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ILO Labor Standards
The International Labor Organization (ILO) labor standards take the form of International Labor Conventions which are ratified by member countries. Of the total number of ILO Conventions, eight are considered core labor standards, fundamental to the rights of workers. The ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations.
Pakistan: Anger soars over frequent fatalities in mines
22.01.2018: After the recent tragic deaths of six mine workers in Pakistan, with many more injured, IndustriALL Global Union affiliate the Pakistan Central Mines Labour Federation (PCMLF) staged a protest action in Quetta to demand the government address the problem of poor working conditions and ratify ILO Convention 176 on Safety in Mines as a matter of urgency.
The PCMLF, together with the IndustriALL Pakistan Council (IPC), held a protest rally on 15 January 2018 in Quetta.
On 11 January two workers, Abdul Bari and Muhammad Qaim Jan, lost their lives in Dukki coalfield area, Balochistan province. On the very same day, also in the same province at Sharigh coal mine operated through the state-owned Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation, another miner, Naseeb Ullah, was killed and two of his co-workers seriously injured, due to the mine collapse. Two days later, on 13 January, three coal miners, Nazar, Gul Hassan and Wali Dad lost their lives and three others were injured at Zardalo (Sharigh mining site) due to exposure to methane gas.
Both PCMLF and IPC reiterated their demands that the Pakistani government urgently ratify the ILO Convention 176 on Safety in Mines. They also called the government to implement, as a matter of extreme urgency, the ILO Code of practice on safety and health in underground coalmines, setting guidelines for addressing specific occupational hazards in underground coalmines.
The protest rally culminated with the unanimous adoption of a resolution demanding immediate efforts to recover dead bodies of coal miners from the mines, the launch of a judicial inquiry, and the rigorous punishment of those whose negligence caused the accidents.
IndustriALL Global Union Assistant General Secretary Kemal Özkan said: "IndustriALL Global Union sends its deepest condolences to the families of the workers who were killed and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured. "Obviously further delays in ratification and implementation of the ILO Convention 176 on Safety in Mines are intolerable. "It is time for the Pakistani government to take serious action as every day of delay costs human lives, the most precious for every nation."
IndustriALL Global Union, UNI and BWI sign global framework agreement with the renewable materials company Stora Enso
19 January 2018: The three global unions today signed a global framework agreement (GFA) with the renewable materials company Stora Enso at the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva, in the presence of ILO Director General Guy Ryder. Observer signatures were made by the presidents of the Swedish Paper Workers' Union, the Swedish Union of Forestry, Wood and Graphical Workers', and the Finnish Paper Workers' Union.
In the GFA, Stora Enso commits to working with the three global unions in order to uphold fundamental labour rights throughout its global operation and subsidiaries. The company will strive to implement the principles of the GFA throughout its supply chain.
The GFA specifically focuses on:
IndustriALL Global Union General Secretary, Valter Sanches, stated at the signing: "I congratulate Stora Enso and welcome our new formal relationship that gives us the means to uphold workers' rights throughout the company's global operation. I call upon other pulp and paper manufacturers to follow this example."
"We strive for a working environment where all our employees are treated with respect and in a fair manner. We are continuously working to make sure that all our units comply with the requirements. By signing the Global Framework agreement, we show our commitment and take the next step in this important area," said Stora Enso's CEO Karl-Henrik Sundström.
There is a dispute resolution mechanism established by the GFA. Under the mechanism, issues will be addressed at the local level, but where necessary will be brought to national and global level and ultimately to mediation. The GFA formalizes an on-going dialogue between the partners and all signatories will meet every two years to assess the implementation of the GFA. However, the spirit of the global agreement establishes open dialogue through which the partners will work jointly to pre-emptively solve problems as early as possible.
UNI Global Union General Secretary, Philip Jennings said: "The agreement is an excellent way to begin the year in which we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Stora Enso is taking a significant step in the right direction for workers' right along their supply chain by signing up to this agreement. "This agreement is further recognition that workers' rights are human rights. The importance of global framework agreements has not only been acknowledged by companies like Stora Enso, but also by the G20 and international organisations around the world."
BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson, stated: "In signing this agreement, Stora Enso commits to ensure fundamental labour rights for workers in their global operations and subsidiaries. We, now look forward to actively working with Stora Enso to effectively implement this agreement on the ground to improve the lives of workers."
Russia: ITUC Denounces Court Decision to Dissolve Trade Union
18 January 2018: The ITUC has denounced the decision of a local court in St Petersburg to dissolve a trade union on the grounds that it engaged in political activities.
The decision to dissolve the Interregional Trade Union Workers' Association (ITUWA) was based on the fact that the ITUWA supported truck drivers protesting against tax increases, and criticised the government's socio-economic policies on its website. The court also included the inter-sectoral nature of the union's membership and activities as part of the reasons for its decision, along with the fact the ITUWA had held joint seminars with Global Union Federation IndustriALL in 2015 and 2016. The prosecution even tried to claim that the union's support for a public petition calling for indexation of salaries was illegal.
