On April 28, we will commemorate International Workers’ Memorial Day. This is a very important day for workers to remember the tragic loss of life, the severe injury and illness of workers as a result of work. It is a day to remember the dead and to fight for the living. While we reflect on this terrible loss of life, and of injury and illness and disease arising from work, it must motivate us to commit to fight for the right to a safe workplace. It is not just about workers’ behaviour, and safety training, it is about the obligation of all employers to guarantee a safe workplace.
And that safe workplace is a right of all workers, regardless of their background, regardless of their gender, their ethnicity, their religion, their place of origin, regardless of their employment status, regardless of the fact of whether they’re regular or casual, or temporary, whether they’re from labor hire, or whether they’re an apprentice or trainee. Any worker that enters the workplace for the purpose of work, engages in work in any form, has a right to perform that work and to return home safely to her family without injury, and without illness. That is a fundamental right, and we have to fight for that: for the right to a safe workplace.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that our health, the health of our community, the health of our families is so important. And we need the systems and protections in place to ensure that health, and those systems and protections must exist in the workplace too. It’s not about workers’ behavior, and how much health and safety training there is. It is about the nature of work, the arrangement of work and the pressure that workers face in doing that work.
We have to ask ourselves on this day on April 28. Why is it that so much about work is designed for production and for services, for products, for results? Very little about work is designed for people; for human beings. If we’re not using hazardous, toxic, dangerous chemicals, then we don’t need the protective equipment. The focus is always on whether that personal protective equipment is available, provided and accessible and whether workers are trained to use it. The real question is, why is it necessary? A safe workplace is a workplace in which employers fulfill their obligation to provide that safety and where governments fulfill their obligation to guarantee that all industries are safe for workers. That obligation requires that we minimize as much as possible, the necessity of personal protective equipment. Personal protective equipment, gloves, masks, protection from hazardous chemicals from heat from cold, all of this is a last resort.
What we need to focus on is how work must change the speed of work, the intensity of work, the speed of production lines, the cold, the heat, the exposure, the long working hours, the tiredness, the exhaustion that is costing lives. All of that has to change, not workers’ attitudes and behavior. It’s very difficult to have the right attitude and behavior if you’re working 16 hours and you’re exhausted. It’s very difficult to have the right attitude and behavior if you’re on piece-rate wages or in insecure jobs, fearing about when when your next paycheck comes, fearing about paying your bills.
A safe workplace requires secure employment, sustainable employment. And it’s a safe workplace, not the behavior of individual people alone. Too much of the focus in recent years has been on the individual behavior of workers, which is not about skilling, not capacity, not ability, but blame. Instead of that narrative of blame, let’s step back in remembering the dead and fighting for the living. To prevent these industrial injuries and illnesses, diseases and tragic loss of life. We must fight for the right to a safe workplace that all workers regardless of who they are, and what they do, are entitled to. This is a fundamental human right. And that’s why on April 28, we want to bring this message to all of our members across the Asia Pacific region and to ensure that all of our unions take up this fight in the next weeks, months and years to come. It is so essential for our trade union movement to make this a priority. Yes – job security, yes – better wages, yes – livelihoods, but at the end of the day, the right to come to work, to perform your work and to come home safely to your family must be a fundamental human right. Let’s on April 28, remember the dead and fight for living. Thank you.
NEITHER SEX, NOR WORK: ABOLISHING PROSTITUTION TO PROMOTE DECENT WORK
CAP International CSW66 parallel event, Friday 18 March 2022
The concept of “sex work” is incompatible with decent work. Decent work is not a description of work – good jobs vs. bad jobs, decent vs. indecent. It is a term intended to capture a broad range of comprehensive and far-reaching measures needed to ensure that workers exercise their collective and individual human rights. It refers to the preconditions for workers’ human rights to be fully realized. It is not about money (wages, income), but about the fulfillment of workers’ aspirations.
According to the ILO: “… decent work sums up the aspirations of people in their working lives. It involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.”
