- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2007

GENEVA — A new survey of global labor rights violations details a sharp increase in the number of labor leaders — and workers — brutally slain, tortured, arrested or dismissed from their jobs for seeking to defend core standards, including fair pay, working and safety conditions, and the right to form independent unions.

“Workers seeking to better their lives through trade union activities are facing rising levels of repression and intimidation in an increasing number of countries. Most shocking of all is the increase of some 25 percent in the number killed compared to the previous year,” said Guy Ryder, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which produced the report.

The survey says dictatorships and authoritarian regimes, including Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, Vietnam and North Korea, maintain harsh repression of independent trade unions.

The report also documents poor enforcement — and outright prohibition — of the application of labor laws in some instances and the inhumane conditions faced by millions of workers, particularly poor migrants, in many developing economies such as Colombia, the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Mexico, Guinea, South Africa, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Jordan.

The 379-page Annual Survey of Trade Union Rights Violations 2007 was compiled by the Brussels based ITUC, which represents 168 million workers in 153 nations and 305 national affiliates, including the AFL-CIO.

The 138-country survey also sheds light on harsh anti-union practices pursued by major global corporations and industry associations active in many developing nations.

Last year, 144 trade unionists were killed for defending workers rights, up from 115 the year before; more than 800 suffered beatings or torture; nearly 5,000 were arrested; and more than 8,000 were dismissed, according to the survey.

The survey concludes that Asia holds the “sorry record of being the continent with the highest number of trade-union-linked arrests and mass dismissals.”

“The practice of getting rid of unionized workers by means of dismissals, arrests or even beatings and murder showed no signs of waning in 2007,” it said.

In the Philippines, the ITUC said at least 33 unionists were killed “in an orgy of extrajudicial violence” and called the country “the new Colombia of Asia.”

Colombia was the deadliest place for trade unionists, with 78 persons assassinated in 2006.

The ITUC said no positive changes were registered in countries such as China, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea, where national laws ban any independent trade union activity.

Even worse, in Burma, where violent repression has intensified, “any form of union activity is prohibited.”

The right to collective bargaining and freedom of association are among the core enshrined rights of the International Labor Organization, the Geneva-based body that oversees global labor issues.

“In China, over 100 workers were arrested and jailed for taking part in collective protests. The official trade union did nothing to defend them.”

The confederation says there are reports that “several activists are suffering from mental illness as a result of the ill treatment in prison or work camps.”

One victim of Beijing’s repression, said the report, is teacher Zhang Shanguang, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of “threatening national security” for attempting to set up an independent trade union.

Trade union rights, said the survey, are also systematically violated in many countries in the Middle East, where there are many cases of abuse and exploitation of migrant workers.

In Jordan, Kuwait, Yemen and Syria, the law only allows for the establishment of a single union system.

Similarly, in Iran — the country in the region where trade union activities are most severely repressed — the government does not allow independent trade unions.

The survey outlines the harsh conditions faced by Mansoor Osanloo, leader of the Tehran trade union company, who has become a heroic figure in the fight for workers’ rights in the country.

After demonstrations in January last year, Mr. Osanloo was held in prison until August — including four months in solitary confinement, blindfolded and handcuffed.

The Iranian activist was also arrested and beaten last November and subsequently released after posting a big bail but was arrested again in July 2007 on his return from an ITUC meeting in Brussels and was still in prison as the survey went to press.

Foremost, migrant workers “constitutes the most vulnerable group in the Middle East,” according to the report.

In Jordan, 20 migrant workers in two factories “were arrested, beaten in detention and then deported for having dared to ask for a wage increase and better working conditions.”

Similarly, in oil-rich Saudi Arabia, given the complete absence of trade union rights, said the survey, “migrant workers, particularly women, regularly face flagrant abuses such as the non-payment of wages, forced reclusion, rape and physical violence.”

“The country has introduced new labor legislation, but trade unions and strikes continue to be banned,” it added.

Persecution of trade unionists is also widespread in Central and South America, with Colombia singled out as “the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists.”

“A major barrier to the exercise of trade union rights is impunity, as the link between the paramilitaries and state security forces in the murders of trade unionists over recent years has finally been confirmed,” according to the ITUC study.

In war-torn Guatemala, the report said, 2006 was marked “by numerous cases of intimidation, attacks, abductions, assaults and forced entries.”

“The Coca-Cola Company incited its employees to withdraw from their union, whilst the Brazilian company Bocadeli enjoys total impunity despite its proven anti-union practices,” the survey says.

The ITUC also pointed the finger at some Western industrialized nations with more favorable track records for human rights such as the United States and Australia.

In the U.S., the report asserted that “fierce union-busting campaigns mean that, despite initial support from a majority of the workers, many union organizing attempts fail. Over 30 million workers are still denied basic collective bargaining rights, including 40 percent of all federal public-sector workers.”

Finally, in Australia, the ITUC said, “Fears that the new industrial relations act would be used against workers and trade unions were confirmed … A shop steward was fired for expressing concerns about health safety issues, and temporary migrant workers were sacked for joining a union.”

“Other workers were forced to renounce collective bargaining agreements and sign individual contracts establishing less favorable conditions,” it said.

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