"This decision is a clear violation of freedom of association, guaranteed under ILO Convention 87, which Russia has ratified. It sets a very bad precedent for Russia, and indeed internationally. We call on the Russian authorities to fulfil their responsibilities to protect this fundamental right, and to ensure that the deplorable decision is reversed so that the union's members and potential future members can benefit from legitimate trade union activity," said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.
Both main national trade union centres KTR, of which ITUWA is a member, and FNPR, have strongly condemned the ruling.
#XPOexposed activists develop campaign tactics
XPO workers and union activists from several countries have met to share stories of how the logistics giant is systemically ignoring workers' rights, and develop tactics to expose the company's behaviour.
16/01/2018: On 11-12 January, the ITF led a series of meetings in the UK hosted by the union Unite. The 33 activists and workers were from eight unions, including Teamsters (USA), VNB (Netherlands), FeSMC (Spain), BTB (Belgium), ACV-Transcom (Belgium), as well as Unite and the European Transport Workers' Federation.
The activists heard directly from workers about the terrible conditions they have to endure at XPO, including stories of exploitation, exhaustion and degradation.
XPO worker Lakeisha Nelson from Tennessee, USA, spoke at the meeting: "I've learned here that I'm not the only one suffering. We're here to fight for justice. We need help." XPO worker Benjamin Alfaro also spoke: "It seems to me they [the unions] are strong here, we are so weak in San Diego. Hopefully they can help us out in some way putting some pressure on XPO, maybe with the customers and the politicians."
Noel Coard, ITF head of inland transport, commented that if ever there was a company with a business model designed around corporate greed and worker exploitation it was XPO, and it was time to expose it. He added that while the CEO, Bradley Jacobs, has given himself an almost 500 percent pay rise in two years and a USD100 million stock option, XPO refuses to pay its workers a basic living wage.
This was the third campaign meeting organised by the ITF to bring unions representing XPO workers together.
German metalworkers' union launches mass strikes for wage rise and reduced hours
11.01.2018: IG Metall commences mass strikes ahead of bargaining round with employers' federation Gesamtmetall.
The industrial action started on Monday 8 January with a round of warning strikes - short actions where workers down tools for a number of hours, and take to the streets to demonstrate. About 160,000 workers took action at more than 80 companies, including Volkswagen, Porsche, Mercedes Benz, Daimler, Siemens, thyssenkrupp, Thales, Airbus, Honeywell, Bombardier and Atos.
If no progress is made in negotiations, the union intends to extend the action to full day strikes targeting key companies. The first round of bargaining for a collective agreement for the 3.9 million workers in the metal and electronics sector begins today, when the union meets the regional employers' association in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where a number of auto manufacturers are based.
The union is seeking a fundamentally new settlement for Germany's industrial workforce, that will allow workers to benefit from rising productivity and achieve a better work-life balance. At a time of a booming economy and record low unemployment, the union is calling for a 6 per cent wage increase. Another key demand is the right to reduce working hours to 28 per week to care for children or ageing parents, with the right to return to full time employment after two years. The union is also campaigning for an additional €200 carers allowance. The union believes that gender roles are changing, and that the reduced hours would allow more women to enter the workforce, and more men to take on caring responsibilities.
In the past, it has been companies that have demanded flexibility from their employees. The union wants to turn this around so that flexible work benefits workers and allows them to choose a work pattern that fits their family life.
Speaking to 2,000 workers at a rally in Homburg in Saarland in the south west, IG Metall president Jörg Hoffman - who is also IndustriALL Global Union president - said: "With IG Metall, there will only be a collective bargaining agreement with all three components: a decent increase in pay, a choice to reduce working hours for a limited period of time, and grants that make working time reduction for parenting, nursing and health possible for everyone."
IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said: "The German economy is doing well, and it is fair that workers should also benefit from productivity gains and have the right to flexibility. "What is really historic is the demand to reduce working hours to 28 per week. It is important that workers benefit from the changes that Industry 4.0 brings to the world of work. This demand by IG Metall shows unions leading the way in building an economy that works for everyone.
With 2.3 million members, IG Metall is one of the largest and most powerful unions in the world. The collective agreement that the union is negotiating would cover 3.9 million workers.
Unions outraged over LafargeHolcim's sudden u-turn on global commitments
10.01.2018: Global and national unions representing LafargeHolcim workers worldwide express their outrage over the company's unilateral decision to back down from its signature of a global framework agreement designed to build positive industrial relations throughout the company.
The company gave no reason for its radical reversal from the commitment to sign a global framework agreement, which was announced and approved by the Annual shareholders meeting in 2017. LafargeHolcim simply cites the change of its business strategy with the arrival of a new CEO, who claims its current internal arrangements meet the requirements of the company without any need to make further additions.
The Global Framework Agreement was due to be signed at the International Labour Organization's headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland on 10 January 2018, presided over by the ILO Director General. In July 2017 LafargeHolcim top-management signed, together with IndustriALL Global Union and Building and Wood Workers' International (BWI), a Memorandum of Understanding committing to sign the Agreement. The company has now decided, on 22 December, not to sign the global agreement, even though it continues to be plagued by the worst health and safety performance in the industry.
