BWI OnLine – March 02, 2010

BWI Reaches Out to its Affiliates in Chile

As has been widely reported, the country of Chile was hit by a massive earthquake only a few days ago. Since hearing the dramatic news, the BWI has continued to reach out to its affiliated unions in the country to offer solidarity at this time of national crisis. The Confederation of Forestry Workers (CTF) has its headquarters in the central city of Concepcion, the closest conurbation to the epicenter of the earthquake which measured 8.8 on the Richter Scale. Most of the country’s forestry industry is located on the coastal strip between the mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The coastline later fell victim to a tsunami which resulted from the quake. Latest reports suggest that electricity and other vital services have not yet been restored to many areas of the country. So far, BWI has not been able to establish communication with CTF and its other affiliates to receive damage reports and to offer solidarity and support to the long process of re-building which will be necessary once the immediate search and rescue operations are terminated. Norske Skog, the pulp and paper multinational, has reported that its mill in the Bio Bio region has suffered no direct damage from the quake and its employees are reported to have survived unharmed. As Ambet Yuson, BWI General Secretary, noted: “BWI and its affiliates stand ready to give support to their sisters and brothers of Chile. Until we learn more details of the earthquake’s devastating effects on the members of our affiliated unions and the working people of Chile, our thoughts are with them as they struggle for survival. Once the process of recovery begins, it will be the workers who will be charged with the massive task of re-building their society.”

BWI Urges Speedy Return to Domocracy in Niger

“The BWI urges speedy return to democracy in Niger following the military coup which ousted President Mamadou Tandja on 18 February 2010,” said Ambet Yuson, general secretary of the BWI.” Full respect for human and trade union rights is an absolute necessity in this country.”

According to the latest news received by the BWI, the military leadership in Niger has formed a new transitional government of 20 ministers, including five soldiers and five women. The new military leader, Major Salou Djibo, promises to return Niger to democracy but set no date.

The BWI fully supports its affiliates and the trade union movement in Niger, which has experienced long periods of military rule since independence from France in 1960. As indicated in a recent ITUC report, Niger has ratified all the ILO’s fundamental labour standards but serious problems persist in the application of these standards, both in legislation and in practice. The report also criticises the power of the authorities to dissolve a trade union by means of a simple administrative decision. To see the full report, click here.

President Tandja was ousted after he changed the constitution to remain in power indefinitely.

Niger, one of the poorest countries in Africa, has about 8 percent of the world’s uranium. It has had lucrative uranium contracts, particularly with China.


South Korean Courts Rule in Favour of the Ulsan Construction Plant Worker

On 15 January 2010 the South Korean courts ruled once again in favour of the Ulsan Construction Plant Union members who had peacefully participated in “Three Steps, One Bow” protest in downtown Seoul on May 23, 2005. The “Three Steps, One Bow” is a traditional Korean ritual protest conducted by Buddhist monks, Catholic priests, trade unionists, and democratic activist use as a form of protest to highlight political, democratic, and labour issues.

At the time, over 700 members of Ulsan Construction Plant Workers Union, which was affiliated to BWI affiliate, the Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions were conducting the “Three Steps, One Bow” protest. This action was part of the Ulsan Construction Plant Workers Union’s overall strategy to bring greater public awareness of the General Strike the union had launched in March 18, 2005 and to push-the then President Roh Moo Hyun to intervene.

Even though the union had an official permit to conduct the “Three Steps, One Bow” protest, the police declared the demonstration to be illegal, stating it was “disrupting the regular flow of traffic.” Before the union members could finish the peaceful protest, the police took immediate action by arresting all those present. The union members were eventually released after agreeing to pay fine. Although the Ulsan Construction Plant Workers Union eventually agreed to end the 76-day by signing social agreement that was negotiated by the union and a consortium consisting of sub contractors, main contractors, public citizens’ groups, and Ulsan local government, the union continued to protest the police’s actions of May 23, 2005 through legal channels.

On July 10, 2008, the lower courts ruled in favour of the Ulsan Construction Plant Workers Union; however, the government appealed this verdict and now with this new ruling, the court decision is final. Thus, the union members can seek recourse by requesting expunging the guilty verdict from their records and seeking restitution from the government for fines that they have paid. The union estimates that the fines total over 30,000, 000 KRW ($27,000 USD). This final verdict is vindication that the activities conducted by the Ulsan Construction Plant Worker Union during the General Strike were legitimate despite the efforts by the prosecution and the government to denounce them.

4th CUPPEC Convention Focuses on “Decent Work and Social Transformation”

The 4th Convention of CUPPEC was held in Kathmandu from 16 to 18 February 2010 under the theme Decent Work and Social Transformation. The convention commenced with a huge workers’ rally in central Kathmandu. The convention elected Naranath Luitel and Manohari Siwakoti as the new CUPPEC President and General Secretary. Outgoing President Jitendra Shrestha was elected as the President of the delegate council. Important resolutions were passed on climate change, child labour, youth, gender and social security.

