ITUC OnLine – May 31, 2013

ITUC OnLilne is produced by the International Trade Union Confederation

On the Road to an Arab Region Trade Union Organisation

Meeting in Amman, Jordan, on 30-31 May, the Arab national trade union organisations affiliated to or associated with the ITUC have decided to launch the process of creating a trade union organisation for the Arab region, in the framework of the ITUC.  To respond most effectively to the legitimate political and social aspirations expressed by the revolutions which have taken place in the Arab region, the founding organisations of this democratic and independent Arab trade union movement have adopted to this end a charter which sets out the fundamental principles for action and defines the objectives to be implemented.

The struggle for freedom, social justice and equality, the fight against oppression, exploitation, poverty and discrimination are at the heart of the democratic and independent Arab trade union movement.  Based on the rejection of all forms of colonialism, racism, sectarianism and terrorism, the Democratic and Independent Arab trade union movement seeks to unify all its force to fight for trade union rights, for the establishment of genuine social dialogue in the Arab countries, for the creation of decent jobs, in particular for young people, as well as for the defence of the rights of migrant workers and those in the informal economy.  The struggle for women’s rights, which are particularly repressed in the Arab region, and for a more equitable participation of women within trade unions is equally a fundamental priority on the agenda of the democratic and independent Arab trade union movement.

The founding organisations have adopted provisional internal rules, and conferred on the representative of the ITUC secretariat the responsibility to submit the adopted documents to the next meeting of the ITUC General Council.

UN Post-2015 Report: Decent Work and Rights Needed

Brussels, 31 May 2013 (ITUC OnLine):  The ITUC is urging the United Nations to lift its poverty benchmark from $1.25 per day following the release of the report of its High-Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda, to help realise the ambition of ending extreme poverty through sustainable development.   Though the report offers a solid starting point, UN Member States will need to go much further in their commitments if the Post 2015 Agenda is to be truly transformative.

“There is much which is good in this report, and we now need to see much stronger focus on providing decent work, universal social protection and meeting the massive challenge of tackling inequality,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.  “We need the UN to throw its full weight behind efforts to realise fundamental rights, to ensure working people can lift themselves out of poverty and provide for their families.  These ambitions cannot be achieved if the global community carries on with business as usual.”

The Panel’s emphasis on human rights and the accountability of governments, public institutions and the private sector to people is notable, as is the acknowledgement of the interconnectedness of economic and social development with environmental sustainability and climate change. 

While unions welcome the emphasis on inclusive growth, financial stability and long-term investment, the absence of an absolute commitment to achieve decent work for all is a serious omission. 

Job creation, worker’s rights, social protection and social dialogue cannot be seen as too lofty an ambition for developing countries.    This is discriminatory and an acceptance of exploitation.

The reports emphasis on the role of business in development is understandable, but should be complemented by the equally important role of workers.  So it is regrettable again that Panel fails to recognize the importance of the Social Dialogue for increasing productivity, creating better working conditions and building stronger and more cohesive societies.

“Instead the report sets a goal to bring the number of people living on less than $1.25 per day to zero.  This is what Bangladeshi workers producing garments for global markets are paid today, as are construction workers building skyscrapers and football stadiums in Gulf countries and agricultural workers producing for global food corporations.  Corporate accountability cannot be left out of the equation if we are to truly tackle the roots of extreme poverty, and multinationals should reform their own operations and supply chain responsibilities to ensure environmental sustainability, decent work and a proper living wage” said Burrow. 

Finally, the international trade union movement stresses that the path forward for UN Member States to agree Post 2015 commitments must be democratic and inclusive.  It remains committed to achieving an outcome that responds to the demands of workers and communities around the world.

Union Officials Arrested at FIFA Congress in Mauritius

Brussels 31 May 2013 (ITUC OnLine): Eight Mauritian and international trade union representatives have been arrested and charged for holding a peaceful demonstration outside the FIFA Congress in Mauritius today, calling for FIFA to re-run the vote awarding Qatar the 2022 World Cup.

“We followed the law, but were arrested illegally simply because we want people to know the truth about Qatar’s appalling record on worker’s rights and safety.

  Today’s police action threatens democracy in Mauritius,” said local trade union leader Toolsyraj Benedyn who is also Vice-President of the ITUC African Regional Organisation.

Mauritian law allows up to 12 people to hold a peaceful demonstration without prior permission.  While many others wanted to join the demonstration, the three trade union centres, MLC, MTUC and NTUC, decided to keep well within the legal limit and follow well-established police procedures.  However the police arrested the eight just before the FIFA cavalcade passed them on their way to the Congress opening, then charged them with holding a demonstration without a permit.

“We don’t yet know if this was done purely at FIFA’s demand, or if Qatar has also used its financial muscle to push Mauritius to betray its own democratic tradition.  FIFA should be ashamed at being used as a vehicle to export Qatar’s repressive policies to the country hosting its Congress,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow. “We demand that the authorities release the eight arrested, and withdraw all charges against them”.

The latest in a slew of corruption allegations in world football hit Mauritius itself on the eve of the Congress, with national Football Association president Dinnanathlall Persunnoo accused of involvement in match fixing.  Persunnoo has denied the allegations.  Congress delegates are dealing with controversies over financial transparency, age limits for FIFA officials and the decision to award the World Cup to Qatar.

Prior to the Congress opening, FIFA President Sepp Blatter inaugurated a new football pitch at a FIFA-supported training facility, and the Mauritius Football Association renamed its headquarters “Sepp Blatter Football House”.

Qatar Threatens to Use Powerful Hold Over FIFA to Delay French-Moroccan Footballers Case

Brussels, 29 May 2013 (ITUC OnLine ):  Abdes Ouaddou, who has played 57 times for Morocco but was treated as slave in Qatar has warned other footballers of the dangers of being lured to play in the gulf state.

