INTERNATIONAL CONFEDERATION OF FREE TRADE UNIONS (ICFTU)
Geneva, June 10 1999 (ICFTU OnLine): "Trade unions continue to be hampered by gross violations of their rights, as they galvanise themselves to fight for workers' rights in the twenty-first century" said ICFTU General Secretary Bill Jordan, launching the ICFTU's 1999 Trade Union Rights Survey in Geneva today.
This year's survey shows that 123 trade unionists were murdered in 1998, 1650 individuals were attacked or injured, 3660 were arrested, and a massive 21,427 were sacked for trade union activities. This year a record number of 119 countries are cited. The ICFTU believes these figures represent the tip of the iceberg.
Latin America is the most dangerous continent for trade unionists, 98 were murdered in Colombia, seven in Bolivia, and three in Ecuador. In Colombia, trade unionists from every sector were murdered, and thousands more received death threats.
Trade unionists were killed in Bolivia and Ecuador by police violence during workers' demonstrations about price rises. In Bolivia those killed included a young baby who was suffocated by tear gas; in Ecuador, televised threats were made to the head of the national union CEOSL.
Five Indian trade unionists died after being shot by police during a peaceful demonstration outside a textile mill in Dharuhera last February.
Countries which stand out in this respect are Kenya, where there were numerous instances of police brutality during demonstrations, including against teachers and their pupils who were beaten with clubs and batons.
Workers in Indonesia underwent the same fate when police beat them with rattan sticks to prevent them marching to the local ILO office to protest at layoffs last August. Four finished up in hospital as a result.
In Croatia workers were hospitalised after police in riot gear used water cannons to disperse a demonstration over deteriorating social conditions in February last year.
Ill-treatment of trade unionists continues in Kazakhstan. 200 workers marching to demand payment of their wages, three years in arrears in June, were arrested. The government then passed a law outlawing marches or meetings.
In Korea, the government carried out mass arrests of KCTU members during 1998, many protesting about job losses. By the end of the year 488 had been arrested.
The Chinese government still arrests or locks up any worker who seeks freedom from the straitjacket of the government-sponsored ACFTU. In January Li Qingxi and Zhao Changqing were arrested and 100s more were arrested during the year for going on protest marches.
It appears that in South Africa, old habits die hard. Despite all the positive changes for trade unionists, existing laws still allow protesting workers to be arrested. So when 300 workers from Maswirir Boerdery farm demonstrated for better pay and conditions, they were arrested, beaten and set on by dogs.
Legislation brought in under Margaret Thatcher is still being used against workers in the United Kingdom, where 300 strikers at the Lufthansa Sky Chefs at London's Heathrow were sacked, and told they could have their jobs back if they signed a new contract with inferior conditions.
After a relative period of peace in Guatemala employers used mass sackings to intimidate workers making claims. Last April, the Korean-owned Shin Kwang factory sacked 37 union members for defending workers who had been physically assaulted by management, and in July, the mayor of Cubulco sacked workers negotiating their first collective agreement.
In Australia, where the government has an agenda of smashing trade unions, 2,000 dockworkers were sacked, and security guards with dogs brought in. Their employers Patrick Stevedores then tried to employ non-union workers. Eventually, following International support, the dockers were reinstated.
The crises for trade unionists are a direct reflection of world events, as the world economic recession impacts on workers. Flashpoints between workers and governments or employers frequently arise when workers protest against government austerity measures, or job layoffs brought about by the global economic crisis. Thus in Korea, the Philippines or Thailand, many of the demonstrations are held by workers protesting at job layoffs. In Russia, and Central Europe, workers' protests are about wages, sometimes up to three years in arrears. In South America, (Bolivia, Ecuador or Argentina) workers have been protesting about government austerity measures, and in Africa, tensions arose in Egypt, Kenya and Zambia (where two workers were shot) after teachers and nurses protested over government reform programmes.
Countries in the Middle East get little mention each year in the survey. This is not because of their spotless trade union rights record. Far from it. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates ban trade unions altogether. Many of these countries are also dependent on a large migrant workforce which have no rights, as in the United Arab Emirates where migrants make up between 85 and 90% of the total workforce.
Fifty years of ILO Convention 98 and fifty years of the ICFTU Each June the ICFTU uses the opportunity of the International Labour Conference to launch its survey, since the survey deals with violations committed under ILO Conventions 87, Right to Freedom of Association, and 98, Right to Collective Bargaining. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of Convention 98; it is shocking to see how many governments still deny their workers rights under this Convention.
1999 is the fiftieth anniversary of the ICFTU which was founded in London in December 1949. Then it represented 50 million workers, now it represents 124 million worldwide, in 213 affiliated organisations in 143 countries and territories. "Our slogan 'Bread Peace and Freedom' which we coined 50 years ago, is just as relevant now"' said Bill Jordan. "We will continue fighting for workers' rights to liberty, and their right to earn decent wages in a decent job. ILO Conventions which gives workers these rights in international law are part of that fight,".
For further information, please contact the ICFTU Press Office on: 322 224 0212
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