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Unions in Asia Pacific intensify efforts to organize white collar workers

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5 October, 2022Forty-five unionists from Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand met online on 28-29 September to debate organizing and advancing the rights of white collar workers in the region.

Facing technological innovation and changing job descriptions, Singapore’s Advanced Manufacturing Employees’ Union has worked together with its national centre to advocate for reforming the country’s Industrial Relations Act so that a limited number of white collar workers can be included in the workers’ union.

“It is crucial to show that trade unions can provide benefits for white collar workers. In Japan for example, both blue and white collar union members can secure low-interest loans from the labour bank established by trade unions. We must make unions attractive to the workers,”

said Yusuke Ishihara, Japan Council of Metalworkers assistant general secretary.

In the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand, the majority of white collar workers are women. A lack of awareness of workers’ rights, restricted laws on organizing platform workers and increasing automation to monitor and control workers are among the challenges to organize white collar workers.

Participants agreed to re-think organizing plans targeting white-collar workers. Issues concerning the interests of white-collar workers, for instance long working hours, mental health, right to disconnect and telework benefits should be emphasized in the organizing drive.

The importance of collective bargaining in protecting white collar workers’ rights and benefits must be underlined when organizing.

"Core labour standards are a guide in realizing freedom of association and advocating labour law reform in the digital economy. Unionists must take mental health and occupational health and safety issues more seriously, as this has been neglected for a long time. We need to make our unions more relevant for white collar workers,"

said Christine Olivier, IndustriALL assistant general secretary.

Corinne Schewin, from CFE-CGC and sector co-chair, shared issues faced by white-collar workers and the strategy to organise them in France.

“Changes in the industry leads to increased job creation for white collar workers. That’s why we have to organize in every country to attract them and to increase our membership,”

said Magnus Kjellsson, head of international affairs at Swedish union Unionen, on behalf of Martin Linder, the union president and the sector co-chair.