Australia rates poorly in global investigation into worker abuse
Workers across the world — including Australia — are being denied important basic human rights, a new global investigation warns.
The new International Trade Union Confederation’s (ITUC) Global Rights Index ranks countries on how well they protect employment rights including freedom of association, collective bargaining and the right to strike.
The ITUC Global Rights Index ranks 139 countries against 97 internationally recognised indicators to assess where workers’ rights are best protected, in law and in practice.
At worst, workers die, disappear or get beaten and tortured according to the grim picture emerging from the study.
Of more than 130 countries surveyed just one, Denmark, was found to honour all 97 fundamental aspects of employment rights as grounded in international human rights law.
Rights violations were found to be rare in just 18 countries and abuses are taking place even in regions considered wealthy or first world.
“Countries such as Denmark and Uruguay led the way through their strong labour laws, but perhaps surprisingly, the likes of Greece, the United States and Hong Kong, lagged behind,” says ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow.
“A country’s level of development proved to be a poor indicator of whether it respected basic rights to bargain collectively, strike for decent conditions, or simply join a union at all.”
Restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, including severe crackdowns in some countries, increased by 22 per cent, with 50 out of 141 countries surveyed recording restrictions.
The ITUC Global Rights Index ranks 141 countries against 97 internationally recognised indicators to assess where workers’ rights are best protected, in law and in practice.
The organisation has been collecting data on the abuse of trade union rights around the world for the past 30 years.
Now, for the first time the ITUC Index details carefully verified information from the last 12 months in an easy-to-use format so every government and business can see how their laws and supply chains stack up.
In about 40 per cent of states, rights were violated systematically or simply not guaranteed. And hundreds of union leaders were ‘disappeared’, beaten, arrested and tortured.
In 53 countries, workers had been dismissed or suspended simply for trying to negotiate better conditions.
Shamefully, Australia scores a three, alongside countries such as Kazakhstan and Peru and falls within the category of nations where people’s workplace rights are regularly violated.
A number three rating is defined: Governments and/or companies are regularly interfering in collective labour rights or are failing to fully guarantee important aspects of these rights. There are deficiencies in laws and/or certain practices which make frequent violations possible.
The index has the potential to become an extremely useful tool say unions.
Employment rights are fundamental to people’s ability to secure a better deal for themselves within the capitalist system, or at least to protect themselves from the most egregious forms of exploitation.
Many countries in the global south have effectively been coerced into concentrating on “flexible” low-wage economic activity by the states of the global north, not least through institutions such as the IMF, the World Trade Organisation and the World Bank.
Cambodia’s labour law fails to cover many civil servants, there are undue restrictions on the right to elect union representatives, and in 2013 the government responded with lethal force to demonstrators seeking a decent wage and working conditions.
In the Middle East, Qatar — where 11 workers recently died — is yet to allow unions at all for its huge migrant labour force.
And in Latin America, Guatemala was one of the worst places to be a worker, with no guarantee of rights.
“The World Bank’s recent Doing Business report naively subscribed to the view that reducing labour standards is something governments should aspire to,” Ms Burrow warns.
“This new Rights Index puts governments and employers on notice that unions around the world will stand together in solidarity to ensure basic rights at work.”
The 2016 ITUC Global Rights Index rates countries from one to five according to 97 indicators, with an overall score placing countries in one to five rankings:
1. Irregular violations of rights: 13 countries including Germany & Uruguay
2. Repeated violations of rights: 22 countries including Ireland & Japan
3. Regular violations of rights: 41 countries including Australia & Israel
4. Systematic violations of rights: 30 countries including Poland & USA
5. No guarantee of rights: 25 countries including Belarus, China & Nigeria
5+ No guarantee of rights due to breakdown of the rule of law: 10 countries including Burundi, Palestine & Syria
Source: Working Life