Qatar: Migrant Workers Strike Over Work Conditions

Workers leave their construction sites at the Msheireb Downtown Doha district in Doha, Qatar. © 23rd April 2019, AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili

From Human Rights Watch

Hundreds of migrant workers in Qatar went on strike this week to protest what they say are poor working conditions, unpaid and delayed wages, and threats of reduced wages.

Despite introducing some labour reforms over the past year, Qatari authorities have failed to abolish the exploitative kafala sponsorship labour system that fuels abuses and grants employers excessive power over their employees. Migrant workers are still banned under Qatari law from joining unions and participating in strikes.

“The workers in Qatar are going on strike in a country that bans them from striking or joining unions, and against the backdrop of a labour system that leaves them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Abusive labour practices that lead workers to take such a risk will continue until the Qatari government makes good on its promise to repeal the kafala system.”

Migrant workers in Qatar are governed by an exploitative labour system that can leave them vulnerable to forced labour by trapping them in employment situations in which their rights to fair wages, overtime pay, adequate housing, freedom of movement, and access to justice are at risk. These serious and systemic abuses of migrant workers’ rights in Qatar often stem from the still unrepealed kafala system, which ties migrant workers’ visas to their employer and severely restricts their ability to change employers.

In addition, the routine confiscation of workers’ passports by employers, debts incurred by migrant workers to pay for recruitment fees, and the prohibition on migrant workers joining unions and striking, leaves workers vulnerable to abuse.

One migrant worker at a Qatari company that provides maintenance, cleaning, plumbing, and other services, told Human Rights Watch that he and between 800 and 1,000 other employees refused to report to work on August 5th, 2019. The employee said there had been repeated threats from management to deport the workers if they refused to sign new contracts substantially reducing their wages.

The worker said that he had already been forced to sign a contract when he arrived in Doha in 2018, under threat of deportation, for lower wages than he had been promised by a recruitment agent in his country. “The sponsor blamed it on the agent,” said the worker. “He said to me, ‘sign it or go back home.’” Hamad International Airport, Qatar’s main airport, is among the company’s clients.

Despite the ban on migrant workers striking, and burdensome conditions even for Qatari workers’ right to strike, the migrant worker said that he and his colleagues were allowed to continue protesting in Doha’s Asian Town district until midnight. He said that five police vehicles, three of them riot police vehicles, arrived on site at about 7pm, over three hours after workers had started congregating, but that they did not try to disperse the protesters. Human Rights Watch reviewed a video corroborating this information.

He also said that Qatari men he suspected were high-level labour ministry officials arrived on the scene. “They came to calm people down, saying to us they will find solutions,” he said.

Reports have also surfaced of an August 4, 2019 strike in the Shahaniyeh municipality, with videos and images circulated on social media showing hundreds of workers protesting unpaid and delayed wages. One migrant worker shared a video of the protest on Facebook, saying that his company had not paid its workers in five months. A local resident confirmed the strike and the protesters’ wage demands to Human Rights Watch.

Since October 2017, when Qatar committed to align its laws and practices with international labor standards, the government has introduced several reforms aimed at improving conditions for migrant workers. They include setting a temporary minimum wage, introducing a law for domestic workers, setting up new dispute resolution committees, mandating the establishment of joint labor committees at companies employing more than 30 workers for collective bargaining, establishing a workers’ support and insurance fund, and ending the requirement for most workers to get an exit permit through their employer to leave the country.

While positive, these reforms have not gone far enough, and implementation has been uneven. The domestic workers law is poorly enforced and below international standards. The workers’ support and insurance fund, introduced to make sure workers are paid unclaimed wages when  companies fail to pay, is not yet operating. Qatari authorities are failing to enforce bans on passport confiscations and workers paying recruitment fees. The joint committees, with equal representation of workers and management, have yet to be rolled out. The lack of enforcement also undermines the partial exit permit reform, which does not apply to domestic workers, government employees, and up to five per cent of any company’s workforce.