IndustriALL Global Union and BWI, together with The European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW), European Works Council (EWC) and national unions, through an emergency meeting in Geneva on 9 January, made a strong statement expressing outrage and anger against LafargeHolcim's unilateral stepping back from the joint decision to establish a global social dialogue structure in the group.
National, European and Global Unions believe that LafargeHolcim should reconsider their position and:
Valter Sanches, IndustriALL General Secretary, comments on LafargeHolcim latest broken promise: "This recent decision to break the agreement on building a social dialogue further damages the credibility of the company. We strongly believe that the shareholders, board of directors and all decision makers in LafargeHolcim must think carefully what the future will hold for LafargeHolcim if this destructive approach prevails. This would be a huge obstacle in getting the company back on a good track."
"LafargeHolcim needs to clean up their act, says Ambet Yuson, BWI General Secretary. Cement is a hazardous industry, but prevention of accidents and ill health is seriously undermined by the abuse of outsourcing in the company and its refusal to take responsibility for bad working conditions. Trade unions have the capacity to help the company but it should be ready to change its exploitative employment policies and labour practices."
Sam Hägglund, EFBWW General Secretary says, "European trade unions are outraged about LafargeHolcim management's decision to withdraw from their word. After we signed a strong European Works Council Agreement in spring 2017, we expected that LafargeHolcim would become the benchmark in social dialogue. Now we witness that this approach is under threat. This is a bad sign for the future of all workers and other stakeholders of this group."
The protests in Iran and the role of the International Monetary Fund
05 January 2018: Several media have identified declining living standards as the root cause of the protests, including the impact of new budget measures that are supposed to go into effect in March. However, few media reports have pointed out that the IMF has urged the country to adopt and implement some of the most unpopular measures.
By Peter Bakvis: The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) issued on Thursday, January 4, a communiqué on the widespread protests in Iran, underscoring the "spiralling inflation and the continued decline in real incomes" in the country.
Several media have similarly identified declining living standards as the root cause of the protests, including the impact of new budget measures that are supposed to go into effect in March. For example, a New York Times article on 3 January stated: "The initial catalyst for the anger appears to have been the leak by President Rouhani last month of a proposed government budget [that] proposed to end cash subsidies for millions of citizens, increase fuel prices and privatize public schools."
However, few media reports have pointed out that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has urged the country to adopt and implement some of the most unpopular measures. The Fund did so most recently on 18 December after its mission completed an annual Article IV consultation with Iranian authorities. (It should be noted that Iran has not borrowed from the IMF since the early 1960s, but the government appears to have made efforts to regularize its relations with the Fund and comply more closely with its advice since the 2015 nuclear agreement.)
The unpopular measures that will affect most Iranians' living standards include the end of a universal cash transfer programme introduced in 2011 to compensate for the elimination of cheap (subsidized) fuel. An IMF analysis last February stated that the universal cash transfer scheme had caused a significant drop in income inequality, lowering the Gini coefficient by 2¾ points. However, because the transfer has not been increased to keep up with inflation it has lost half of its value since 2011.
Despite the decline in real terms, the IMF paper proposed that the cash transfer programme should no longer be universal but rather made selective by "targeting transfers more specifically at the poor" so as "to create fiscal space", i.e. reduce the government deficit. It estimates that in the first year, targeting would result in savings equivalent to 0.7 per cent of GDP.
In last year's Article IV consultation staff report for Iran, released in April, the IMF also endorsed targeted rather than universal cash transfers because of the need free up funds to clear public sector arrears and finance bank recapitalization, among other needs. However, it admitted that "administrative difficulties" would make it difficult to identify who should continue to receive the benefit and who should not. Experience in other countries has shown that the proxy means tests used in other countries to target this kind of assistance typically exclude 50 per cent or more of those who should be eligible by virtue of their income level.
Last year's Article IV report also called for increased tax revenue, notably though the value added tax, a source of revenue that typically has a regressive impact, i.e. the less one earns, the more one pays as a proportion of one's income. The report observes that "the VAT rate remains low despite its increase from 3 to 9 per cent" and is critical of the fact that in Iran "direct taxes [namely personal and corporate income taxes] still account for almost half of total tax revenues".
The IMF's latest Article IV mission to Iran, completed in mid-December barely two weeks before the protest began, expressed enthusiastic support for elimination of the universal cash transfer: "The IMF welcomes the reform of the universal cash transfer system to target income support to the poor in the proposed 2018/19 budget. The reform of the universal cash transfer scheme to target the poor secures much needed fiscal space."
The IMF's communiqué follows up on earlier IMF recommendations and supports further measures to create even more fiscal space, notably by removing exemptions to the VAT. The communiqué also calls for a yet-to-be-defined pension reform, again with the objective of reducing public expenditures. It is safe to assume that no one among those participating in the recent mass protests in Iran was consulted by the IMF's mission before it endorsed the 2018/19 budget and issued recommendations for the country's economic and social policies.
*Peter Bakvis is the director of the Washington office of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)