Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘International Labor Organization’

Jobs Crisis Spreads to Young Workers Worldwide

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Credit: Joe Kekeris

Young workers in the euro zone have been among the hardest hit by the global economic crisis, and now even those in regions like East Asia, where economies have remained strong through the recession, are struggling to get jobs, a new International Labor Organization (ILO) report shows (click chart to enlarge).

As the euro area crisis continues in its second year, the impacts are spreading further, slowing down economies from East Asia to Latin America. Other regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa, that had expected faster improvements in their youth labor markets will now take longer to revert to levels seen prior to the global financial crisis.

As a result, young workers in Europe (ages 15 to 24) are turning to part-time employment and increasingly finding work in the informal sector (jobs not taxed by the government or included in the gross domestic product [GDP]). Some 17 percent of young European workers are in the informal sector, compared with 7 percent for prime age workers. The report also points out there is a vast disparity among European countries: Youth unemployment rates range from more than 50 percent in Spain and Greece to less than 10 percent in Germany and Switzerland.

In the United States, nearly 24 percent of young workers between ages 16 and 19 are unemployed. The employment picture also is bleak for young workers with college degrees. Only half of those who graduated between 2006 and 2011 have full-time jobs. More than half are saddled with college debt (the median amount is $20,000) that is shaping their life choices. For example, more than one-quarter live with their parents, and more than half get help from their families to meet basic needs.

The ILO is calling for countries to provide employment or training guarantees for targeted groups of young people, citing estimates that such programs cost less than half a percent of GDP among European countries.

Check out the ILO’s full report.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on September 6, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee they were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union (the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism (covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia) she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

Global Labor Ramps Up Campaign to End T-Mobile’s Anti-Union Tactics

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Image: Mike HallDeutsche Telekom, the parent company of T-Mobile USA, boasts in its annual report on corporate responsibility that it is committed to the global labor standards established by the International Labor Organization (ILO), a branch of the United Nations.  Except, it appears, when it comes to T-Mobile workers in the United States.

International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) President Sharan Burrow says Deutsche Telekom—of which the German government is the dominant shareholder—is

actively and deliberately violating these very rights in its overseas operations.

T-Mobile workers throughout the U.S. are fighting to join a union—the Communications Workers of America (CWA)— but the company has hired union-busting attorneys and is conducting a classic anti-union campaign with mandatory captive audience meetings, delaying tactics and other intimidation measures, says UNI Global Union General Secretary Philip Jennings. UNI represents workers in telecoms unions around the world.

If these workers were in Germany, they would have become members of the union automatically but T-Mobile USA management has launched a brutal intimidation campaign to keep the union out of the workplace and to scare the workers out of fighting for their rights.

UNI, the ITUC and other global labor groups are mobilizing their support for T-Mobile workers by urging Deutsche Telekom to rein-in T-Mobile’s anti-worker tactics and pressing the German government to exert its influence.

In a video released last week (see above), Jennings makes a direct appeal to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He notes that just recently, Merkel was the main speaker at the 100th Convention of ILO where she spoke out strongly for workers’ rights, collective bargaining and the right to organize. Says Jennings:

I’m simply addressing this appeal to you to recognize the rights of these ordinary Americans to have a union.

According to Burrow:

Deutsche Telekom has chosen to support outright violation of international freedom of association standards by its US subsidiary.  We expect better from such a significant global player.

If the proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile is approved, the T-Mobile’s 20,000 workers will have the right to join a union without intimidation because of a neutrality agreement between with AT&T and CWA.

This article originally appeared on the AFL-CIO blog on July 7, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent.

Milestone for World’s Domestic Workers

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

Domestic workers Guillerma Castellanos and Juana Flores during the historic committee vote.

Image: Liz ShulerToday, at the International Labor Organization’s 100th annual conference in Geneva Switzerland, the global community took a major collective step towards achieving economic and social justice for some of the world’s most vulnerable workers with the overwhelming adoption of the Decent Work for Domestic Workers Convention and accompanying recommendation.

More than 80 percent of the world’s governments, workers and employers voted in favor of the convention’s adoption, with 90 percent supporting the accompanying recommendation. In practice the convention and recommendation set out basic minimum rights and protections to which domestic workers within countries that ratify the convention are legally entitled. Symbolically, however, these instruments achieve much more.