Most importantly, the kafala system remains in place, hindering the efficacy of the recently introduced reforms.

Qatar should amend its labor law to guarantee all workers, including migrant and domestic workers, the right to strike and to free association and collective bargaining. It should also fully abolish the kafalasystem, including allowing workers to change jobs without requiring employer consent, regardless of how long they have worked for that employer, and repealing employers’ power to cancel workers’ visas at will. Such changes would make it easier for workers to leave abusive labor conditions.

“Despite the vulnerable position these migrant workers are in, we see them standing up for their rights.” Fakih said. “The government should respond by ensuring greater protections for workers under Qatari law.”

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BA Loses Appeal To Stop Pilot’s Strike

British Airways lost has lost its appeal against the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) whose members have voted massively in favour of industrial action.

Approximately 4,500 BA pilots belong to the union and nine out of ten union members took part in the vote – with 93% voting in favour of industrial action in a dispute over pay.

After the union’s strong mandate for a stoppage, BA tried to get an injunction against a strike in the High Court, on the basis that the there were ‘flaws in the balloting process’.

But last week in the High Court, Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing said the ballot and the publication of the result had been carried out legally. BA appealed the decision which was once again rejected by the court.

A spokesperson for British Airways who have tried all manner of ways via the courts to stop the proposed strike said: “We are disappointed that the pilots’ union, BALPA has chosen to threaten the holidays of thousands of our customers this summer with unprecedented strike action.”

 BALPA said no strike will be called immediately as talks with British Airways will resume at at the offices of the conciliation service, ACAS.

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Brexit Boss Backtracks On Workers Rights

Boris Johnson’s new Brexit boss

Boris Johnson’s new Brexit chief has backtracked on promises given by Theresa May on workers rights, saying wants to scrap previous commitments to protect  workers’ rights, and has suggested Brexit is an opportunity to escape the EU’s “heavy labour market regulation”.

The Independent newspaper has revealed that David Frost former chief executive of the London Chamber Of Commerce and Industry, who was appointed last week by Johnson to replace Olly Robbins as Downing Street’s EU Brexit chief, (a role that will see him leading any future talks with Brussels) said he was opposed to the approach advocated “by the leaders of both major political parties”, and argued that EU rights should not automatically be written into law after Brexit.

“Business organisations have often in the past criticised the EU’s drift towards heavy labour market regulation,” Mr Frost said in May 2019 in an article reproduced on the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry website.

“So I will take some persuading it will be a good outcome if the EU is able to set new UK labour market rules without any UK say – as currently seems to be envisaged by the leaders of both major political parties.” 

Theresa May had committed the government to maintaining the current level of European Union workers rights, and also went even further, legislating for parliament to automatically be given votes on staying aligned with the bloc’s rules when future legislation emerges. The “dynamic alignment” plans were unveiled by the government in a failed bid to get Labour MPs to back the withdrawal agreement.

Additionally, during the transition period included in the withdrawal agreement, the UK would have to accept rights with no say at all, as rejected by Frost.

Brussels has also suggested the UK would have to stay aligned with future EU workers’ rights, as well as environmental and social legislation, past the end of the transition period – if it wants a trade agreement.

Chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said the bloc would seek non-regression clauses to ensure Britain does not backslide on rules and try to undercut its neighbours.

Commenting on the official’s views, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Boris Johnson claims that he intends to enhance rights at work after Brexit. He and his advisers should be focused on delivering that promise.

“But instead they’re threatening a catastrophic no deal, which would strip away existing legal protections and leave essential rights open to attack. Working people must not be dragged off this cliff edge without getting a Final Say.”

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Aussie & EU education unions call for education to be carved out of free trade negotiations

26 July 2019 – During the Education International (EI) 8th World Congress, affiliated educators’ unions in Australia and the European Union issued a statement calling for the Australian government and the European Commission to be more transparent in ongoing negotiations on the potential free trade agreement and to explicitly carve out education from the negotiations.

