IndustriALL Headlines #40 – April 25, 2013

IndustriALL Headlines are produced by IndustriALL Global Union



April 25, 2013:  The Worst ever industrial accident in Bangladesh has killed more than 200 garment workers with fears of a final death toll reaching 1,000 as hundreds remain injured and trapped in the debris.

“Cut off my hand, save my life!” screams a woman trapped under the collapsed eight-story Rana Plaza building in Savar, 30 kilometres outside Dhaka. The same request is shouted by trapped Aftab, while other screams in the rubble demand oxygen. 200,000 local people have assembled in Savar offering to donate blood to the rescue effort, as hospitals are gravely under supplied.  

The mass industrial manslaughter occurred at 9am, 24 April. The collapsed building, illegally constructed, contained five garment factories with 2,500 workers. Those five factories are Ether Tex, New Wave Bottoms, New Wave Style, Phantom Apparels and Phantom-TAC. These factories are believed to have produced for several well-known western brands including Mango, Primark, C&A, KIK, Wal-Mart, Children’s Place, Cato Fashions, Benetton, Matalan and Bon Marché.  

On 23 April, the day before the collapse, large structural cracks appeared in the supporting pillars of Rana Plaza, but local authorities were ignored by the building owner Sohel Rana and the garment factory owners when they gave the order to evacuate, while the three shops and bank on the building’s ground floor heeded the warning and evacuated. A Rana Plaza garment worker had to work three days unpaid for every one work day missed, so workers were reluctant to stay safe at home on 24 April.  

Now over 2,000 workers are injured in hospital, many critically, 254 are dead and many more continue screaming from under the rubble. The IndustriALL Global Union affiliated textile and garment trade unions in Bangladesh are present and supporting the rescue efforts. Affiliates work jointly through the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC) which yesterday used a joint press conference to put forward joint demands and a programme of action, calling for justice and action from authorities and brands. The IBC will mobilize all affiliates in a mass demonstration on 26 April in front of the Dhaka Press Club.  

20,000 furious garment workers from neighbouring factories this morning brought five major highways to a halt, and several local skirmishes saw angry protestors target garment factories that were not respecting the national day of mourning, forcing them to close and show respect to the dead. Protestors also targetted the building of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers & Exporters Association (BGMEA).  

The systemic problems must be tackled immediately in Bangladesh’s garment industry and much responsibility must fall on the western clothing brands making enormous profits from items made in deadly conditions on poverty wages. While brands continue refusing to pay a sufficient price for safe production of their clothes, their calls for improved safety are not sincere.  

Much needed improvements to the national labour law have been debated through Bangladesh’s legislative process, with the government cabinet approving revisions on 22 April. However this process has been lobbied by the global garment industry buyers who have demanded a scaling back of workers’ rights initially proposed in the reform.  

IndustriALL Global Union believes that Bangladeshi garment workers deserve the right to work in safety, with full access to organize and bargain collectively in trade unions, and a substantial rise of the current US$38 monthly minimum wage.  

IndustriALL Global Union General Secretary Jyrki Raina said:  

“This terrible tragedy highlights the urgency of putting a stop to the race to the bottom in supplying cheap means of production to international brands, a race in which hundreds of workers have lost their lives. Global clothing brands and retailers have a responsibility for their full production chains. Now it is time for them, suppliers and the Bangladeshi government to sit down with IndustriALL and its affiliates to agree on a safety program that will ensure this will never happen again.”  


April 25, 2013:  IndustriALL Global Union joined a diverse group of civil society activists, NGOs and community-based organizations in London to protest against Anglo American and Rio Tinto on the occasion of their Annual General Meetings on 18 and 19 April 2013 respectively. 

