BWI – February 23, 2009

Indonesia: CNV hb and ACV-BI Pay Visit to Two Members in Prison in Sumatra

Bert van der Spek, Vice-President of CNV hb wood and construction, and Jan Voets, International Secretary ACV-BI visited Indonesia to follow-up their project “CNV-ACV trade union develop-ment organising Indonesia”. They also had the opportunity to pay a visit to two members of the BWI affiliate in prison.

The objective of the trip was to evaluate the progress of the project. For Bert van der Spek “Our unions see the importance of a close follow-up of a project progress. We believe that it is fundamental for a solidarity support organisation to support not only financially but by participating actively.”

In addition, Bert and Jan visited two members of the wood and forestry union, HUKATAN SBSI, who are in prison in Sumatra. “There only crime was to demand a wage increase in order to receive a monthly income above 75 euro and social security during sickness” concludes Bert van der Spek.

On behalf of the BWI, CNV hb and ACV-BI extended solidarity to Yuce Hegui and Sadok Winardi.


BWI Welcomes Senate Hearing into the Safety and Health Violations at Hanjin Ship Building Facility Subic, Philippines

Twenty members of the Hanjin Heavy Industries in Construction Philippines Workers Union (HHICPWU) and their family members along with key national leaders of the National Union of Building and Construction Workers (NUBCW), an affiliate of BWI participated in a hearing called by the Senate Committee on Labor. The focus of the hearing was to address the increasing high number of accidents at the Hanjin Shipyard located in Subic, Zambales Philippines. In January 2009, two more workers were killed due to work related accidents. Hanjin, a well-know South Korean conglomerate in the field of ship building, construction, and freight trade has built the 4th largest ship building facility in the world at the Subic Freeport Zone in Zambales, Philippines through its Philippines counterpart—the Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction (HHIC-Philippines). The Philippines government has leased the facility to HHIC-Philippines Incorporated for fifty years as well as exempted the company from taxes for the first eight years.

Ernesto Arellano, the President of NUBCW stated, “Authorities have stated that 17 workers have died since operations began in 2006; however, according to our data the death toll is much higher. Tragically, twenty-four workers, two who were only 19 years of age, have lost their lives, thus we whole-heartedly welcome this hearing to ensure that workers lives are protected.” He continued, “Hanjin must be held accountable according to not only our national standards but more importantly international standards as it is an international multinational company.” President Arellano pointed out to the committee members that despite Hanjin management’s assertions that sufficient licensed medical professionals and facilities were available at the ship year, in there is only have one in-house doctor for the more than 12,000 workers working at the ship yard facility and the nearest hospital is nearly three hours away.

In addition, during the hearing Senator Tia Cayetano pointed out that there were 84 sub contractors and only 21 were registered with the Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE). When the representative of DOLE was questioned as to why they did not investigate into the fact that numerous sub contractors were not registered, they shifted the blame to Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) by stating that SBMA had refused its request to investigate. SBMA responded by stating they never prevented DOLE. President Arellano stated, “As a result of the uncoordinated duties and responsibilities, the workers are suffering.”

The HHICPWU was established on July 6, 2008 with more than 300 workers. The workers called for better and safe working conditions, higher wages, and decent treatment. Immediately after the union formation, the management began to harass elected many of the elected union members. Some members have been transferred to the new HHIC-Philippines site in Mindanao, others have been demoted, some have had their salaries downgraded, and worse, at least 17 workers have had their employment contracts terminated.

The Hanjin management has intensified its repression of the union after many of the members had testified at the hearing. According to the union, “After the first senate labor committee hearing last February 3, 2009, we are now facing threats of terminations from Hanjin management. The workers at Hanjin, notably union officers and accident survivors who appeared and testified before the Senate were called by Hanjin management for questioning and accusing them of soiling Hanjin’s name by going public.”

