A report released at the end of August by Freedom House, an independent watchdog organisation based in Washington D.C. that supports the expansion of freedom around the world, found that the rights of working people and trade unions were under serious duress throughout much of the world, and that authoritarian regimes are using increasingly sophisticated methods of control. The report, The Global State of Workers’ Rights: Free Labor in a Hostile World, found that one-third of the global population lived in societies in which workers’ rights suffered a significant degree of repression.
The report outlines serious and systematic violations of internationally recognised labour standards in every part of the world, except Western Europe. Countries are ranked on a five-category scale: Free, Mostly Free, Partly Free, Repressive, and Very Repressive on a colour-coded map which gives a vivid visual image of the state of labour freedom throughout the world.
Interestingly, the USA was ranked as Mostly Free, trailing Western Europe, Canada, Australia and a number of developing countries. The report noted that while American law guarantees workers core labour rights, the overall political environment is distinctly hostile towards trade unions, collective bargaining and labour protest and has encouraged growing resistance to unions by employers. The most serious problems were found in the Middle East and former Soviet Union, with major problems also noted in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Among the more disturbing findings is that 40 countries, or nearly one-quarter of those assessed, were judged to have either Repressive or Very Repressive labour rights environments. Among other significant findings are the following:
Some governments have adopted laws barring trade unions from accepting foreign financial assistance, a potentially significant restriction given the long history of European and US trade union support for workers’ struggles in developing countries and authoritarian settings.
The absence of genuine unions almost certainly contributes to job-site deaths and injuries. In China, where state-controlled trade unions prevail, thousands of workers die each year in factory and mining accidents.
In a positive development, labour activism is on the rise in several countries where official unions are under the control of the government. Unlike in the past, when the authorities would likely have responded with repressive tactics, the regimes have more recently tended to respond with at least partial concessions.
To view the full report, click here
To visit the Freedom House website, click here