The protests were held under the banner; “stories of resistance” and were organized and coordinated by the London Mining Network. The “stories of resistance” were echoed by:  

  • representatives from communities affected by Anglo American and others at the Cerrejón coal mine in Colombia, speaking about forced community removals and the alliance between farming communities and mine workers,  
  • a national union of mineworkers’ representative from South Africa NUM, speaking about silicosis and the legal action against Anglo American,  
  • a representative of Oyu Tolgoi Watch in Mongolia, speaking about the impacts on water and traditional livelihoods of Rio Tinto’s operations there,  
  • a representative of indigenous people affected by Rio Tinto’s operations in Arizona, and  
  • representatives of the West Papuan independence movement, speaking about the Grasberg mine.  

These stories of resistance, of Indigenous rights, workers’ rights, human rights in general, and the health of the environment, struggled to be heard inside the halls of the annual general meeting as they were drowned by both board members and individual shareholders’ concerns for a return on shareholder investments on profit.  

One shareholder, though, raised a concern as to why last year’s Greenwash Gold Campaign, which was voted by the public and which was won by Rio Tinto did not appear in the company’s report. The chairman of Rio Tinto, Jan du Plessis, replied that he had no intention of publicizing the Greenwash Gold Campaign in the company’s report.  

Glen Mpufane of IndustriALL Global Union asked about the company’s conflictive relations with trade unions, noting particularly the lockout of workers at the Alma smelter in Quebec, Canada, in 2012, and if the company was concerned about its anti-union image.  

Sam Walsh replied that the Alma smelter dispute that went on during the first half of 2012 was about remuneration and how to do business, how to improve productivity and the viability of the smelter. He said that the company is not anti-union, that it respects the right of workers to join or not to join unions, {but} that that its overriding concern was to maintain direct contact with its employees.


April 24, 2013:  IndustriALL Global Union condemns the arrest of Comrade Wonder Mkhonza, Deputy General Secretary of the Swaziland Processing, Refining and Allied Workers Union. 

Mkhonza was arrested on 12 April during mass activities to protest the 40 year old state of emergency that bans political parties and that recently banned the only trade union centre in the country, the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland-TUCOSWA. Mkhonza is the chairperson of the coordinating council of the manufacturing unions which are working towards a merger in Swaziland, a process fully supported by IndustriALL.  

Mkhonza is appearing at the high court on Wednesday 24 April. He has been denied visitation and has up to now not been allowed access to a lawyer. Our immediate concern is for Mkhonza’s safety and we are reminded of fellow Swazi trade unionist Sipho Jele who died under suspicious circumstances whilst in police custody in 2010.  

IndustriALL has launched an international campaign to demand the immediate release of Wonder Mkhonza and that charges against him, which include sedition, be immediately dropped.   

Actions by the Swazi government continue to be in contravention of ILO conventions and the African People’s Charter and the UN Human rights charters. We demand that the Swazi government stop the harassment of trade unionists. We also demand that the Swaziland government uphold internationally recognized right to freedom of association and recognize the legitimacy of the recently formed trade union federation in the country TUCOSWA  

We further call upon the Swazi government to recognize the right to freedom of assembly and allow for citizens to engage in peaceful protest.   

We also call on all African governments to put pressure of the Swazi government end the 40 year state of emergency and embrace democracy.   

African trade union leaders received a report on the harassment of trade union leaders at a meeting of IndustriALL Global Union being held in Midrand, South Africa on 23 April. IndustriALL represents 50 million members in 140 countries. We represent workers globally across supply chains in the energy, mining, manufacturing and related sectors, including members of our Swazi affiliated unions.    

PRESS CONTACTS:   For further information contact please contact IndustriALL Africa Regional Secretary Fabian Nkomo +27 (0)725157415.


April 24, 2013:  The International Monetary Fund labour market remedies pose a real threat to collective bargaining systems. Austerity policies, now more than ever, are being challenged after pro-austerity data proves to be based on flimsy facts.

In a recent report, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) caution that IMF labour market advice, as part of the Troika, undermines democracy and risks economic dictatorship across Europe and beyond, and will create more divisions and social unrest, without producing any economic benefits.  

