The number of countries experiencing physical violence and threats against workers has risen by 10 percent in just one year, according to the annual ITUC Global Rights Index. Attacks on union members have been documented in fifty-nine countries, fueling growing anxiety about jobs and wages.
The report shows that corporate interests are being put ahead of the interests of working people in the global economy, with 60 per cent 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. In too many countries, fundamental democratic rights are being undermined by corporate interests,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary.
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’s key findings include:
- Eighty-four 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 countries) 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 report ranks 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 Philippines, South Korea and Kazakhstan have joined the ten-worst ranking for the first time this year.
Once again 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, including in the operations of multinationals Total, G4S and DNO, leaving their families destitute. The continued occupation of Palestine also means that workers there are denied their rights and the chance to find decent jobs.
Conditions in Africa have 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 International Trade Union Confederation has been collecting data on violations of workers’ rights to trade union membership and collective bargaining around the world for more than 30 years. This is the fourth year the ITUC has presented its findings through the Global Rights Index, putting a unique and comprehensive spotlight on how government laws and business practices have deteriorated or improved in the last 12 months.
In South Korea, Han Sang-gyun, President of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, has been imprisoned since 2015 for organising public demonstrations during the candlelight revolution, to prevent the now deposed Park government from passing anti-worker labour laws.
Trade union leaders in Kazakhstan were arrested merely because they called for strike action. In the Philippines, the climate of violence and impunity, which has proliferated under President Duterte, had a profound impact on workers’ rights.
Working conditions also worsened in other countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Myanmar.
Argentina has seen a spike in violence and repression by the state and private security forces – in one case, 80 workers were injured during a stoppage for better pay and conditions. The build up of the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil saw a significant increase in labour exploitation, and the dismantling of labour legislation by the new Brazilian government last year caused a sharp decline of labour standards. In Ecuador, union leaders were forbidden from speaking out and their offices were ransacked and occupied by the government. Problems in the garment sector in Myanmar persist, with long working hours, low pay and poor working conditions being exacerbated by serious flaws in the labour legislation that make it extremely difficult for unions to register.
“The challenge is for governments to accept their responsibility to govern for people, not just in the interests of big business, by making laws that respect international labour standards. Even under the most oppressive circumstances, workers will continue to organise unions, and it’s time that politicians stood up for them instead of trampling on their rights,” said Sharan Burrow.
The 2017 ITUC Global Rights Index rates countries from one to five according to 97 indicators, with an overall score placing countries in one to five rankings.
1. Irregular violations of rights: 12 countries including Germany and Uruguay
2. Repeated violations of rights: 21 countries including Japan and South Africa
3. Regular violations of rights: 26 countries including Chile and Poland
4. Systematic violations of rights: 34 countries including Paraguay and Zambia
5. No guarantee of rights: 35 countries including Egypt and the Philippines
5+ No guarantee of rights due to breakdown of the rule of law: 11 countries including Burundi, Palestine and Syria.
Read the report: ITUC Global Rights Index 2017
Download the ITUC Global Rights Index map
Download the ITUC Global Rights Index Infographic – Violation of workers’ rights
Download the ITUC Global Rights Index Infographic – Ten worst countries in the world for working people