ITUC OnLine – February 21, 2011

Unions Welcome Pathway to Green Economy in UN Environment Report

Brussels 21 February 2011 (ITUC OnLine): A green economy can mean higher overall employment and better jobs, and is not just a luxury for wealthy countries, reveals the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in its Green Economy report released today. Supported by concrete examples from around the world, and a thorough macroeconomic analysis, the report underlines what the labour movement has maintained for several years: that a Green Economy, based on the right principles and properly planned, can deliver for workers and the poor.

“I am pleased to read that UNEP shares with workers around the world the deep belief that a green economy should work for the people and the planet, and not just for GDP growth and a few wealthy companies,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow. “As the report signals, one of the challenges is to ensure a just transition that will steer transformation across all sectors of the economy and lead us towards the decent and sustainable jobs of tomorrow.”

The report indicates that the allocation of 2% of global GDP towards the green economy could lead to immense benefits for workers and communities around the world and help overcome the diverse challenges countries are facing. It finds that a green economy can generate at least as much employment as the traditional economy, and outperforms the latter in the medium and long run, while yielding significantly more environmental and social benefits. The report stresses the importance of ensuring trade union rights, including freedom of association, and occupational health and safety in traditional and emerging sectors.

To those who consider that there is a high risk of ‘green and social-washing’, Burrow reacted, “the risk is the status quo. The green economy presents an opportunity to engage in a transformational path towards sustainable development. We must ensure this is not misused, we must ensure that green economy works for working people.

“The UNEP report sets out a clear pathway towards a green economy, but policies being pursued by governments at the moment risk taking us backwards.  Neo-liberal recipes, based on the dictates of the financial markets, have to be jettisoned in favour of a progressive approach in which governments fulfil their responsibility to regulate banking and finance, promote policies which stimulate greening of workplaces and creation of new green jobs, and ensure that this is based on social dialogue and social inclusion,” explained Burrow.

Along with specific education and training policies to ensure the skills needs for a green economy are met, economic safety nets and social protection are crucial to achieving the necessary transformation in a way which maximises the economic and social benefits.

“A green economy which works for social justice can only be a collective endeavour; it should therefore be equitable, inclusive, democratic and people-centered.  We will continue to push the case, in the coming days at the UNEP Governing Council meeting in Nairobi, and also during the next 16 months in the run up to RIO+20, to make the green economy a driver for prosperity and decent work,” concluded Burrow. 

United Nations Environment Programme website.

* The ITUC is represented at the UNEP Governing Council, taking place in Nairobi, Kenya, from 21 to 24 January.

ITUC Urges Gaddaf to End Massacre of Civilians in Libya

Brussels, 21 February 2011 (ITUC OnLine): Horrified by the ferocity of the repression seen over the last five days in Libya, where at least 300 protestors have been killed and the number of injured has reached startling proportions, the ITUC has called on its affiliated organisations to mobilise without delay to urge their governments to put pressure on the 42-year old tyranny of Colonel Gaddafi and ensure an immediate end to the atrocities.

“The unprecedented violence with which the authorities have responded to demonstrations by civilians legitimately demanding respect for their fundamental rights, freedom of expression and assembly, is dragging the country into a dreadful bloodbath,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow. “Colonel Gaddafi must bring this ferocious repression to an immediate halt; the ITUC is pressing the international community to take urgent action in this direction. These massacres must not go unpunished,” she added.

As workers at the Nafoora oilfield down tools this morning in solidarity with the protestors and solidarity demonstrations are held in Cairo and Tunisia, the ITUC expresses its total solidarity with the civilian populations in Libya, firmly condemning the violence being used against them.

Having received reports on the arrival at the Ras-Jdir border post of hundreds of Tunisian workers fleeing the violence in Libya, the ITUC also called for the protection of the many migrant workers in the country.