The trade negotiations between Australia and the European Union (EU) were launched on 18th June 2018. So far, 4 rounds of negotiations have taken place. Education International and its member organisations in Australia and Europe have followed with concern these negotiations since the talks were proposed. The information about the timing of the rounds of negotiation as well as the content of the negotiations are strongly limited. There is no structure, such as a stakeholder forum, put in place for unions and civil society organisations to exchange views with the trade negotiators in connection to the rounds of negotiations.

Education International and its member organisations in Australia and Europe request to be consulted on a pro-active and continuous basis by the Australian government and the European Commission respectively regarding education related issues, including the EU-Australia trade agreement. While the Directorate General for Trade is negotiating on behalf of the European Union, it is important that other relevant Directorates General are involved and consulted, in this case in particular the Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Cultureand the Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion.

In addition, Education International and its member organisations in Australia and Europe are calling for education to be explicitly carved out of the deal.Educators’ unions raise concerns on several aspects of the negotiations:

  • Facilitating the privatisation and commercialisation of education which enhances employment precariousness in the teaching profession, leads to inequalities regarding access, completion and quality of education and jeopardises academic freedom, especially in the case of higher education.
  • Digital trade/e-commerce and domestic regulations, including the potential forms that digital trade/e-commerce would merge in the provision of education services, such as different forms of online education. These services offer new opportunities but also raise potential concerns regarding personal information and data collection from students, restricted access to materials and research, and homogenization of educational materials that may result in lost local content. These rules also raise potential employment issues since the e-commerce may entice some government to shift away from local education delivery to lower cost online alternatives.
  • Intellectual property provisions that could have a crucial impact on education systems. Stricter copyright rules that may have an adverse effect on education in that teachers and students face more restrictive rules in the use of materials, higher costs, and less flexibility in the classroom.

Educators’ unions believe that commercial trade rules must never restrict the ability of governments and designated public authorities to provide high-quality public services like education. The most effective way to protect high-quality education in Australia and the EU is to include a general exclusion or carve-out for education as a whole.

Read the full statement here.

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Rebuffing The Pretences Of The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty

First published in the Morning Star July 26th.

Labour’s ‘For the Many, Not the Few’ manifesto contains a 20-point labour rights reform programme. Andy Green looks at the recent intervention in the debate by a miniscule political sectlet.

Readers of the Morning Star may have recently noticed a new campaign for labour rights has been launched, Free our Unions.

All very commendable but if we dig a little deeper we discover not a broad based campaign but a front organisation for the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL).

It therefore may pay to examine more closely the AWL and its antecedents as its leader and guru, Sean Matgamma, approaches his 80th birthday.

Matgamma certainly bears all the hallmarks of a stereotypical Trotskyist leader – a splitter whose role as leader and guardian of the doctrinal flame must be unquestioned.

His is a career marked by a series of schisms with firstly the Socialist Labour League (before its implosion latterly known as the Workers’ Revolutionary Party), then from Militant (now the Socialist Party), then from the International Socialists (now the Socialist Workers’ Party) and more recently sabotaging various fusions with another Trotskyist sectlet, Workers’ Power.

It’s much better to have your own party where your vision is unchallenged than have to deal with all of the problems of inner party democracy and competing ideas.

Matgamma launched Workers’ Fight in the late 1960s which has gone through various name changes including Socialist Organiser before arriving at today’s Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL).

Matgamma though has never achieved the stature within the labour movement of other Trotskyist leaders, for example, Tony Cliff with the publication of his The Employers’ Offensive: productivity deals and how to fight them.

Certainly he has never has never achieved the, probably unwished for, notoriety of Gerry Healy.

How then to measure the achievements of Matgamma’s half century of activity in attempting to build a revolutionary vanguard party?

According to John Kelly in ‘Contemporary Trotskyism: parties, sects and social movements in Britain in 2016’ the AWL had 140 members nationally.

