For workers, another year to live dangerously – Sharan Burrow

Workers have remained on the front lines of the pandemic, but the ITUC’s Global Rights Index documents an anti-worker agenda.

Sharan Terrier

The International Trade Union Confederation’s Global Rights Index 2021 shows how far some governments and employers have gone to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic to attack workers’ rights. It is our duty to use the 2021 Rights Index to expose these violations – to push for workers to enter into a new social contract.

This eighth edition of the index ranks 149 countries according to their respect for workers’ rights. For the first time, it has an interactive platform where rights violation cases and national assessments can be viewed by country and region. As a comprehensive review of workers’ rights in law, it provides the only database of its kind.

He tells a shocking story.

Shameful call

While the work has put people on the front lines of the health crisis, providing essential services to keep economies and communities functional, the index documents a shameful roll call of governments and businesses pursuing an anti -worker. Workers have even been targeted for leaking vital information about the virus and its conditions.

In South Africa, Volkswagen South Africa fired union delegates for ‘goading’ workers to stop working after exposing large numbers of workers who tested positive for Covid-19. Falabella, a multinational home retailer, fired 22 warehouse workers in Peru who had requested health and safety protections against the virus. In Cambodia, collective bargaining was halted by the Cambodian Airport Management Service due to the pandemic, allowing the company to unilaterally impose work suspensions at the three airports.

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There has been a dizzying increase in the number of countries where authorities have prevented union registration, from 89 countries in 2020 to 109 in 2021, including state repression of independent union activity in Belarus, Egypt , El Salvador, Jordan, Hong Kong, Kyrgyzstan and Iraq. Denying workers the right to representation in the midst of a global pandemic is odious.

The ten worst countries for workers in 2021 remain Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Honduras, the Philippines, Turkey and Zimbabwe, with Belarus and Myanmar for the first time. Nine countries saw their ratings deteriorate: Belgium, Canada, El Salvador, Haiti, Hungary, Jordan, Malaysia, Myanmar and Slovakia.

Five new countries were noted for the first time in 2021: Armenia, Gabon, Guinea, Kyrgyzstan and Niger. Saudi Arabia has not been rated while the extent of its new labor reform initiative is assessed and implemented.

Deterioration of rights

The 2021 index shows that on several key measures, workers’ rights have deteriorated. Eighty-seven percent of the countries surveyed violated the right to strike. Strikes in Belarus, Indonesia and the Philippines to oppose authoritarian governments, and in Myanmar to oppose the military junta, have met with brutal repression.


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Seventy-nine percent of countries violated the right to collective bargaining. In all regions, collective bargaining is eroding and is being used by authoritarian governments in Belarus, Brazil, Honduras, Hungary and Hong Kong to dismantle a key principle of democracy in the workplace.

Seventy-four percent of countries exclude workers from the right to form and join a trade union. Workers faced violence in 45 countries and trade unionists were killed in six: Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Myanmar, Nigeria and the Philippines. The Americas are the deadliest region for workers, with 22 trade unionists murdered in Colombia alone.

The number of countries where freedom of expression and assembly is denied or restricted has increased from 56 in 2020 to 64 in 2021, with extreme cases reported in Hong Kong and Myanmar. Workers have no or limited access to justice in 65 percent of countries and have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention in 68. Union leaders from Cambodia, Hong Kong and Myanmar were among the most prominent victims of arrests in 2021.

A worrying new trend is the increase in worker surveillance and breaches of the right to privacy. In the United States, Facebook and Google have been exposed as using illegal or underhanded surveillance activities. Amazon’s surveillance of workers in Europe and the United States has become a global scandal.

Light in the darkness

There is light in this darkness. It is proven that the erosion of workers’ rights is not inevitable, it is a choice. Six countries saw their ratings improve, including Bolivia, Greece, Mexico, Panama, Sudan and Togo. Positive legislative developments include the Right to Organize Protection Bill in the United States and due diligence legislation processes in the European Union to hold companies to account.

But it will take more to restore the confidence shattered by repressive governments and abusive corporations. It will take a new social contract, with good jobs, rights, social protection, equality and inclusion.

Workers have kept communities together during the global pandemic. When attacked, when denied rights and protections, they cannot look after the economy and governments cannot ignore the risks and damage to our democracies and economies.

This one first appeared on Equal times

Global Rights Index

Sharan Burrow is General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.

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