Labour rights violations on the increase, says survey

By Robert Evans, Business Report, 10 June 2004

Geneva—The world's largest grouping of labour unions yesterday singled out the US—along with China, Colombia, Belarus and Myanmar (also known as Burma)—as a serious violator of workers' rights.

Around the world, 129 leaders and members of workers' bodies were killed last year, and tens of thousands harassed, jailed or threatened with death, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, which represents over 151 million workers in 152 countries, said in its annual survey of labour union repression.

“Trade union rights violations continued unabated in the US,” said the confederation, which was set up during the Cold War with US government support.

A main reason for the steady increase was that “economic globalisation continues to be driven by a neo-liberal agenda, to the detriment of workers' rights”.

“Fierce anti-trade union behaviour” had been reported in a number of US companies, including sackings, lay-offs and threats of closure after workers sought better pay and conditions.

And 75 percent of US employers hired union-busting consultants, said the report.

The confederation of unions said 40 percent of all public sector workers, or 6.9 million people, in the US were denied basic collective bargaining rights, as were 25 million private sector workers. In China, the report said, “authorities continued to suppress all signs of independent trade union activity, again sending individuals to prison”.

Myanmar “continued its total repression of trade union activity”, sentencing three representatives of a banned union to death.

In the former soviet Belarus all independent unions had been crushed and many leaders jailed.

In Latin America, 94 people were killed last year for exercising their union rights, 90 of them in Colombia, called “the most dangerous location in the world to be a trade unionist”.

In Africa, the report said, “Zimbabwe continued to show its total intolerance of trade unionism”, firing 2 800 postal workers—almost half the 6 566 union-related dismissals in Africa—for taking part in a jobs boycott.

Arrests of unionists reached record levels in South Korea, totalling more than 1 900 despite a pro-union president in office in the country.