Remarkably, from such a small membership base Kelly records that in 2016 the AWL held 2 seats on the executive body of the teachers’ union, the NUT (now the NEU), and zero in every other union.

Kelly also identifies successful broad social movements that have been either initiated or led, sometimes with others, by the Trotskyist left.

The Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (1966/International Marxist Group); the Anti-Nazi League (1977/Socialist Workers’ Party); the Anti-Poll Tax  Federation (1989/Militant); Stop the War Coalition (2001/Socialist Workers’ Party); and, the People’s Assembly against Austerity (2013/Counterfire).

We look in vain for the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, or its predecessors, in this listing.

This lack of success has not been a discouragement for the AWL.

As we have observed it has recently launched through one of its newspapers ‘The Clarion’ a campaign for trade union rights, called ‘Free our Unions’ because, in its opinion, the think tank the Institute of Employment Rights, and its allies in the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom have lost the plot.

In keeping with classical Trotskyism it even has what it may imagine is a set of transitional demands – repeal all the anti-union laws.

A demand that it says other campaigning bodies have dropped.

Back on the shop floor it is clear that towards the end of the second decade of the 21st century trade union membership has declined dramatically since the advent of Thatcherism and neo-liberalism; from highpoint of 13 million in 1979 it’s down to around 6 million today.

In terms of the proportion of workers in the workforce who are union members, it has fallen from a highpoint of 54% to around 25% today.

But the most important statistic behind the headlines is not the decline of trade union membership but it is the precipitous collapse in the coverage of union negotiated collective agreements.

Collective bargaining – at its highpoint in 1980 ensured that 86 per cent of UK workers went to work on union negotiated terms and conditions, that figure has fallen to around 20 per cent today.

It’s the loss of  “trade union power” which translates as the collapse of collective bargaining that has led to workers getting poorer and, more recently, to the uberisation of work in the period of neo-liberalism.

As Prof Richard Wilkinson notes the simultaneous collapse of collective bargaining and working class living standards are not merely correlated but the latter is causally related to the former.

And it’s the framework of anti-union laws introduced under Margaret Thatcher and John Major in the 1980s and ‘90s allied with the anti-union shift in public policy that were intended to do just that.

We can dismiss Conservative talk about the inequities of the closed shop or giving unions back to their members.

The legal shackling of union bargaining power was a deliberate move to restore to the 1 per cent that which they had lost in the post-war period of social democratic advance.

They were explicit about it – one of the 1980s laws removed from ACAS an obligation to promote collective bargaining.

This dire legal situation has been compounded by the passing of the Trade Union Act 2016 that will only exacerbate the situation.

So, we are confronted simultaneously with two issues that I would argue have the same or similar causes and have the same or similar solutions.

Firstly, we have the growth of poorly paid, precarious employment – what the ‘Wall Street Journal’ recently called “the end of employees”.

Secondly, more generally, we have had a 30 plus year collapse of working class living standards and a shift of income and wealth back to the 1 per cent.

The cause of both of these phenomena has been, to a greater or lesser extent, the legal shackling of the unions and the shift in public policy away from collectivism.

The Campaign for Trade Union Freedom believes that it is absolutely in line with its objectives to support the advice that the Institute of Employment Rights has been giving the Labour Front Bench first articulated in A Manifesto for Labour Law, advice that ensured a progressive offer on labour rights in Labour’s 2017 Manifesto.

Labour’s ‘For the Many, Not the Few’ manifesto contained a 20 point labour rights reform programme including most importantly a commitment to establish mandatory sectoral collective bargaining.

Sectoral collective bargaining will be supplemented by enterprise level bargaining.

It is only through the re-establishment of union led collective bargaining at the apex level will we see a shift of income and wealth away from the 1 per cent and back towards the 99 per cent.

In the Campaign we are confident that statutory support for collective bargaining must mean a right to strike. Collective bargaining without a right to strike is reduced to collective begging.

