IndustriALL Headlines #47 – June 13, 2013

IndustriALL Headlines is produced by IndustriALL Global Union

415 Cambodian Nike Workers Sacked for Striking

One of IndustriALL Global Union’s affiliated garment worker trade unions in Cambodia, the FTUWKC, has suffered a serious backlash for striking in demand of a US$14 monthly pay increase. IndustriALL is working with Nike to intervene.

The workers at the Sabrina factory in Kampong Speu province, west of the capital Phnom Penh produce for Nike, Wilson Sports Apparel and Lululemon Athletica. The latest development in the concerning case is the mass-sacking of 415 workers identified by Sabrina management as participating in the strike.  

Say Sokny, General Secretary of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, reports that arrest warrants were issued for 16 workers identified by the Sabrina management as instrumental in the trade union campaign. Eight of the 16 are in jail and the others are in hiding.  

The arrested trade union activists must be released immediately without prejudice. They have been transferred to the provincial prison.  

Sokny reports that management are forcing workers to give their finger prints in a continued effort to intimidate and dismiss those supporting the strike and calling for the release of the eight imprisoned trade unionists. Hundreds remain mobilized at the plant gates demanding their release.  

Brother Sun Vanny President of the Sabrina factory FTUWKC Local has informed IndustriALL of the background to the dispute whereby an agreement signed on 30 January 2013 between management and the union was never honoured by management. The agreement covered a number of improved employment conditions.  

Following six months of increased intransigence from management, FTUWKC demands put forward on 9 May included the monthly salary increase of US$14 onto the previous US$74 level, in line with the 1 May national increase to the minimum wage. The other key union demand is for workers employed on temporary contracts to be automatically converted to permanent employment status.  

Without a positive management response to these demands, FTUWKC led a seven-day strike from 21 May and again from 3 June. Approximately 4,000 of the total 5,300 workforce took strike action. Negotiations to end the strike were supported by the Labour Ministry, but no counter proposal was put forward by management. Chea Mony, national President of FTUWKC took part in the failed negotiations.  

During the strike workers have been aggressively dispersed by over 1,000 riot police wielding stun batons on numerous occasions. Over 30 workers have been injured including two pregnant women who lost their babies when pushed to the ground by police on 27 May.  

IndustriALL supports its affiliate’s demands for settlement to be reached, justice for the two women who lost their babies, the eight arrested workers to be released immediately, all 415 dismissed workers to be reinstated and for local Sabrina management to enter into good faith dialogue and positive industrial relations going forward. It is IndustriALL’s expectation that Nike, Wilson and Lululemon strongly intervene to ensure these demands are met.


Bangladeshi Unions Reject Inadequate Labour Law Changes 

Bangladeshi union leaders have rejected new labour law proposals drawn up by the government, saying they failed to improve their right to organize workers and guarantee freedom of association.

June 13, 2013:  At the end of May, the Executive Committee of IndustriALL Global Union adopted a four-point action plan for Bangladesh:

  • Implementation of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety  
  • Labour law reform to secure freedom of association  
  • Raising the minimum wage from US$38 a month to reach living wage by 2015  
  • Launching a massive organizing project to ensure union presence in 5,000 garment factories  

Following international pressure and a high-level ILO mission to Bangladesh in May, the Bangladeshi government adopted a proposal on a labour law reform to be presented to the parliament. However, early positive signs have all but evaporated and the package has proved to be a deception. Respect for the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, in particular the rights to organize unions and bargain collectively, is severely lacking.  

As an improvement, a former provision that factory owners be given the names of workers wishing to join unions may disappear in the new law. However, Bangladeshi union leaders point out that severe obstacles to unionization, registering of unions, collective bargaining, and the right to conduct strikes remain. In addition, the 360,000 workers in Bangladesh’s eight export processing zones will remain excluded from protection under the labour law, instead relegated to a separate law that prohibits workers from forming a union.  

Also the campaign for an increase in the minimum wage from 38 USD a month for four million Bangladeshi garment workers remains stalled, as a result of employers’ resistance.  

“With so many factory owners holding seats in parliament, it is no surprise that workers’ rights are still being stifled,”  

said Sharan Burron, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Burrow called upon the US and EU to step up pressure for real reform.  

“Rana Plaza and other industrial homicides have demonstrated why Bangladeshi garment workers need strong national unions and local level union and safety representatives. A labour law reform that guarantees the rights enshrined in ILO Conventions is a necessary starting point for that,”  

said Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union.


Egyptian Trade Union Leader Facing Jail 

Yousri Maarouf, President of the new Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress (EDLC) faces three years imprisonment for trade union activities. IndustriALL Global Union is mobilizing support for Brother Yousri ahead of his key court hearing on 16 June at Egypt’s Supreme Court.

June 13, 2013:   Yousri has already been sentenced to a three-year jail sentence by a penal court and international expectation is now turning to next Monday’s Supreme Court session to overturn that repressive ruling.  

Yousri led dockworkers at the Alexandria Container and Cargo Handling Company in Al-Dekheila Port on the Mediterranean coast. The struggle for decent employment conditions at the company dates back to 2011, two years before the 25 January revolution in Egypt, and to the time of the Mubarak regime’s archaic labour law 12-2003.  