By shining a global spotlight on domestic work and the conditions in which it is carried out, this convention and recommendation make the invisible visible. Today, for the first time in history, the international community acknowledges that domestic work—work performed in or for private homes—is indeed work. Further, the people who perform this work—overwhelmingly women, migrants and people from historically marginalized communities—are indeed workers, and thus entitled to the same rights and protections all other workers enjoy.

In approximately 40 percent of the world’s nations, the simple recognition of domestic work as work and domestic workers as deserving the same rights and protections that other workers enjoy flies in the face of exclusionary national labor laws and social protection regimes. The United States, unfortunately, is one such country. Domestic workers are excluded, along with farm workers, from the protections afforded to other workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the National Labor Relations Act. Today the global community definitively declared that such exclusions undermine the basic human rights of domestic workers.

For domestic workers in the United States, the practical consequences of the passage of this convention and recommendation are not immediately clear. International law does not take effect in a country unless that nation’s government agrees to ratify the law, and the United States very rarely does so. Still, domestic workers in the United States regard the passage of the Decent Work for Domestic Workers convention and recommendation as a major victory. Juana Flores, U.S. worker delegate to the ILO and co-director of Programs at Mujeres Unidas y Activas (Women United and Active) in San Francisco explains its significance for domestic workers in the United States:

This convention strengthens the voice of domestic workers in the United States who continue to organize, mobilize and advocate for the full realization of our basic human rights. As we work to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in California and other states, as we have in New York, we now know we have the support of both the U.S. government and the international community. Knowing this emboldens us and gives us strength to continue fighting for the protections and benefits we, like all workers, deserve.

The AFL-CIO is proud to stand with Juana and the millions of domestic workers both within and outside the United States who have fought for this day for generations. Just last month the AFL-CIO formed a historic partnership with the National Domestic Workers Alliance to work together to advance the voices of all workers. Today as we celebrate this momentous accomplishment we look forward to continuing to work together to make the full fulfillment of the rights of domestic workers a reality.

As Toni Moore, worker delegate from Barbados, expressed so eloquently at the convention’s adoption, “the time is always right to do what’s right,” and “we must not let dignity delayed become dignity denied.” The workers of the world call on our governments to do what’s right and ratify and fully implement the Decent Work for Domestic Workers Convention and Recommendation.

After the vote, the workers unfurled a banner that read “C189. Congratulations! And now for the “domestic work” of governments. RATIFY.” Check out the video here.

Read the Convention here and the ILO Recommendation here.

This blog originally appeared on Afl-cio Now Blog on June 16, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Auhtor: Liz Shuler was elected AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer in September 2009, the youngest person ever to become an officer of the AFL-CIO. Shuler previously was the highest-ranking woman in the Electrical Workers (IBEW) union, serving as the top assistant to the IBEW president since 2004. In 1993, she joined IBEW Local 125 in Portland, Ore., where she worked as an organizer and state legislative and political director. In 1998, she was part of the IBEW’s international staff in Washington, D.C., as a legislative and political representative.

ILO Seeks Protections for Domestic Workers

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Image: Mike HallDomestic workers around the world play a crucial role in raising children, caring for the elderly and the infirm, and generally supporting those in need of household help. But these same workers are all too often exploited and have little recourse because they are largely excluded from the legal protections that safeguard almost all other workers.

This month at the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) annual conference in Geneva, Switzerland, delegates will take a special look the plight of domestic workers and are expected to set a global standard outlining basic rights for domestic workers. The ILO is part of the United Nations.

In the opening statement for the United States at the first session of the Decent Work for Domestic Workers discussion, the Department of Labor’s Robert Shepard, said:

Domestic workers often work longer hours and receive less wages, while performing work that we can all agree involves a high level of responsibility.  Domestic workers are pillars of the modern service economy.  The majority of domestic workers are women and girls—oftentimes from predominantly migrant populations who work in isolated workplaces.  For these reasons domestic workers, and particularly for migrants and children, are vulnerable to many forms of exploitation, from nonpayment of wages to trafficking.

He noted that laws in many countries do not offer domestic workers the same kind of wage, working condition and other protections most workers enjoy. Even the ILO has not issued a global standard that offers these workers the promise of equal treatment. He urged the delegates to adopt a convention that would apply to all domestic workers. Shephard said the conventions should:

  • Ensure domestic workers have the same opportunity as other workers to negotiate the terms and conditions of  their work;
  • Include special provisions to prevent protect domestic workers from abuse, harassment, violence and trafficking;
  • Acknowledge that all parties must “respect, promote and realize . . . the fundamental principles and rights at work.”