A new Industrial Relations Act could and should, we believe, restore a right to strike without necessarily making a public bonfire of the Thatcherite Acts of Parliament.

It is not credible that the AWL does not realise this; their campaign is, not surprisingly, based on a false premise.

The Campaign for Trade Union Freedom is a fusion of the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions and the United Campaign to Repeal the Anti-Union Laws. Shop stewards and activists should stick with the original and genuine and reject the absolutism of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

Andy Green is National Secretary of the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom. He is also Unite convenor at Tilbury Docks; a member of the Unite Executive Council, Docks & Rails Sector; and a rank and file activist in the International Dockers’ Council.

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Australia : “Integrity” legislation flouts international labour standards

Australian PM Scott Morrison launches major attack on trade unions.

Thanks to Barry Camfield for sending this article from the Workplace Express workplace express.com.au

Thursday, July 18th

New analysis warns the Morrison Government that it will breach two key ILO conventions if it proceeds with its revived legislation to make it easier to deregister unions and disqualify their officials.

The research by the UK-based International Centre for Trade Union Rightshas landed as the government and unions are lobbying key Senate crossbenchers over the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019.

The paper, by the ICTUR’s director Daniel Blackburn and researcher Ciaran Crosson behalf of the ACTU says the Bill would allow the Minister, the ROC and any person “with sufficient interest” – which could include employer groups and lobbyists – to seek to have union officers disqualified or unions deregistered.

It says these provisions are “incompatible with Australia’s commitments” under the ILO’s Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87)and the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98).

In particular, the report cites Articles 2and 3of Convention 87 which deal with workers’ rights to establish their own organisations and to draw up their own rules and elect their own officials.

It says the legislation conflates serious crimes and minor legal infractions, blurs joint and individual liabilities, and establishes “punitive sanctions that are both disproportionate and arbitrarily directed”.

It argues the criminal law should apply without special dispensation for unions, but the Integrity Bill allows for disqualification of officials and deregistration of unions for “designated offences” which include relatively minor breaches of industrial law.

The report notes that the standards for disqualification from office are stricter than those applying to Federal MPs, who are barred from nominating as candidates if serving a prison sentence of 12 months or more.

It argues that allowing persons with “sufficient interest” to apply for disqualification of officials and for deregistration of unions is not “a recipe for industrial peace.”

“In operation it turns the current system of registration into one under which the basic purpose of freedom of association – which should be guaranteed without restriction or impairment – may be severely curtailed on minor grounds, at the initiation of employers or other parties hostile to organised labour.

“This creates instability and unpredictability in industrial relations and such an outcome is unlikely to benefit even those who are advocating it.

“Deregistered unions are unlikely to roll over and die – a fact to which Australia’s own historical experiences with deregistration can testify.

“On the contrary, such measures are likely to exacerbate conflicts over industrial and employment policies.

Proposal aligned with oppressive laws in Turkey and Brazil

Overall, the report says the Bill is even more oppressive than Turkey’s labour laws and “invites comparisons with the regulations deployed by repressive regimes.”

It also compares the proposed legislation to laws introduced by a Brazilian dictatorship in the 1940s that was “probably the closest [to the Integrity Bill] of all those we considered”.

“For Australia to propose an industrial law reform that would bring it closer to the example provided by Brazil’s historical dictatorship than to those found in modern Western Europe illustrates just how alarming these developments are.

“The proposal is not merely ‘out of step’ with the industrial relations systems of comparable countries; it has no rightful place in a modern liberal democracy.”

Australian Congress Of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neilsays Australia already has one of the most restrictive regimes of regulations on workers’ organisations among democratic nations.

“This extreme new law would align Australia with authoritarian, undemocratic countries,” she said.

IR Minister Christian Porter has argued that the 2019 Bill introduces new and streamlined cancellation grounds to deal with registered organisations that are closer to the law relating to companies and company officers under the Corporations Act (see Related Article).