Qatar controversially won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup and is recruiting foreign players to improve their players’ performance and ultimately boost their FIFA ranking of 101 out of 207.

Speaking in an exclusive video interview for the ITUC / Equal Times  Re-run the vote campaign Abdes Ouaddou said,

“I am going to open the eyes of the players in the French and European leagues. You need to know that even if you sign for three or four years, you have no guarantee of lasting until the end. They will want to break your contract with no respect for the terms.”

Abdeslam Ouaddou made it to the top ranks of European and international football playing for AS Nancy and Fulham as well as playing for Morocco.  He was recruited to play in Qatar, but his club refused to honour the terms of his contract.

When Ouaddou attempted to lodge a complaint he came up against similar intimidation tactics the ITUC has seen used against construction workers in Qatar.

“It was very difficult to leave the country, because through my lawyer we had filed a complaint with FIFA to have my rights respected and my contract terms respected.

First I was refused an exit visa and was then asked to withdraw my complaint to FIFA because it could prejudice Qatar’s image. I refused to do this.

I was finally granted the right to leave the country but with a threat hanging over my head – you can leave but be aware you case will take four or five years to be heard, because we are very powerful in FIFA – the Qataris warned,” said Abdes Ouaddou.

The ITUC, the Mauritius Labour Congress (MLC), Mauritius Trade Union Congress (MTUC), and National Trade Unions Confederation (NTUC)   have written to FIFA President Sepp Blatter at the FIFA Congress in Mauritius this week demanding immediate action on the cases of Abdes Oudddou and Zahir Belounis.

French/Algerian striker Zahir Belounis is trapped in Qatar after being recruited to play for a national  team. He is owed wages and is threatening hunger strike unless the conditions of his contract are met and his exit papers are signed so he can leave the country with his wife and two young daughters.

“Qatar is trying to buy the respect and credibility of the international community. Yet they take no responsibility for the treatment of players or migrant workers in their country. Unless Qatar respects human and trade union rights, FIFA must rerun the vote for the 2022 World Cup,” said Sharan Burrow.

The ITUC, Mauritius unions and football fans will take part in a rally outside the FIFA Congress on Friday 31st May as delegates enter the convention centre in Mauritius for the official opening of the congress. Click here to watch the interview with Abdes Ouaddou.  

Read the ITUC letter to FIFA President Stepp Blatter.

For interviews with ITUC representatives in Mauritius contact Gemma Swart on +32 479 06 41 63, 

Qatar Villaggio Nursery Fire:  Justice Elusive for Victims

Brussels, 27 May 2013 (ITUC OnLine ):  Families of victims of the tragic Villaggio Mall fire, which cost 19 lives, are still waiting for the Qatari justice system to deliver one year on.  Thirteen small children, four teachers and two fire-fighters lost their lives when they were unable to escape the Gympanzee Nursery inside the mall when the fire took hold.  The children who died were from Canada, Egypt, France, Korea, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain and the United States.

Qatar’s Ambassador to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg, Sheik Ali Bin Jasim Thani Al Thani, and his wife Mrs Iman Hamad Abdulaziz Al Kawari, are facing criminal proceedings in Qatar over the appalling lack of fire safety and protection at the nursery, which they owned.   Despite court orders, Ambassador Al Thani and Mrs Kawari have failed to appear at several trial hearings in Doha, causing lengthy delays in the trial.

Bernadette Ségol, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, has written to the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy to raise concerns about the case.

Lax regulation and poor oversight mean that Qatar has one of the worst fire safety records of any rich country, with official figures showing that 90% of fires remain unexplained.

The charges against Sheik Al Thani and Mrs Al Kawari allege that “by their error, they caused the deaths… by not taking into account the laws and regulations … without providing the means of safety and security against fire”.  They are also accused of running a nursery facility without the approval of the competent government authorities and without adhering to public health and safety conditions”.  Five others, including mall management and one government official, are also facing charges.

Families of the deceased have reacted angrily to the delays, and the lack of information on the proceedings despite Qatar government promises of a full investigation immediately after the tragedy.

The delay in criminal proceedings has also meant that civil action for damages, crucial in particular for the welfare of the deceased teachers’ families in the Philippines and South Africa, cannot move forward.

“Families of those who so sadly lost their lives deserve better than this.  While nothing can bring their loved ones back, their suffering has been prolonged without good reason.  Qatar is promoting itself as a global destination and a key international player, and it must be able to show the world that it has the will to prevent and avoid tragedies like this.  Justice delayed is justice denied, and people need assurance that the law has no favourites.  The government of Qatar must face up to its responsibilities,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

Key points in the prosecution case include:

  • The Qatari Authorities had known since 2007 that the illegal flammable materials that caused the fire to spread so rapidly were still used throughout the mall’s construction. Yet the Authorities continued to allow the mall to remain open, and to this day there is no confirmation those materials have been removed.
  • For three years The Gympanzee nursery openly remained situated on the first floor of the mall, contrary to building regulations.
  • The nursery was allowed to continue to operate without the relevant permits and safety inspections.
  • The second fire door from the nursery was locked from the outside, which if unlocked could have allowed victims to escape.
  • The Villagio Mall did not have sprinklers, proper fire-fighting or evacuation procedures, and the ‘fire alarm’ did not effectively alert people inside the mall to the danger.
  • A diesel pump at the mall intended to deliver water for fire-fighting failed, having not been maintained by the mall owners or tested in line with regulations for many months prior to the fire.
  • By the time fire-fighters finally obtained access to the Gympanzee nursery by cutting through the roof, those inside had perished.

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