The dockworkers’ protests forced management to stand by previous agreements and led to improved employment conditions for all workers at the company. From this point onward Brother Yousri and the other leading trade union activists at the company were persecuted by management and the authorities.  

Persecution against Yousri was escalated as he continued to flag corruption in the management of the company. The company chairman threatened to sack Yousri and lodged a criminal complaint against him with the Attorney General. Yousri was docked wages and continually transferred to different departments to move him away from workers.  

Yousri led 1,500 workers in a strike on 1 October 2011 and brought the port facility to a standstill. The current charges facing Yousri stem from inciting workers during this strike. Yousri was successful in uncovering corruption at the firm and says that prison will not stop him in leading the EDLC. IndustriALL will campaign to stop him having to lead from jail.  

In writing to Brother Yousri, IndustriALL General Secretary Raina stated:  

“We, and all our member unions, are horrified to hear of the continual harassment, victimization and outright persecution that you have faced from both your employer and the authorities as you bravely defend workers’ rights and working conditions, as well as protest against widespread corruption that has come to light.  

We assure you that we are following the situation closely and the next court case on 16 June, 2013, in particular. We offer you all our support and solidarity and are prepared, if necessary, to campaign publically and globally against the continued harassment of an important trade union leader.”  

The founding congress of EDLC took place in Cairo on 24 April 2013, and was attended by IndustriALL. The representatives of more than 186 independent unions elected Yousri Maarouf as President through a direct secret ballot. .


The 16 June court hearing of Yousri Maarouf, President of the new Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress (EDLC), found him and his five colleagues to be innocent based on the rule that “sit-ins and strikes are guaranteed by the constitution and the defendants simply exercized this right”.


Annual ITUC Report Published on Trade Union Rights Violations 

Focusing especially on Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Guatemala, Burma, Fiji, Georgia and Bahrain, this year’s annual ITUC survey is a valuable resource.

June 13, 2013:  The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) issues an annual call for compilation of all trade union violations occurring country-by-country. The confederation of national labour centres annually publishes its Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights.  

The 2013 ITUC Report “Countries at Risk-Violations of Trade Union Rights” was officially launched on 12 June at the International Labour Conference.  

This report points at key findings in 87 countries with a special focus on the seven countries where the existence of trade unions and other democratic institutions are under extreme risk: Burma/Myanmar, Bahrain, Fiji, Guatemala, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Georgia.  

Marking the publication of the report, ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow stated:  

“Hundreds of millions of working people, in developing and in industrialized countries, are denied the fundamental rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining,”  

“For many, especially those in precarious employment, this denial wreaks havoc on their lives, as they work extremely long hours in hazardous or unhealthy situations with incomes so low that they are unable to support themselves and their households properly. Lack of respect for workers’ rights has increased inequality around the world, and that inequality helped trigger the global economic crisis and stand in the way of recovery.”  

See the report in full on the ITUC website here


Zewu Challenges the Dismissal of their President in Labour Court 

Zewu President Angeline Chitambo will appear at the labour court on Thursday in the ongoing battle to challenge her unfair dismissal by the state owned utility Zesa nearly a year ago.

June 12, 2013:  In July last year, 135 electricity workers were suspended without pay and benefits on charges of a threatened strike when the, Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa), claimed that it could not afford to give workers the wage increase in the collective agreement reached in January 2012.  

After a protracted battle in which Zesa attempted to use the suspensions as leverage to have the Zimbabwe Energy Workers Union (Zewu) abandon the collective agreement, all but three workers were reinstated by November last year.  

Zesa has victimised these three remaining workers because they are union leaders. Dickson Nyika, a Zewu branch secretary has not been granted an appeal hearing by Zesa. The union secured an external arbitration process for Dennis Mukote, a national executive member of Zewu and the award is pending.  

Angeline Chitambo, President of Zewu and IndustriALL Executive Committee Member is challenging her dismissal in the labour court. Chitambo was dismissed at a hearing that took place in her absence on allegations that Chitambo disclosed confidential information at a press conference damaging the image of the company.  

The situation for workers has not improved for workers as Zesa has not implemented the collective bargaining agreement, despite an arbitration award instructing them to do so and a criminal court ruling that Zesa must comply with the agreement. Workers have still not received wage increases which entitled workers of the lowest pay grade to a wage increase from US$190 to US$275 in 2012.  

“We need to continue to mobilise on this campaign because workers have still received nothing despite arbitration awards and court rulings,” says Mbonisi Sibanda, Acting General Secretary of Zewu. “This is serious beyond our issue with Zesa, showing that the rule of law does not prevail in Zimbabwe. Today this is against workers but tomorrow it may be against someone else, undermining much needed investor confidence in Zimbabwe.”

IndustriALL General Secretary, Jyrki Raina has appealed to the Zimbabwe Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai to urgently intervene and compel ZESA to reinstate Chitambo immediately. Raina also asked the Prime Minister to instruct ZESA to implement the collective bargaining agreement, engage with the union for renewed dialogue and to stop victimisation of union leadership.  

“We will continue to support ZEWU and Angeline Chitambo until this matter is successfully resolved and would like to contribute to restoration of harmony and fairness,” said Raina.