The ITUC Frontlines 2013 report, “Ideology without economic evidence: IMF attacks on collective bargaining”, was released in April and analyses the actions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that have weakened collective bargaining.  

“The attacks on collective bargaining and unions also contravene international law. The ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association reconfirmed that reforms of this nature in Greece infringe on core ILO Conventions concerning collective bargaining and freedom of association,” the report says.

Meanwhile, 2 Harvard economists acknowledged their study used by the IMF to justify austerity policies contained an important mathematical error. In recalculating the data, 3 other economists from the University of Massachusetts showed that data from certain years and certain countries were excluded from the average. When the complete data set is included, it shows that the average growth rate of countries with 90 per cent debt loads is 2.2 per cent — a significant difference from the 0.1 per cent decline posited earlier.  

The ITUC, Global Unions and IndustriALL Global Union argue that sustainable growth, decent jobs for all, economic efficiency and greater equity are common ambitions which require comprehensive collective bargaining systems and strong labour market institutions in all countries.  

“There is no economic justification for these labour reforms. Countries with little or no collective bargaining do not achieve faster growth, lower unemployment or better export performance than other countries. They do have greater wage inequality. The economic strategy being pursued by the IMF, and in crisis countries with its Troika partners, is deeply flawed,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary.  

ITUC Frontlines Report April 2013  

ITUC Frontlines Report Summary April 2013


April 24, 2013:  Meeting in Hungarian capital Budapest on 22-24 April 2013, the IndustriALL Global Union World Conference for the Rubber Industry’s more than one hundred participants from some twenty countries committed to reinforce trade union workers at the dominant multinational companies of the sector.

“With this Conference, let us show that we are able to create concrete programs for workers’ solidarity against the negative effects of globalization in our sector,” were the opening remarks of Tamas Szekely, President of the Hungarian Chemical and Energy Workers’ Federation (VDSz) that hosted the Conference. The participants conducted discussions through company break-out meetings covering Bridgestone, Goodyear, Michelin, Continental and Pirelli to discuss particular situations in their respective countries.  

The Conference overwhelmingly discussed challenges and union actions in the global rubber industry with a perspective over the future of auto and auto supplier sectors with tire and non-tire segments. The delegates explained developments in individual countries after the major crisis of 2008-2009. It was reported that even though crisis conditions have now passed, workers continue to suffer deteriorated working conditions. The European and North American representatives reported ongoing cases challenging unions and workers.  

The reports from the break-out meetings formed a genuine base for union networks in the rubber industry. The participants appreciated a continuing of the global network activities with Japanese-based Bridgestone. The Secretary of European Works Council of French-based Michelin briefed participants about the efforts towards the creation of Michelin’s global network with a positive development that the company management already announced its readiness for a global framework agreement. Having concerns about the future of the company, participants coming from US-based Goodyear expressed their views of the importance of reinforcing union networking, as did the participants from Italian-based Pirelli. The delegates also shared experiences over the difficult situation at German-based Continental’s operations. The Conference underlined the importance of working with non-tire multinationals such as Hutchinson, Trelleborg, and Freudenberg.  

Union organizing and the fight against precarious employment were also major agenda items discussed. More joint work with the Auto Section has been defined as a priority in union campaigns in the rubber industry within the supply chain strategy of IndustriALL Global Union. Even though precarious employment is not identified among the major problems in the tire industry in developed countries, it has been defined as a burning problem in developing countries, particularly in Asia. Examples from union recruitment and achievements through collective bargaining processes were exchanged with interest. The participants also debated health and safety conditions in the sector, and attached great attention to sustainability in the sector.  

The Conference unanimously adopted a plan of action over the points raised. (For the action plan, please click here). The delegates re-elected Stan Johnson, International Secretary-Treasurer of USW, as Chairperson of IndustriALL Global Union’s Rubber Section while Linda McCulloch, National Secretary of Unite the Union has been elected as Vice-Chairperson. “This successful Conference has given us a clear road map for our future activities in building up genuine union power in the rubber industry” said Johnson at his final speech.

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