Shephard also said employment agencies should be scrutinized. Many global employment agencies provide vital services for workers and employers, but:

We must be careful, however, that those intent on engaging in exploitive or abusive behavior toward domestic workers cannot hide behind the words “employment agency,” engaging in improper behavior while marring the good names of  real employment agencies.  And second, it is useful in this somewhat uncharted area to set down guidelines for the benefit of both the agencies and those they employ.

As Shephard told the delegates to the conference, which The conference runs through June 7:

We look forward, in the end, to all the governments, the workers, and the employers voting yes to equal treatment and voting “Yes” for justice.

Click here to learn more about the fight to win fairness for domestic workers around the globe.

This article originally appeared on the AFL-CIO blog on June 3, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent.

Migrant Refugees Swept into Revolutions in Libya and Bahrain

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Michelle ChenOver the past several weeks, the images emerging from the Middle East and North Africa have shocked and awed Western audiences, who had never seen, or bothered to notice, the massive potential of people power to challenge the rule of ossified dictators.

But the protest movements across the region have also shed light on less glorious struggles that pervade stratified Arab societies. If the young protesters represent the rise of civil society forces, the imported migrant laborers caught in the crossfire reflect the often-hidden economic and ethnic dimensions to the region’s power struggles.

On the besieged borders of Libya and in the ghettoized neighborhoods of Bahrain, migrants have found themselves in the peculiar position of being refugees from countries that were always alien to them. As the fighting escalated in Libya last week, the aid organization BRAC reported on migrants desperate to flee the country:

Nearly 70,000 Bangladeshi nationals were residing in Libya as migrant workers when violence erupted last month. As the conflict intensified, thousands fled to neighboring countries, where they face congested borders and overcrowded refugee camps and airports. Thus far, only 20,000 migrants have been able to return to Bangladesh – most of them heavily in debt and with no ready means of earning a living.

After leaving his workplace in the western Libyan town of Zawiyah, 28 year-old Bangladeshi migrant steelworker Mohammed Nienn joined mounting crowds at the Tunisian border at a displaced persons camp known as Choucha. Having languished for over a week in hopes of catching a flight out, he told the UN news service:

”My family tells me to get home as quickly as possible… But it’s not as simple as that. There are so many Bangladeshis here. The wait to go to the airport is quite long.”

Mohamed, a Somali from Mogadishu, spoke to the constant state of dispossession that follows refugees who go from one warzone to the next:

Every day I watch people board buses to the airport….But I’m not envious; their situation is just very different to mine. Even if I was offered the chance to go back to Somalia, I wouldn’t want to anyway. I’m just waiting to find out where I will end up.

Thousands of Bangladeshi migrant workers who recently crossed into Tunisia from Libya walk to a United Nations displacement camp March 04, 2011 in Ras Jdir, Tunisia. Tens of thousands of guest workers from Egypt, Tunisia, Bangladesh and other countries are fleeing to the border of Tunisia to escape the violence.   (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Thousands of Bangladeshi migrant workers who recently crossed into Tunisia from Libya walk to a United Nations displacement camp March 04, 2011 in Ras Jdir, Tunisia. Tens of thousands of guest workers from Egypt, Tunisia, Bangladesh and other countries are fleeing to the border of Tunisia to escape the violence. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

International authorities counted some 17,000 refugees at Choucha, “10,000 from Bangladesh and the remaining 7,000 mostly from sub-Saharan African countries.” Repatriation efforts have varied widely, with some countries coordinating efforts to bring nationals home, while others have no home to return to—as in the case of Somalis and Palestinians who settled in Libya when it was relatively safe.

The plight of migrants is just one facet of the humanitarian crisis, but they embody the challenges to advancing a revolution in the face of social polarization and cultural dissonance. Even within Choucha, Bangladeshi and African refugees began to self-segregate as different groups struggled to make the most of tight supplies and food rations.

