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10 ways to fight precarious work

6 October, 2017We can win the fight against precarious work. Here’s how:

1. Join a union

The first step is for precarious workers to join a union. Whether you’re contract, agency, temporary, outsourced or zero hours, unions have effective ways to win secure employment.

As Abdoulaye from Senegal says in the testimonial at the end of this article:

“Since 2014, I have a permanent contract thanks to the action of SUTIDS union. Today my life and that of my family has changed completely: my income has increased by 125 per cent. 60 per cent of the medical care for my wife and four children is covered by the company.

“Consequently, I am now a militant activist for the defence of precarious workers’ interests.”

Maria Carmo of the CNQ/CUT in Brazil said:

“I started outsourcing work through a cleaning company. My salary was half than that of my colleagues. I was getting sick from inhaling the gasses of the materials. Every day I could be given a different time to work. I couldn’t plan my social life, study or have a family life. With my union, I’ve recovered my self-esteem. All workers should have the same benefits regardless if they are contract or permanent workers. And they all need to be unionized.”

2. Organize precarious workers

With the support of IndustriALL projects in precarious work, affiliates organized around 30,000 precarious workers between 2014-2016. In a recent example from Nigeria, 7,500 precarious workers in the oil and gas supply chain were organized into unions.

3. Resist outsourcing

One of the best ways of fighting precarious work is to defend permanent jobs, like this mining union in Zambia.

4. Building solidarity between permanent and precarious workers

Solidarity works! In South Africa, permanent workers went on strike in solidarity with precarious workers at a plastics factory, demanding the same terms and conditions for everyone.

5. Get precarious workers permanent status

The Korean Metal Workers’ Union fought with the Hyundai Irregular Workers’ Union for precarious workers at Hyundai for over ten years, using a combination of strikes, protests and court battles. The action culminated in the dramatic occupation of an electricity pylon for 296 days by one of the precarious workers. The company conceded and 6,000 permanent jobs were created.

6. Collective bargaining

The Indonesia Federation of Pulp and Paper Workers Unions inserted an article in its constitution affirming the equality of permanent and outsourced workers. The union carries this principle into all its collective bargaining negotiations. Last year’s agreement with Pindo Deli Pulp and Paper Mills guarantees the same conditions for the 1,000 contractors who work alongside the 5,000 permanent workers.

7. Global Framework Agreements

Global unions sign agreements with multinational companies that guarantee labour standards in the supply chain. IndustriALL has a longstanding agreement with Volkswagen to limit precarious work at all its operations around the world. Precarious work is limited to 5 per cent of the total workforce to allow for flexibility, and precarious workers will be offered training and opportunities that arise.

8. Public Pressure

In the UK, zero hour contracts – which offer no guaranteed working hours or pay and require workers to be available on demand - soared from 2010 and peaked in 2016 with 1.7 million people.

Unions mounted strong campaigns against them, including media exposés about conditions in big distribution centres, and holding protests outside shops that used these exploitative contracts. Zero hours became a major political issue and a number of employers pledged to end them. In 2017, there are 300,000 fewer zero hours contracts than last year.

9. Legal action

In South Africa, around one million people work for labour brokers – employment agencies that companies use to avoid taking responsibility for workers. South African affiliate NUMSA took a case to the Labour Court. The court ruled that after three months, temporary contracts lapse, and workers must be considered permanent.

10. Change the law

In New Zealand, a powerful campaign by the Unite Union lead to parliament banning zero hours contracts.