These changes have been made to an earlier Bill – which was introduced in 2017 but not passed before this year’s federal election – after it failed to win crossbench support.

Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019, Research paper by The International Centre for Trade Union Rights, on behalf of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, by Daniel Blackburn and Ciaran Cross,
July 2019

EM says Bill “reasonable and proportionate” on rights

The 2019 Bill’s  explanatory memorandum maintains that the changes do not affect the rights of workers to continue to be represented because an “organisation that obeys the law and complies with its rules is not at risk of having its registration cancelled”.

The EM says that the Federal Court can make alternative, lesser orders to disqualifying an official or deregistering a union.

“Providing for the possibility of disqualification from office and restricting who can be elected to office, in circumstances where a ground for disqualification has been made out and the Federal Court considers disqualification just, is a rational means of ensuring greater compliance with the standards of conduct reasonably expected of officers, and a rational method for improving governance of organisations more generally.”

“Any limitations on the capacity of registered organisations to regulate their affairs as they see fit are a necessary and proportionate means of ensuring greater compliance with the standards of conduct reasonably expected of officers and improving the governance of registered organisations,” it says.

“These are reasonable and proportionate methods of ensuring that officials who deliberately disobey the law are restricted in their ability to be in charge of registered organisation.

“It is also necessary and proportionate that the sanction of disqualification for a substantial number of members’ failure to comply with core industrial laws is placed on officials as it is incumbent on those in leadership positions to promote a culture of compliance.

“This will serve to protect the interests of members and support public order by ensuring the leadership of registered organisations act lawfully.”

The EM says that article 8(1) of ILO Convention 87 specifically provides that, in exercising the rights to freedom of association, workers, employers and their respective organisations shall respect the law of the land.

“Choosing to register under the Act is a privilege governed by the existing Act.

“Organisations registered under the Act do not currently have freedom to conduct their affairs in any way they see fit, but are bound by the Act.

“When organisations or their officers deliberately breach the Act then there must be an effective sanction if the system of registration is to remain meaningful. In the case of a registered organisation, the sanction could include losing the right to expand through amalgamation, being placed into administration, or losing registration.

“Consistent with the existing structure for the registration of industrial associations, the Bill makes clear that there is a framework within which registered organisations must operate.” 

The legislation has been referred to a Senate inquiry(see Related Article).

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CTUF – IER Rally at the Durham Miners Gala by Lorraine Mannion

Unite Assistant Chief Of Staff Speaking on trade with the USA

John Henry QC speaking on a new set of Employment and Collective Bargaining rights under Labour

Dr. Lydia Hayes talking on sectoral collective bargaining and employment rights in Wales under a Wales Labour Assembly

Laura Pidcock MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister Of Labour (with son Solomon) speaking on Labour’s programme on employment rights and collective bargaining.

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In Place of Strife (1969): Trade Union legal rights & responsibilities revisited

In response to Peter Dorey’s new book In Place of Strife, History & Policy’s Trade Union and Employment Forum held a seminar on 27 April at the Modern Records Centre, at the University of Warwick.

Historians, trade unionists and academics gathered to discuss the conflict, 50 years ago, between the Harold Wilson Labour Government and the trade unions over the Barbara Castle White Paper ‘In Place of Strife’ which was one of the pivotal moments of post-war British Industrial Relations.

It pitched voluntarist ideas of ‘free collective bargaining’ against ideas of economic planning and public policy concerns about strikes, inflation and restrictive practices.

Listen to the event on SoundCloud. The audio is also available on iTunes.

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Step forward for workers’ rights as ILO clamps down on violence and harassment

ILO delegates who agreed the new convention and recommendation. ©ILO

By Tony Burke, Chair of the Campaign For Trade Union Freedom

The decision of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to create new labour standards which address violence and harassment in the workplace has been welcomed by trade unions and human rights groups across globe.