Democracy, Fundamental Rights and Freedoms at Risk in USA As Wisconsin and Other States Attack Unions

Brussels, 21 February 2011 (ITUC OnLine): Workers across the world are shocked to see the rights of teachers, health workers and other public employees attacked in the ‘Land of the Free’.  Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and other Republican Party state governors including in Indiana and Ohio have launched a major assault on the rights of public sector workers to union representation and collective bargaining, with heavy pay cuts and new obstacles to freedom of association.  Demonstrations have taken place in several US states over recent days, as opposition grows to the coordinated anti-union onslaught, which has its roots in the ultra-conservative “tea party” movement.

“Violating these fundamental democratic rights in other countries such as China, Egypt, Guinea or Mexico is rightly condemned by the US, so what are people to make of such abuse of power in the US itself?” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.  “The rights to organise and bargain collectively for fair wages and conditions are cornerstones of any democracy, and removing these rights means democracy itself is under attack.”

Moreover, the economic and employment crisis will not be fixed by taking away workers’ incomes.  These moves will destroy, not create jobs, as household incomes fall and economic demand falls even further.  This is just as true in the US as it is in anywhere else in the world.

Governor Walker’s threat to mobilise the Wisconsin National Guard, which he said were “fully prepared to handle whatever may occur”, has provoked outrage.  “This threat is simply incredible especially if we look to those countries today which have mobilised military and security forces against peaceful demonstrators,” said Burrow.

“Teachers, nurses and other public employees provide vital services to the public, and the offensive against them is also an attack on the community, children in schools, the sick and infirm in medical care, and the most vulnerable in society who rely on public services.  The USA was built on the foundations of freedom and democracy, but will certainly lose its claim to be the Land of the Free with this kind of extremist agenda,” said Burrow.  “Opposition to these attacks is growing in the US, but it is a fight for fundamental freedoms which has implications well beyond the borders of the country.  The entire international trade union movement stands in solidarity with these American workers whose rights are under such heavy attack, and we will do everything we can to support them.”

Middle East/Maghreb: “End the repression. Social and political responses are needed!” insists ITUC

Brussels, 21 February 2011 (ITUC OnLine): Triggered by the Tunisian revolution, then given impetus by that of Egypt, the wave of protests spreading throughout the Middle East and the Maghreb is growing by the day. The response to it has become increasingly violent, culminating in recent days with the atrocious massacres committed in Libya by the brutal dictatorship of Colonel Gaddafi, regarding which the ITUC has just launched an urgent appeal (*).

“Unemployment, poverty, inequalities, corruption, the repression of fundamental human rights… over and above the features specific to each country, the causes of the revolt are the same everywhere, and lie at the root of the vast and brave mobilisation of so many young people deprived of a future and freedoms. At this truly historic moment, the international trade union movement expresses its support for the legitimate aspirations of the region’s people for greater democracy and social justice. Those in power must stop responding with repression and listen, once and for all, to their peoples’ demands,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

In Libya alone, hundreds of civilians have been savagely massacred in less than a week. Following the terrible loss of lives in Tunisia and Egypt, repression has also claimed all too many victims in Bahrain, Djibouti, Iraq, the autonomous Kurdistan region, and Yemen. Demonstrations have also been suppressed in Algeria.

The ITUC is calling on the international community to ensure that those responsible for these repressive criminal acts are brought to justice.

As revolt also brews in Mauritania, national trade union centres affiliated to the ITUC (CGTM, CLTM, CNTM) held demonstrations last week to press for the opening of a social dialogue to tackle the “explosive situation in the country”. On 17 February, Sharan Burrow sent a message to the G20 stressing the urgent need to respond to the problems of unemployment and inequalities that are driving the wave of protest, by implementing global policies supporting growth in employment and incomes. “Jobs and rights, that is what young people in the Arab world are rightly demanding,” said Sharan Burrow.

From the very outset, the ITUC, together with its Tunisian affiliate the UGTT, which played a key role in the overthrow of Ben Ali’s dictatorial regime, expressed its full support for the thousands of trade unionists involved in the vast movement for change. “The ITUC, which strengthened its presence in the Arab region at its last Congress in Vancouver in June, is continuing to work closely with the UGTT to meet the future challenges in Tunisia. As two million Egyptians demonstrated their determination, on Friday, to secure a regime change, the ITUC is also continuing to support the new independent trade union movement, a key player in the transition underway. Likewise, in Bahrain, we are standing by our affiliate (GFBTU), which we have joined in condemning the repression and calling for national dialogue,” said Sharan Burrow.