In Bahrain, where protests have been viciously crushed by government and Saudi forces, the country’s oil wealth is filtered along sectarian and class lines.. At the base of the stratified social structure are Bangladeshi immigrants, working in low-wage sectors like construction. According to Mother Jones, the tiny country is tightly parceled: “Sunni Muslims, westerners, Shiite Muslims, and South Asian migrant workers (who are not citizens but constitute almost half of Bahrain’s population) generally live in separate neighborhoods.”

Migrant workers are among the most vulnerable in the current political turbulence. Indeed,  long before the protests the human rights situation for migrants in Bahrain was already dire, in some ways anticipating the terror  the monarch has now unleashed on its own citizenry.

For all the promise of democratic change washing over many Arab countries, many underlying social rifts have ruptured–a telling reminder that even a rebellion from the “right side of history” can betray regressive views that often stew under the grip of dictatorship.

Black Africans in Libya (as opposed to ethnic Arabs), who have long suffered unequal treatment as migrants, have reportedly been brutally targeted on the suspicion that they are foreign mercenaries hired by Gaddafi to suppress protests.

Black Agenda Report commentator Glen Ford rounded up reports on racial violence in Libya, and drew a sobering reflection on the emergent “Arab re-awakening”:

In the turmoil, what is also re-awakened – or never really dormant – is a “problematic” form of anti-black racism that appears, at least in some parts of the North African Maghreb, endemic and woven into the fabric of Arab nationalism.

The (re)emergence of Arab nationalism nevertheless represents a catastrophe for U.S. imperialism, which abhors all nationalisms except its own as it seeks to bend every national aspiration to the will of capital and its war machinery. However, the racism that is clearly manifest in Libya’s current dynamic is also a huge impediment to pan-African solidarity, inviting new waves of imperial mischief on the continent. On that score, we should have no illusions.

In reality, the migrants who take the dirtiest jobs in these oil-rich nations have a lot in common with the revolutionaries risking everything for emancipation. As Mohamed the Somali refugee said, they’re all waiting to find out where they will end up. A parallel form of dislocation stirred native-born Bahrainis and Libyans to rise up and reclaim their country from tyranny.

The rebellions don’t merely call for regime change or constitutional reform; people seek the sovereignty and dignity that have long been denied to them. Though frequently ignored in nationalist political clashes, migrants share in this struggle too, whether or not they see themselves as part of the civil conflict. They’re pitted against the dictatorship of global capital that subsumed their repressive host countries. Both migrants and citizens alike have endured wholesale disenfranchisement—the disempowerment that was first expressed by the defining act of protest that touched off the “Arab spring”: the self-annihilation of a desperate young worker in Tunis.

Some migrants are raising their voices as stakeholders in political conflicts as well. A group of Filipino migrant workers with the advocacy group Migrante-Middle Eas has denounced the air-strikes on Libya as “done in bad faith just to pursue their own self-serving geopolitical and economic agenda in Libya and the entire Middle East and North African region.”

Refugees from America’s former colony should know: this latest tide of displacement is just more proof that in an age of fluid borders and global capital, real revolution is anchored in the dignity of all workers, wherever they’ve come from, and wherever they’re going.

About the Author: Michelle Chen‘s work has appeared in AirAmerica, Extra!, Colorlines and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She is a regular contributor to In These Times’ workers’ rights blog, Working In These Times, and is a member of the In These Times Board of Editors. She also blogs at Colorlines.com. She can be reached at michellechen @ inthesetimes.com.

This blog originally appeared In These Times on March 21, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

Social Forum Focuses on Workers’ Issues

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Image: James ParksWorkers’ issues were the focus of  five days of  marches, rallies and workshops at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, which ended over the weekend. Grassroots activists and progressives from across the country came together to build new alliances, create new strategies and put new energy into the movement to turn around the American economy.

Writing in Workday Minnesota, Howard Kling quotes a UAW leader who says the forum was an opportunity for labor to build relationships with other movements and encourage a “strong, fight-back attitude toward the intense corporate agenda that is blocking change on health care, labor rights, fair trade policies and a host of issues that we believe in.”

Throughout the forum, union members were hard at work making sure working peoples’ voices were heard. In a brainstorming session at the start of the forum, the hundreds of union members attending the five-day event listed the changes most needed to improve conditions for workers in the United States. The list included passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, immigration reform, a public blacklist of employers who mistreat workers, enforcement of existing labor laws, a federal jobs bill and the criminalizing of labor law violations.

