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ILO is back to work

30 June, 2015After three years of employers blocking work on the application of ILO norms, this year’s International Labour Conference reaches a series of important conclusions on Mexico, Bangladesh, Swaziland and social protection.

In February 2015, after a global action day called by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and supported by IndustriALL Global Union and other global unions, the employers group at the International Labour Organization (ILO) finally agreed to recognize the right to strike. A joint statement by the workers’ and employers’ group also ended a three-year blockage on addressing important cases of violations of workers’ rights.

Therefore this year’s International Labour Conference (ILC) of the ILO in Geneva to which 4500 government, employer and worker delegates gathered in June, was different from the past three years.  After the deadlock was broken in February, serious matters could be discussed and key conclusions reached.

I am especially happy about the conclusions on Mexico. The ILO Governing Body and the Committee on Application of Standards asked the Mexican government to take legislative reforms to prevent the registration of trade unions that cannot demonstrate the support of the majority of the workers they intend to represent, by means of a democratic election process.  

The Mexican government was quick to state in public that the law does not support this protection contract system upheld by yellow unions and corrupt employers. However, 90 per cent of collective agreements are made without consulting the workers. Now the ITUC and IndustriALL are discussing the next steps in our joint action towards democratic labour-management relations in Mexico. 

In Bangladesh, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety is making garment factories safer. We also managed to collect from global clothing brands the required US$ 30 million for paying compensation to the victims and families of the Rana Plaza industrial homicide in April 2013. Now the ILO Committee recommends sending a high level tripartite mission to examine legal problems, issues with export processing zones (EPZs), anti-union discrimination and violence, and trade union registration. The garment industry of four million workers has been practically a union-free zone. Now we need to get it organized.

The ILO Committee reiterated its criticism against Belarus where the government has failed to address most of the earlier recommendations. The workers cannot freely join a union of their choice. In its remarkable 2015 Global Rights Index, the ITUC lists Belarus as one of the world’s ten worst countries for workers. The report says Belarus is characterized by anti-union discrimination, forced labour and repression of protests.

In Swaziland, the Committee called for the registration of IndustriALL affiliate Atuswa and for the release of a jailed union leader.

The Committee on Social Protection concluded that although some advances have been made in minimum wage systems, working hours, health and safety, and maternity protection, too many workers lack adequate social protection. These shortcomings need to be addressed throughout the global supply chains, which will be a major topic on the ILO conference in 2016.

For IndustriALL, ILO norms are a cornerstone of workers’ rights. Organizing and mobilizing workers remain the best tools for putting them in practice.

Jyrki Raina

General Secretary