committee of Freedom of Association was presented to the Governing Body of ILO on Wednesday 22nd March 2017 in Geneva and was adopted. The report recalled its last report on Fiji and the outstanding issues that needed following up.
The Committee examined the Governments response on progress made. The Fiji Government once again gave its undertaking that it is committed to implementing the Joint Implementation Report (“JIR”) signed by the Fiji Trades Union Congress, the Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation and Government last February 2016 and the ERP Amendment Act 2016. This means that the Government needs to ensure that the Arbitration Court is fully operational with sufficient resources, the determination of Essential Industries and the finalization of the Labour Law Review which has been ongoing since 2013 to ensure that the laws fully comply with all Core Conventions of ILO and ratified Conventions.
The Committee has once again requested that the:
“Government to keep it informed on the functioning in practice of the ERAB and that the Government will continue to show commitment to implement the JIR and the 2016 ERP amendment.”
The Committee of Experts has also requested the Government:
“to provide concrete information on the progress made in addressing all pending matters in this regard in the near future.”
The Fiji Trades Union Congress remains concerned at the slow pace in which the implementation process is progressing. The Arbitration Court has been overloaded with a backlog of cases without sufficient resources to cope. It is now more than a year and the Court has been unable to become fully operational. The problem is further compounded by the fact that the Tribunal needs to be Tripartite with the availability of representatives to sit for hearings has been a constant problem. The Fiji Trades Union Congress calls upon the Government to review the composition and resources allocated to the Arbitration Court together with the social partners.
The Committee of Experts had also called upon the Government to reinstate Collective Agreements that were abrogated by the ENI Decree. The Government unfortunately misled the Committee to believe that it was not possible as new Collective Agreements were negotiated and were in place. The Fiji Trades Union Congress is unaware of any new Agreement being negotiated and registered in any company that fell within the ENI Decree. The Report states:
“The Committee request the Government to indicate whether all collective agreements abrogated by the ENID were replaced by newly negotiated collective agreements and, should this not be the case, to take the necessary measures to ensure that, at least in the public sector, collective agreements abrogated by the ENID can be used as a basis for re-negotiations.”
The Fiji Trades Union Congress will be submitting a report to the Committee to indicate that Governments claims were totally misleading and untrue. We remain concerned at such behavior and call upon the Government to show sincerity and honesty is such matters. The Fiji Trades Union Congress will advise its affiliates to take note of the Committee of Experts request and ensure that workers are not short changed by agreeing to lesser terms and conditions that they enjoyed prior to the ENID.
The Committee of Experts also again raised concerns on the Public Order Amendment Decree and denounced arrest of citizens under the Decree. The Report states:
“The Committee wishes to emphasize the importance it attaches to freedom of assembly in the context of trade union rights and in view of the concerns previously raised as to the adverse effects of the POAD can have on legitimate trade union activities, request the Government to ensure that it is not used to impede the exercise of these rights.”
The Committee also once again requested Government to reinstate Mr. Rajeshwar Singh as the Workers Representative in ATS from which he was removed by Government. The Committee welcomed the withdrawal of charges against Daniel Urai.
The Fiji Trades Union Congress remains concerned that Government had not consulted the FCEF and FTUC prior to reporting to ILO. This is normal standard practice and demonstrates true tripartism. The Government cannot run to the social partners to avoid a Commission of Inquiry and then act on its own. The FTUC calls upon the Government to act upon the Committees report without delay. The FTUC will closely monitor progress and will not hesitate to file a separate report should the Government continue down the current path. Similarly, we expect proper consultations with the FTUC on the setting of the minimum wage in accordance with the ILO Convention 26 and 131. We also note that the Industry Wages Councils have also been dormant and urge Government to act upon this matter without delay.
Confronted by a lack of political will to reinforce children’s right to education, Nepals education leaders are joining Education Internationals Global Response campaign to take collective action to turn the tide of privatisation.
Deeply concerned by the growing privatisation of education in Nepal, the country’s teacher unions are have committed to work together to tackle the challenge, which has continued to worsen since two major earthquakes in 2015 levelled thousands of schools, and forced untold thousands of students to continue their education in makeshift classrooms across the country.
Leaders of the Nepal National Teachers’ Association (NNTA), the Nepal Teachers’ Association (NTA) and the Sansthagat Vidyalaya Schickshak Union Nepal (ISTU) are focusing on addressing the lack of adequate funding allocated to public education, and the failure of non-state providers to comply with existing regulations, such as the Education Act.
The decision to pool together efforts and resources came during a recent Global Response planning meeting with Education International (EI)on the 4-5 March in Kathmandu.
The thee EI affiliates committed themselves to jointly lead a national campaign to strengthen the public education system and challenge the privatisation of education, putting pressure on the government to fulfill its obligation to provide free quality public education for all, and guarantee that all education providers of education follow minimum standards.Their joint action strategy also plans for them to advocate for a legislative framework needed to achieve UN Sustainable Development Goal 4.
Source: Education International, Asia Pacific Newsroom
The revised Tripartite Declaration of principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (MNE Declaration) adds principles to the Declaration addressing decent work issues related to social security, forced labour, transition from the informal to the formal economy, access to remedy and compensation of victims, inter alia. It provides enhanced guidelines for fostering the contribution of multinational enterprises to achieve decent work for all.
Its principles are aimed at multinational and national enterprises, governments, and employers’ and workers’ organizations in the areas of employment, training, conditions of work and life, and industrial relations as well as general policies. These include the fundamental principles and rights at work but also guidance on many other facets of decent work.
Forty years after the adoption of the original MNE Declaration, multinational enterprises remain key drivers of globalization. Their operations can affect the working and living conditions of people worldwide and they continue to play a vital role in promoting economic and social progress.