The ILO adopted the new convention on 21st June in the new ‘Violence and Harassment Convention 2019’ (the first new ILO Convention since 2011).

The new convention calls on countries across the globe to enforce ‘zero tolerance’ of any form of violence and harassment at work.

The Violence and Harassment Convention 2019 was also adopted along with the Violence and Harassment Recommendation 2019 and covers violence and harassment directly in the workplace; during workers’ breaks; at work-related events and visits and commuting to and from work. The Convention will not only tackle physical violence but also worker discrimination and labour law abuse.

It calls on countries to promote the rights of employees to organise into unions, the right to collective bargaining and the prevention of forced labour and child labour.

The ILO said that countries – in line with the new labour standard, laws and policies – must assure inclusivity and equality in the labour force especially for women and for workers who are part of sectors or groups vulnerable to violence and discrimination.

The treaty covers all workers, trainees, interns and apprentices, workers whose employment has been terminated, job seekers, and others, and applies to both ‘formal and informal sectors’.

It also covers violence and harassment involving third parties, such as customers and service providers.

The new convention defines violence and harassment as: “A range of unacceptable behaviours and practices, or threats thereof, whether a single occurrence or repeated, that aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm, and includes gender-based violence and harassment.”

The Convention will officially come into force 12 months after two member states have ratified it. ILO Conventions are legally binding while Recommendations are guidelines on how Conventions are to be implemented.

A number of countries advocated stronger protections, against violence and harassment at work including France, Canada, New Zealand, Uganda, Namibia, Philippines, and many Latin American and Caribbean states.

Of 476 votes, 439 voted for, seven voted against, and 30 abstained.

The United States reversed its decision from last year and chose to vote in favour of the convention – but not for the recommendation which provides further guidance on the measures required under the convention. Singapore, Russia, El Salvador, Malaysia, Paraguay and Kyrgyzstan abstained on the ratification.

Governments are now being urged to ratify the convention to ensure it comes into force as soon as possible.

This blog was first posted on Left Foot Forward on June 28th.

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How the ministry of labour will defeat neo-liberalism

Laura Pidcock is Labour’s Shadow Minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and MP for and MP for North West Durham

Today workplaces are hostile environments – but Labour’s new ministry by and for workers will change all that, Laura Pidcock told the Arise festival of left ideas.

The work of the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) over the last three decades has been essential and remains so today.

It has been advising me in my role as shadow minister for labour, but much more than that, it’s been instrumental in providing the building blocks for a new department in a future Labour government, a ministry of labour, which I believe will be transformative for workers and workplaces.

It’s such an important and exciting part of Labour’s programme and I’m delighted to be heading it up.

So where are we at? Many workplaces are hostile environments, for both workers and their representatives, the trade unions. That isn’t good for us, as a labour movement, the economy or society.

We have a generation of people for whom work means stress and insecurity, where their rights are seen as insignificant in relation to the power of their employers, where contracts are temporary and where their wage doesn’t pay the bills. People in this country are underemployed, overworked and poorly paid.

And the roots of this hostile environment? The answer is obvious. It’s about a lack of union power and the decimation of bargaining coverage, that is for trade unions to be able to negotiate the terms, conditions and rates of pay of workers.

What we must do is explain that to people who’ve grown up in an environment where unions have been stigmatised or ignored. But that is the reality: even the Institute for Financial Studies — hardly a bastion of revolutionary thinking — has recently pointed out the correlation between pay inequality and a rapid dwindling of trade union power and membership.

As the work that John Hendy and Keith Ewing have done via the IER has shown, the percentage of workers covered by a collective agreement has gone from 82 per cent to around 22 per cent.

In the private sector it is even worse — it’s impossible to say precisely, but collective bargaining coverage in the private sector is generally considered to be around 15 per cent.

The roots of this are entirely political: they lie in a neoliberal political project Margaret Thatcher heralded from the 1970s onwards.