“The days ahead are extremely critical. The international community must take action commensurate with the magnitude of the challenges raised by these popular movements, to ensure an end to repression, and the emergence of political, social and economic solutions including employment and social protection as well as bringing the long-awaited freedoms and development to everyone in the region. The building of free and independent trade unionism in the region is essential to the construction of a better future. Trade union freedoms and social dialogue go hand in hand with democracy and development.”

As journalists are killed, injured and prevented on a massive scale from performing their key task of informing the public, the ITUC also calls for respect for freedom of the press and the exercise of that right. Responding to the sentencing of a 15-year-old Syrian blogger to five years in prison, the ITUC is calling for an immediate end to obstacles to the use of Internet and other means of communication imposed by all too many rulers in the region.

In Kuwait, hundreds of migrant workers from a range of countries have been demonstrating over recent days for equal civil rights. In Libya, thousands of migrant workers are trying to flee the violence. The ITUC recalls that the fight for human and trade union rights in the region goes hand in hand with the global fight for migrant workers’ rights, especially in the Persian Gulf, where they represent a huge share of the labour force facing widespread exploitation and discrimination.

(*) “ITUC Urges Gaddafi to End Massacre of Civilians in Libya

G20 Finance Ministers Fall Flat on Jobs, Disappoint on Financial Reform

Brussels, 21 February 2011 (ITUC OnLine): The international trade union movement has sharply criticised the failure of last week’s meeting of G20 Finance Ministers to focus on the global employment crisis.

“The Finance Ministers have failed to grasp the depths of the global jobs crisis, with world unemployment of at least 205 million and a whole generation of young people facing a lifetime of unemployment or underemployment. The G20 leaders need to send them back to the drawing board to come up with real initiatives to create jobs, and indicators on which success can be measured,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

The conclusions adopted by the meeting include a series of key indicators for economic recovery, but in a bizarre twist, employment has been left off the list. The text includes scant references to jobs and provides no indication of a constructive approach to tackling unemployment, with several G20 members focusing almost exclusively on cutting government expenditure as their main policy approach.

“Massive cuts to government expenditure as some of these governments are doing must really be a magic solution, because there is no evidence at all that it will generate jobs and growth – only greater inequality and social exclusion,” said Burrow.

Although the meeting did not specifically endorse a Financial Transactions Tax as called for by current G20 host President Nicolas Sarkozy, the references to “systemic levies” are encouraging.

“The Ministers did begin some much-needed steps on regulating banks and finance, but there is no sign of the determination required to rein in the obscene and destructive bonus culture which helped drive the world into crisis,” said John Evans, General Secretary of the OECD Trade Union Advisory Committee.

Reforms to the governance of the secretive Financial Stability Board (FSB), have been timid at best on regulatory reform. “The FSB needs to set aside the self-interest of bank executives which has been a dominant force in its decisions to date, and start regulating in the interests of the real economy,” said Evans.

The depth of the problem on financial regulation is underlined by the fact that as concerns regulation of “shadow banking”, the Ministers are still asking the FSB for reports instead of moving ahead with regulation some 2½ years after the start of the crisis.

While there are some positive moves in other areas of financial regulation, notably concerning financial groups which are “too big to fail”, too much authority is still being left to the various national regulatory bodies, increasing the risk of major and potentially damaging differences between countries.

“The G20 leaders meeting later this year face a huge challenge on global employment. Unfortunately their Finance Ministers have let them down badly, and a great deal of work now needs to be done to make up for this failure,” said Burrow.

The ITUC represents 176 million workers in 301 affiliated national organisations from 151 countries and territories. Website:   and   For more information, please contact the ITUC Press Department on: +32 2 224 0204 or +32 476 621 018