The adoption of the theme “Decent Work and Social Transformation” is in tune with the current transition phase of Nepal. For the real change in workers’ life towards prosperity, CUPPEC is demanding that welfare state should be ensured including ratification of ILO Convention 87 and provisions for social security. Currently, the government is deducting one percent from salary of the workers as contribution to social security fund. CUPPEC is demanding that the government should use this fund to launch welfare schemes such as provision of unemployment allowance, medical allowance, compensation for accident and injuries and maternity benefits. Further, the CUPPEC is demanding that the fund should be used for social protection of the workers, including informal employment.

In the closing session, solidarity greetings were conveyed by Lars-Åke Lundin, President of the Swedish Painters Union and Apolinar Tolentino, BWI Asia Pacific, Officer in Charge.

CUPPEC is one of the affiliates of BWI in Nepal.

Global Unions Show Solidarity with Turkish Workers

Gathering outside the Permanent Mission of Turkey in Geneva, a delegation representing the ITUC and 6 Global Union Federations handed over a letter (given below) for the Ambassador on Friday, February 26 calling for the respect of trade union rights in the country. Despite agreeing to meeting the delegation in advance, the Ambassador had informed late that he was unable to receive the group. However, the letter was handed over to an administrative representative of the Permanent Mission. The BWI representative also presented a letter calling for the release of Murad Akincilar who is an official of UNIA, the Swiss affiliate. He is of Turkish origin and was arrested while visiting his home country, despite assurances to the contrary given by the Turkish authorities.

Letter – Global Solidarity Action Day with Turkish workers

Mr Ambassador,
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) as well as the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM), Union Network International (UNI), Building and Woodworkers’ International (BWI); Public Services International (PSI) and International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF) present their compliments to the Mission of Turkey to the UN in Geneva and have the honour to draw the urgent attention of the Mission to the following:

The ITUC has requested to meet with his Excellency the Ambassador today on 26 February 2010, which is declared a Global Day of Action in solidarity with Turkish workers. We are delivering this letter in solidarity with our Turkish colleagues, who have seen their trade union rights being violated all too often in the course of the past year.

The case which is currently attracting attention in Turkey and abroad is the one of the workers of TEKEL, the former state tobacco and alcohol monopoly, which was recently privatized. The government decided to close down all the warehouses owned by TEKEL, which meant the loss of 12.000 jobs. Workers, their family members and supporters have been demonstrating in near-freezing temperatures in protest against this decision since December last year. The protest began in front of the headquarters of the AKP, but the police cleared the area on 16 December and forced the demonstrators to a nearby park. The following day, police put up barricades around the park and then used water hoses and tear gas against the demonstrators. Police violence escalated and clubs were used against the demonstrators, many of whom had to be hospitalized. Mustafa Türkel, president of Tekgida-Is, which represents these workers and is affiliated to ITUC-affiliated national union centre Türk-Is as well as the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco & Allied Workers’ Association (IUF), and general secretary of Türk-Is, was arrested, but then released later that evening.

The police violence caused an outcry in the Turkish Parliament, but the government continues to refuse to accede to the workers’ demand that they be given alternative employment with their full employee benefits, as the law on privatization provides. The workers have been continuing their actions to date, in front of the Türk-Is offices, for more than 70 days now.

After meetings, on 11 February 2010, between the Chairman of The Turkish Grand National Assembly, Mr. Mehmet ?ahin, and The Presidents of national union centres TÜRK-??, D?SK, KAMU-SEN and KESK on the one hand, and between Prime Minister Erdo?an and Türk-Is President Mustafa Kumlu on the other, the unions denounced the authorities’ intransigence towards the workers’ demands, and called on them to try to reach a negotiated solution to the problem. To date, their appeal has not been honoured; on the contrary, Prime Minister Erdo?an announced that his government will not tolerate further actions after the end of February.

Last year has been a very bad year for trade union rights in general in Turkey. The Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has written or co-signed protest letters to the government on no less than nine occasions, without ever receiving a reply. The violations of trade union rights which gave rise to these letters ranged from a plea to the authorities to refrain from violent repression of peaceful May Day demonstrations, over the massive arrests of trade union members and leaders, of which dozens were made to stand trial on charges of supporting terrorist organisations, and the attempted murder of Süleyman Celebi, President of the ITUC-affiliated national union center Devrimci Isçi Sendikalari Konfederasyonu (DISK), to the ill-treatment of and lack of medical care for detained trade unionists. Furthermore, the ITUC, together with over a dozen representatives from trade unions and Global Union Federations from eight different European countries, a Human Rights officer of the delegation of the European Commission to Turkey, and representatives of Lawyers Without Frontiers and Protection International, joined an international observers’ delegation which attended the trial which was held in Izmir in November last year against 31 members and leaders of national public sector union KESK, which is also an ITUC affiliate.

