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Fighting for workers’ rights in South East Asia

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14 September, 2020Unions in South East Asia are planning ahead for defending workers’ rights through struggle and advocacy, institutionalizing safety and health concerns in collective agreements, and building capacity for women and youth.

Since August, IndustriALL has organized country strategic planning meetings with affiliates from Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and Philippines, with more than one hundred union leaders participating.

Workers in South East Asia have been hit hard by the coronavirus with mass layoffs, furlough or terminations. Employers have used Covid-19 as a pretext to dismiss union leaders and members in Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia.

Trade unions have responded by staging strikes and demonstrations, requesting international solidarity campaign and using global framework agreements to exert pressure on manufacturers.

Unions in the Philippines and Indonesia are calling their governments to declare Covid-19 as occupational disease, which the Malaysian government did in April 2020.

Unions in the three countries have been advocating for labour law reforms to defend workers’ rights.

  • Malaysian unions formed a labour law reform coalition with other global union affiliates to campaign for a reform of colonial labour legislation.
  • Unions in the Philippines are working together with congressmen on the Security of tenure bill, urging the government to end contract work.
  • Indonesian affiliates are opposing the so called Omnibus bill on job creation, which they say will remove current rights and benefits.

Trade unions are increasingly concerned about health and safety as members contract Covid-19. Philippine metal sector unions are recommending strengthening safety and health provision in collective agreements. This was echoed in a recent meeting with young workers, where Singapore affiliates argued for improving collective agreements in term of safety and health, employment security and upskilling.

IndustriALL South East Asia regional secretary Annie Adviento says:

“Affiliates in the region are active in women’s rights campaigns, like the ratification of Conventions 183 and 190, and young workers are participating in annual exchange forums. We will continue to build capacity for women and youth, while building union power.”

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan says:

“We need to overcome challenges with solidarity and commit to build a fair workplace, a sound health system and a democratic society. Let’s use occupational safety and health as a tool to organize workers and protect their rights.”