The revision of the Declaration by the ILO Governing Body responds to new economic realities, including increased international investment and trade, and the growth of global supply chains. It also takes into account developments since the last update in 2006 within and outside the ILO, including new labour standards adopted by the International Labour Conference, the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights endorsed by the Human Rights Council in 2011, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development .
The revision has enriched the MNE Declaration by adding principles addressing specific decent work issues related to social security, forced labour, transition from the informal to the formal economy, wages, access to remedy and compensation of victims.
It also provides guidance on “due diligence” processes ‒ consistent with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights ‒ in achieving decent work, , sustainable businesses, more inclusive growth and better sharing of the benefits of FDI, particularly relevant for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 8 .
The MNE Declaration recognizes the different roles and responsibilities of government, enterprises and social partners in achieving its aim of inclusive economic growth and decent work. Its principles are therefore addressed not only to enterprises but also to governments.
“The MNE Declaration provides clear guidance on how enterprises can contribute through their operations worldwide to the realization of decent work.” – Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General
To encourage commitment to the principles of the MNE Declaration by all parties, the Governing Body of the ILO adopted a range of operational tools, including a regional follow-up mechanism, tripartite appointed national focal-points, company-union dialogue, and interpretation procedure of the principles of the MNE Declaration. ILO country-level assistance will also be provided to governments, employers and workers.
“The revised MNE Declaration reflects a robust consensus among governments, employers and workers firmly anchored in today’s realities. The MNE Declaration provides clear guidance on how enterprises can contribute through their operations worldwide to the realization of decent work,” ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, said. “Its recommendations rooted in international labour standards reflect good practices for all enterprises but also highlight the role of government in stimulating good corporate behaviour as well as the crucial role of social dialogue.”
The MNE Declaration is the only global instrument addressing corporate social responsibility and sustainable business practices that was elaborated and adopted in a tripartite manner by governments, employers and workers from around the world.
The Fiji Trades Union Congress notes with interest the recent comments attributed to the Attorney General calling on workers not to resort to money lenders for loans and his observation that home ownership amongst workers in Fiji is low. We totally agree with AG’S advice and observation. However, the AG needs to examine the root cause of this serious problem and the appropriate remedy.
The fact is, majority of Fiji’s workers are earning very low wages, well below the poverty line. Their everyday challenge is to put food on the table for their families. This is any food and not healthy food. The Ministry of Health’s campaign on reducing NCD’S and the promotion of healthy living makes no sense when people live in extreme poverty. In most cases, workers are unable to make ends meet which necessitates borrowing. It is a fact that these workers are unable to obtain loans from the bank because of the low wages that they earn and their inability to repay any loans. This is further exacerbated by the fact that many of these workers are on minimum wage or just above the minimum wage. These workers have little choice but to turn to money lenders to put food on the table. This condemns these workers into perpetual debt by paying a small portion of the loan and borrowing more at exorbitant interest rates.
The Government’s policy of imposing individual contracts and in many cases short term contracts further makes it impossible for these workers to obtain bank loans. In many Government owned enterprises the length of these contracts is from 3 months to 1 year and is renewable. Senior positions are usually between 2 to 3 years. In such situations, these workers are unable to obtain housing loans as repayments would have to be for a longer term. The bottom line is that if these workers are unable to put food on the table, housing is unthinkable. It is evident around urban areas that squatter settlements have been growing and it is no surprise why this is so. The promotion of collective bargaining is the way to go and not individual contracts.
It is for this reason that Fiji Trades Union Congress has been campaigning for a decent minimum wage so that workers can live with some dignity and be able to provide their families with the necessities of life. The current Government imposed minimum wage is an insult to working families and condemns them to extreme poverty which gives no dignity nor is it sufficient for a decent existence.
No one can provide for all the needs of a family on $2.32 an hour or a gross pay of $93 for a 44 hour week after FNPF and we should stop pretending that it is alright to treat people as lesser humans in the interest of businesses. The National Employment Scheme, undermines the minimum wage at $60 per week with no other entitlements further condemning young workers to extreme poverty with the promise of job creation which is a farce. The fact is they replace permanent unskilled workers in many industries.
The Ministry of Poverty Alleviation recently stated that the poverty line is at about $202 a week. This would peg the hourly rate of pay at $4.60 an hour. The FTUC has pegged the starting point at $4.00 an hour which must be reviewed annually upwards. The Government has repeatedly stated and promised the people of its commitment to alleviate poverty. A fair minimum wage would go a long way in that regard. The FTUC urges the AG and Minister of Finance to seriously consider the FTUC proposal and implement a decent minimum wage at $4 as a starting point.
Past explanations and excuses given by the Minister for Labour citing “the bigger picture” and sustainability is seriously flawed and unacceptable. The poor are part of the bigger picture and in fact make the majority of the population. The most recent excuse by the Minister is that a study would be commissioned and consultations would be held to determine minimum wage. Why is it that when it comes to the poor, there must be some fancy study commissioned and when Parliamentarians and Government Ministers salary and allowances are increased exorbitantly overnight, they are not subject to the same public scrutiny? The Minister’s excuses totally discredit the Government’s commitment and election promise of inclusive growth. There is no point in talking of GDP growth when our people are forced deeper into poverty. Clearly, the benefits of any such growth have not been flowing to the poor and that is evident. This is time to act and not just dish advice and observe problems that are created by bad Government policy. The right to decent work including wages and housing are human rights issues and Government must take full responsibility for the current sad state of affairs. It is time that Government actually listened to the cries of the poor and not just big businesses. It is not the time for freebees to pacify the poor but real actions to uplift the quality of life of our people.