On the first full day of the forum, newly elected UAW President Bob King joined Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO President Saundra Williams; Al Garrett, president of AFSCME District Council 25; and Armando Robles, UE Local 1110 president, in leading a march and rally through the streets of Detroit. Chanting “Full and Fair Employment Now!” and “Money for Jobs, Not for Banks!” participants demanded Congress address the pressing jobs emergency.

One of the forum highlights was a joint meeting of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) to develop strategies to better protect the rights of some of the nation’s most vulnerable workers.

Domestic workers often are afraid to join unions for fear of losing their jobs. There is little job security and some have no employer-provided health care, and most toil in isolation, said Ai-Jen Poo, director of NDWA.

They are completely vulnerable to the whims of their employers. Some have good employers but some work in homes where they earn 50 cents an hour and work around the clock.

At the global and local levels, officials are beginning to recognize the need to protect domestic workers. Earlier this month, the New York State Senate passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, guaranteeing better working conditions for domestic workers. In California, a Bill of Rights resolution for domestic employees has been introduced in the state legislature.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) this month took a giant step forward in the fight to create workplace justice for the millions of housekeepers, nannies and other domestic workers around the world. At its International Labor Conference the ILO began the process to establish a first-ever international standard (“convention”) to protect the rights of domestic workers.

Nadia Marin-Molina with the NDLON said the most common problem for day laborers is wage theft.

The employer will say, “We’ll pay you tomorrow,” and then the employer never  shows up. Sometimes we have to go to court to get their money.

NDLON and Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) are working to stop wage theft among mostly immigrant low-wage workers. The nation’s economy suffers when millions of workers are denied their just pay, IWJ Executive Director Kim Bobo said in a workshop on faith and labor. It is also a moral issue, she added, since every major faith group has some variation of the commandment that “Thou shalt not steal.”

On June 25, faith activists at the forum led a protest against JPMorgan Chase & Co., calling on the Wall Street financial institution to declare a moratorium on foreclosures in Michigan and sever its ties with R.J. Reynolds. The tobacco giant refuses to meet with the Farm Labor Organization Committee (FLOC) to discuss the slave-labor working conditions of contract growers in North Carolina.

Throughout the week, workers and union staff took the lead in discussions on building communities by rebuilding U.S. manufacturing and on the fights for justice for domestic workers, Immokalee farm workers, immigrant workers and sweatshop workers. Activists talked about strategies for gaining full employment in a new economy, changing our trade policies and creating safe workplaces.

The forum followed the Great Labor Arts Exchange, which was held in Detroit, the first time in three decades that it was produced on the road.

This article was first published by AFL-CIO Now Blog.

About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He has also been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections. Author photo by Joe Kekeris.

G8 Union Leaders Issue Urgent Call to Tackle Jobs Crisis

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

The global union movement is issuing an urgent call for the leaders of the Group of Eight nations to tackle the deepening jobs crisis at their summit meeting in L’Aquila, Italy, next month.

The leaders must develop a coordinated and jobs-orientated international recovery and sustainable growth plan that focuses on creating good jobs and re-regulating the global financial system, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney told a gathering of G8 union leaders today in Rome.

 The global economy continues to deteriorate at an unprecedented rate.  Workers around the world—who are the innocent victims of this crisis—are losing their jobs and incomes.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) predicts that unemployment is likely to increase by up to 59 million worldwide by the end of 2009. Unemployment in the G8 countries—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, United Kingdom and United States—is likely to almost double over the next 18 months, according to the ILO. At the same time, more than 200 million workers could be pushed into extreme poverty, lifting the number of working poor to 1.4 billion.

Earlier this week, President John Sweeney and the union leaders of the world’s top economies outlined a plan to stimulate the global economy. Click here to read more about that plan.

When the global economic crisis is over, said Sweeney, the G8 leaders must ensure there is no return to “business as usual.”

While this crisis was caused by global economic imbalances and financial speculation, it was underpinned by the lack of effective economic regulation over preceding decades. Rather than planning “exit strategies” that are a more brutal version of failed past policies, there is a need to establish a new model of economic development that is stronger and more efficient, socially just and environmentally sustainable.

And this time, workers’ views should be represented in the plan, Sweeney said.

Trade unions and the workers we represent have no confidence that this time governments and bankers alone will get it right.  We are asking for a seat at the table.

About the Author: James Parks’ first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. Parks is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He also has been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.

This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now on June 26, 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.

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