After this trial, the ITUC denounced that “2009 showed an intensified crackdown on the unions by the government. After the KESK arrests in May, there was the arrest and subsequent illtreatment of Murad Akincilar, a Turkish national working for the Swiss union UNIA, and the assassination attempt on DISK President Süleyman Celebi. Tüm-Bel Sen representative Metin Findik is still in prison after more than five months, without being informed of any charges against him. On 7 December, 13 leaders of one of DISK’s most important affiliates, Nakliyat-Is, were arrested (in the KESK case, most important affiliate Egitim Sen is being targeted). There is a true pattern in all of these cases: upon being arrested, all unionists are being treated in a rough manner, or even mistreated; the authorities invoke some legal clause in order to keep the cases “under secrecy”, meaning that the defense lawyers can initially not look into their clients’ files – even for more than a month, as in the KESK case. And the accusations are all related to some form of “terrorist activity”.”

In its most recent Progress Report in the framework of the Turkish EU accession negotiations, dated 14 October 2009, the European Commission stated that “Full trade union rights have not yet been established in Turkey. The current legal framework is not in line with EU standards and ILO Conventions, in particular as regards the right to organise, the right to strike and the right to bargain collectively, for both the private and public sectors. The ILO Committee of experts called upon Turkey to adopt these reforms and suggested the organisation of a high-level bipartite mission to assist the government.” As you will know, this mission is early next month.

The deterioration of trade union rights in Turkey is a cause of serious concern for the international trade union movement. International trade union objectives are clear and remain the same. We are calling for full democratic rights for all Turkish citizens, including freedom of association; a halt to all violent repression; the release of all imprisoned trade unionists; and respect for core labour standards and workers’ rights, including the TEKEL workers’.

The ITUC and the Global Union Federations renew to the Permanent Mission of Turkey to the United Nations Office at Geneva and other International Organizations in Switzerland, the assurance of their highest consideration.

Signed: Raquel Gonzalez – ITUC, Secretary ILO Workers’ Group; Kirill Buketov – IUF; Kristyne Peter – IMF ; Alke Boessiger – UNI ; Kemal Ozkan – ICEM; Jürgen Buxbaum – PSI; Bob Ramsay – BWI

The BWI has launched 2 solidary campaigns.  Please take a few minutes to sign.  Thank you for our members!


Solidarity Campaign Zimbabwe:  ACT NOW!  Arrest, Intimidation and Harassment of BWI Affiliate GAPWUZ

“The BWI strongly condemns the continuing arrests, harassments and intimidation of trade unionists by your security forces, which in our opinion represent worst abuses of workers’ rights. We urge you to order the security forces to immediately and unconditionally release GAPWUZ officials that are currently under arrest in Zimbabwe and to ensure the return of any properties taken from their offices by your security personnel,” said BWI general secretary Ambet Yuson. In its message to the president and to the prime minister of Zimbabwe, BWI has condemned and strongly protested against the arrest, intimidation and harassment of its affiliate the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers of Zimbabwe – GAPWUZ.

According to the information received by the BWI, on 19 February 2010, the General-Secretary of GAPWUZ, Gertrude Hambira, and members of her staff were summoned to Police General Headquarters from the Law and Order section at Harare Central Police station and arrested the GAPWUZ Assistant General Secretary Gift Muti and President Manjemanje Munyanyi. Also, the Police mounted a rigorous search in the offices of GAPWUZ looking for what they described as information contained on a video tape highlighting disturbances on Zimbabwean commercial farms, we are informed that Cde Muti was later released but Cde Munyanyi is still in Police custody.

“The arrests of trade unionists and the raiding of union offices are in contravention with ILO convention Nos. 87 and 98. These two instruments, which Zimbabwe has ratified, call for States Parties to ensure respect for the freedom and security of persons, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, protection against acts of interference, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to provide information through the media and the right to protection of the properties of trade union organisations” added Ambet Yuson.

The BWI will continue to monitor the situation. Please take two minutes to sign our solidarity campaign!

Solidarity Campaign:  ACT NOW!  EU Reaches Trade Deal With Colombia 

“The European Union reached a free trade deal with Colombia and Peru on 1st of March 2010 that will fully liberalise commerce in some sectors between the 27-country bloc and the two Latin American nations. The deal is part of an effort by the EU to reach a free trade agreement with the Andean Group of countries. In such a context BWI will continue to raise concerns on the issue of human and trade union rights for Colombian civilians,” said Ambet Yuson, general secretary of the BWI. “We cannot tolerate that Colombia remains the most dangerous country for trade unionists in the world where murderers profit from impunity.” Take two minutes to sign the online protest message addressed to two german deputies of the European Parliament in the frame of IG Bau’s campaign.

The deal follows nine rounds of talks. It must be initialled by the parties possibly at an EU-Latin America summit to be held in May in Madrid before being voted into law by parliament.

The agreement will provide new market access to exporters from both sides and includes manufactured products, agricultural goods, services and investment.

The EU is the second-largest trading partner of the Andean region after the United States, with total trade worth nearly 18 billion euros ($24.3 billion) in 2008.

For further information on IG Bau’s campaign see here.