The United States lags far behind other nations in protecting workers’ rights, according to a new survey from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The rankings are based on 97 internationally recognized indicators and standards to assess where workers’ rights are best protected, in law and in practice.
ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said:
Countries such as Denmark and Uruguay led the way through their strong labor laws, but perhaps surprisingly, the likes of Greece, the United States and Hong Kong, lagged behind. A country’s level of development proved to be a poor indicator of whether it respected basic rights to bargain collectively, strike for decent conditions or simply join a union at all.
The nations are ranked on a scale from 1 (the best with just irregular violations of workers’ rights) to 5 (with no guarantee of workers’ rights at all). The United States received a mark of 4, which, according to the ITUC system, means:
Workers in countries with the rating of 4 have reported systematic violations. The government and/or companies are engaged in serious efforts to crush the collective voice of workers putting fundamental rights under continuous threat.
Along with the United States, 29 other nations received a 4 rating, including Argentina, Botswana, Iran, Mexico, Pakistan and Thailand. Belgium, Finland and South Africa were among the 18 nations that received a 1 rating, while 24 countries were rated 5, including Belarus, Bangladesh, Egypt, Guatemala and Qatar. Eight countries where the rule of law has broken down received a special 5+ grade.
The report also found that in the past year, governments of at least 35 countries have arrested or imprisoned workers as a tactic to resist demands for democratic rights, decent wages and safer working conditions and secure jobs. In at least nine countries, murder and disappearance of workers were commonly used to intimidate workers.
Burrow also noted that the ITUC Global Poll 2014 found nearly two-thirds of people want governments to do more to tame corporate power.
The World Bank’s recent Doing Business report naively subscribed to the view that reducing labor standards is something governments should aspire to. This new Rights Index puts governments and employers on notice that unions around the world will stand together in solidarity to ensure basic rights at work.
In the map above, nations in red have the worst workers’ rights ratings while lighter-shaded nations are rated progressively better.
This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on May 22, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journaland 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.