The deliberate strategy of the Thatcher government was to take on the unions in order to make the British economy work for a different, free-market model — making a quick profit on the back of low pay and insecure contracting.

Its aim was to individualise and atomise work and shift the cultural norms of the British workplace explicitly to divide workers.

And of course, that had a knock-on effect. It was remarkably effective in lowering worker confidence. While the miners fought on, through a year of the miners’ strike in the mid-1980s, their ultimate defeat was another hammer blow to the idea of collective strength of the unions.

Now, we have two generations who have not experienced collectivism of the kind that could fundamentally shift the hold of employers over workers and a generation who do not know what a trade union is for and the power of workers standing together. It was such a successful strategy.

We now have workers who are scared to ask to go to the toilet, urinating in bottles, miscarrying at work, there are chicken factory workers in the US who have to wear nappies because they are not allowed toilet breaks.

Of course, in between those defeats and the situation we’re in right now, where precarious work has become commonplace, we had three New Labour governments.

That could have been an opportunity to roll back some of the Thatcher revolution, but instead it was an opportunity wasted. Not only did Tony Blair and co fail to remedy the anti-trade union laws, in some cases they boasted that we had the most restrictive labour environment in Europe.

Of course it is easy to pay lip service to the unions and unionised workers. There are still six million trade union members and even the current government is aware of this fact.

So, while they restrict facility time, enact legislation which makes negotiation harder, strip away rights and force unions to jump through ridiculous bureaucratic hoops to take strike action, they also set up the Taylor review, or to give it its full title: “Good Work: the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices.”

But Taylor fundamentally misses the mark, because it does not acknowledge the structural problem, which is lack of union role in our workplaces.

So, how would we respond, as the Labour Party in government? The first thing to say is that we would acknowledge and build our solutions around that gap: we would put unions and their members at the heart of our economy. Easier said than done of course, which is why we have a plan.

That plan involves creating a ministry of labour, bringing back a department specifically designed for workers, their rights and industrial relations.

This was abolished by Thatcher and unsurprisingly, the current Tories have no interest in bringing it back.

So, even though I am shadow minister for labour, I have no opposite number. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t get to ask questions in the House of Commons, just that they have to scrabble around to find someone to answer them — what a disrespect to workers.

Sectoral collective bargaining will be the beating heart of that department — because the institution of collective bargaining, that is, the ability for workers to negotiate their pay and conditions, collectively, changes everything.

The ministry of labour will also oversee an uplift of the statutory minimums — not just on pay, but things like maternity and paternity pay. We will also take enforcement seriously and create a labour inspectorate to enforce those minimums — because they are useless if they are on paper only.

We’ll also put equalities at the centre of this new working environment. And this will work hand in hand with an ethical social security system headed up by Margaret Greenwood, our shadow work and pensions secretary.

We’re not tinkering any more, because we know that will not be enough. After 10 years of austerity and three decades of free-market dogmatism, we know that only a radical change will shift our society in the direction of workers.

I am so excited and energised by this project and the work that I’m doing with Ewing, Hendy, the IER and trade unionists from all over the country — because, if we work together, and get it right, it will result in the largest transference of power from bosses to workers in generations.

Thank you for all the work you have put in, as trade union reps and organisers and activists over the years. Please see this project as your project — and a future Labour government as us all going into government together.

Of course, there is an obvious onus on the trade union movement, too, and will need to meet that challenge.

There will need to be a concerted effort to recruit. It will be our aim, in government, to provide the legislative framework for trade unions to organise; to have access to the workplace; for workers to have the right to withdraw their labour.

But it will be a joint effort, the political and the industrial halves of the labour movement coming together. That’s the only way we will succeed — and I think we will, comrades.

 Laura Pidcock is shadow minister for business, energy and industrial strategy and MP for North West Durham.

 This article was first published in the Morning Star on June 29th

Laura Pidcock will be speaking at the CTUF – IER Events at the Durham Miners Gala on July 12th and Tolpuddle on July 19th.

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