The workers and the union has received international support from other trade unions, particularly from South Korea, where the Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Union (KFCITU) has provided continuous solidarity. The KFCITU President, Namkoong Hyun declared that the union’s support will not waver. “We are embarrassed that a South Korean company has failed to abide by international standards and labor laws. It is the right of every worker regardless of wherever they live to have decent and safe work.”

Recently, South Korean human rights and civil society groups also pledged their support for the workers at Hanjin and denounced the South Korean ambassador to the Philippines for submitting a letter to the Senate stating that, “the investigations on industrial accidents might bring negative result to the relationship between the Republic of Korea and the Philippines.”

In a statement released by the groups, the South Korean Ambassador’s letter, “appears to be a veiled request to the Philippine government to stop the investigation into Hanjin and the South Korean government appears to condone human rights violations by Hanjin by trying to stop the Philippines government’s investigation despite the fact that several workers have died.

Due to lack of sufficient time to address all the concerns of the Committee another subsequent hearing was scheduled.


12 Young Forestry Workers Die Tragically in Helicopter Crash in Chile

Our affiliate in Chile, the CTF, has informed us of the tragic death of 12 young forestry workers who were being transported by helicopter to fight a forest fire on February 15. The workers were employed by CELCO, a subsidiary of the giant national forestry and wood multinational, Arauco, based in Chile. The pilot of the helicopter also died in this tragic accident. BWI General Secretary sent a message of condolences to the families of the deceased, and to their union.

The union has denounced the poor conditions of the helicopter transports which are used in the region of Curanilahue where helicopters are being used to collect water from the local swimming area and have warned of the possible tragic consequences of an accident which would also threaten local communities. The union has also demanded that the authorities begin a thorough investigation of the tragedy.

You are invited to send a message of condolences to the union at the following address: ctf@surnet.cl

To see an interview about the situation in Spanish, given by CTF General Secretary, Sergio Gatica, click here.


BWI Joins GUFs and Affiliates in Discussions for ASEAN Trade Union Unity Towards ASEAN Regional Economic Integration

In light of the ASEAN countries’ plans toward a regional economic integration, the Regional Committee of the BWI APRO passed a resolution which called for BWI APRO to join the ASEAN Service Employees Trade Union Council (ASETUC) as well as develop a concrete agenda to address the ASEAN. In this connection, BWI and Global Unions participated in a FES sponsored ASEAN mapping workshop that was held from February 9 to 11 in Puncak, Indonesia. The objective of the workshop was to “map out a clear route map for the trade unions with regards to their engagement with ASEAN’s economic regional integration process. This would form the basis for a focused agenda and action plan for 2009-2011.”

The BWI delegation, which was led by Ernesto Arellano, President of NUBCW of the Philippines, stated “This is an important opportunity for the trade unions within the ASEAN to develop a concrete platform to address the key issues facing workers and their families as a result of the ASEAN economic integration.” The participants identified issues and challenges faced by workers in relation to the ASEAN economic integration. More importantly, unions discussed and developed strategies, solutions and an action plan for the next three years.

The workshop also adopted a joint statement outlining the proposed work plan. The crux of the work will focus on conducting an impact study of the ASEAN integration nationally, regionally, and sectorally. This study would be carried out in conjunction with Global Unions in the Asia Pacific region and with national unions within the ASEAN. Training materials will also be developed to educate trade union leaders, members, general public, and the media within the ASEAN countries. In addition, these impact studies will be used to develop a series of unified talking points and policy for trade unions to discuss with their national government and the ASEAN secretariat on the impact of the ASEAN economic integration on workers and their families.

In addition to the workshop, the BWI delegation participated in the 3rd ASETUC Board meeting where BWI officially became members of ASETUC. Finally, the ASETUC delegation met with the ASEAN Secretariat to raise the discussion points that were brought out in the workshop and to deliver a letter addressed to the Secretary-General of ASEAN, H.E. Surin Pitsuwan. The BWI delegation included Rulita Wijayaningdya (KAHUTINDO), Bismo Sanyoto (FKUI), Fatimah Mohammad (UFES), Buddhi Netiprawat of Thailand, Van Thol of Cambodia, and Bach Quoc Khang ( VNURDW).

BWI is grateful to FES and UNI APRO for taking the initiative in coordinating this workshop.


Do Communities Perceive Forest Benefits Based on Their Income Levels? Case of Ngong Forest Adjacent communities in Nairobi, Kenya.

Preliminary results indicate income levels affect perception and attitude of community members towards sustainable forest management.

The results indicate that 70% of the low income earners below 200 US dollars living adjacent to forests, appreciate the forest because it provides them with firewood, honey, herbal medicine and constructing poles, while 60% of the high income earners above 1333 US dollars appreciate the forest because of long term benefits and services such as carbon sinks, climate amelioration and recreational services. To the low income earners living adjacent to the forests, forests are important for daily needs such as water, energy, food and less for services such as carbon sink and noise buffering.

Forest resources are an important source of livelihood especially for low income earners who get various products from the forest. The slum dwellers (urban poor) bordering the forest indicated that they prefer participating in management of the forest if they are allowed to collect firewood, develop hives for honey and engage in forest based income generation activities. Nearly 20% of the respondents interviewed from the low income earners derive livelihoods from the seasonal job offered in the forests. The seasonal employments emerge from silvicultural operations such as nursery establishment, planting weeding, pruning and clearfellings.

Interview with Mr Samy Kiona, in the category of low income earners show that he has been providing labour in nursery and plantation establishment for the last four years on a seasonal basis. He is employed during the long rainy seasons (March to May) and short rain reasons (October and December). He appreciates the forest because he pays monthly permit of Ksh 100 (about 1.2 US dollars) to Kenya Forest Service (KFS) to access firewood. On the other hand Mr Larry Gitonga, in the category of high income earners appreciates the forest because it enhances the property value of his premise and provides a better ground for recreation use e,g picnicking.

Snap shot of the nursery activities in the Ngong forest in Nairobi under study, indicate women are more involved in nursery work and prefer organizing themselves into self help groups.

Challenges facing women workers in the nursery preparation include lack of Personal Protective Equipments (PPE), poor sanitary conditions. Insecurity is one of the major threats to women participation in forest jobs where in some instances they reported of rape and sexual harassment.

Communities assisted in fighting forest fires when they occur and reporting illegal activities.

This survey was undertaken by BWI East Africa Coordinator Paul Opanga.


Russia: BWI calls for reforms to protect migrant construction workers from abuses

More than 40 percent of Russia’s 4 million to 9 million migrant workers are employed in construction and come from other countries of the former Soviet Union, looking to escape poverty and unemployment. For Anita Normark, general secretary of the BWI “Migrant construction workers enter Russia hoping to find decent jobs. But a climate of rising hate-motivated violence has developed against migrants construction workers.” A recent Human Rights Watch report says that the global financial crisis has increased the risk of exploitation and violence against migrant workers.

Most of the time, migrant construction workers have no contracts and employers withhold their wages or refuse to pay them. And workers who refuse to work in protest over unpaid wages may face violence and threats by their employers making them also more vulnerable to other abuses. Normark adds: “In the past years, Russia has revised its migration laws to make it easier for workers to enter Russia without a visa. Today, it is important that Russia undertakes reforms to protect migrant construction workers from serious abuses as it has an obligation under international law to protect all victims of abuse.”

A recent Human Rights Watch report “‘Are you Happy to Cheat Us?’ Exploitation of Migrant Construction Workers in Russia,” documents widespread withholding of wages, failure to provide required contracts, and unsafe working conditions. It also calls on the government to ensure rigorous labor inspections, prosecution of abusive employers, and effective regulation of employment agencies, to develop accessible complaint mechanisms and to reform the migration law. To read the Human Rights Watch report click here.