With these preconditions all work – regardless of how dangerous, difficult, or underpaid – can become decent work. “Sex work” – the selling of women for sexual use and exploitation – cannot. The preconditions for “sex work” are poverty, debt, a lack of social protection, insecurity, marginalization, displacement by conflict and war, and trafficking. This is what forces women into prostitution. It is compulsion, not choice.
“Sex work” cannot become decent work because the so-called “sex industry” needs the economic, social and physical vulnerability of women and girls. As a “business” generating profit it must perpetuate this vulnerability to expand its resources. Bringing an end to the economic, social and physical vulnerability of women and girls – which is integral to the very meaning of decent work – would bring an end to the “sex industry” itself.
To argue that prostitution is work is to argue that it is comparable to any other form of waged work: selling your labour-power in exchange for a wage. This mental and physical labour-power (and all forms of work are a combination of both), produces a product or service. Yet in “sex work” what is sold is not a woman’s mental and physical labour-power, but herself. She is the commodity. She is the product that is consumed. This precludes all the preconditions for decent work. Because it is not work.
Prostitution is an industry because it is allowed or encouraged to operate, generating massive economic wealth – criminal profits. But the exploitation of women in this industry to create that profit is not employment. Women are not employed to provide a service (selling their labour-power for a wage), they are the product. It is therefore not employment, but the enslavement of women and girls, reinforced by their patriarchal treatment as commodities, as property. It is impossible to ensure access to the rights so integral to decent work because goods – commodities, products – do not have rights. This underpins the business logic of this criminal enterprise.
The notion of prostitution as “sex work” is contingent on the claim that she has chosen this employment. It is her choice. This ignores all the force and compulsion we referred to earlier. The deliberate and systematic exploitation of the economic, social and physical vulnerability of women and girls due to poverty, debt and displacement, produces force. Not choice.
In our work on modern slavery in the fisheries industry we have rescued fishers from trafficking and forced labour. I have not once heard any government, company, union or NGO suggest that he was on that boat by choice. They recognize that for reasons of poverty, debt and displacement he was on that boat – through no choice of his own – and subjected to horrendous and degrading treatment. Why do these same organizations suggest that women exploited in prostitution made a choice? And what happened to our outrage at horrendous and degrading treatment?
The only way in which we could possibly consider this a choice is if all the preconditions of force and compulsion are eliminated. What does that mean? It means that we first eliminate poverty, debt, displacement, trafficking, forced labor, and the vulnerability of women and girls that leads to trafficking and forced labor. There must be social protection for all, health for all, freedom from debt. We must establish the comprehensive social protection that the UN General Secretary called for in September last year and eradicate poverty. We must create jobs, guarantee a living wage, and ensure that everyone has access to the universal human right to housing, education, food and nutrition as guaranteed in the UN Declaration on Human Rights. Only then is it possible to argue that choices are being made.
Yet we are so far from this condition. Instead, we face increasing poverty, debt and displacement in the next decade. This means the increased vulnerability of millions of women and girls. It means increased exploitation of women and girls in prostitution.
As the global tourism gradually recovers with the promise to “build back better”, governments, resort owners and tourism industry operators will once again encourage and promote prostitution as a tourist attraction – as entertainment. There is no doubt that sex tourism will be a driver of foreign exchange earnings and business recovery in many countries. The women and girls exploited in this sex tourism will remain poor because the industry needs them to be poor; it needs them to be perpetually vulnerable.
Article 23 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights refers to the right to earn an income that ensures “an existence worthy of human dignity.” What happens when earning that income forcibly rips away your dignity and – by treating you as a product, as property – tries to take away your humanity too? Survivors have courageously struggled to recover their human dignity by escaping trafficking and prostitution and helping others to do so. Calling prostitution “sex work” denigrates that courageous struggle and simply casts doubt on our own humanity and human dignity.
Dr Muhammad Hidayat Greenfield, IUF Asia/Pacific Regional Secretary
The “living with COVID” policies that have led to the lifting of restrictions are often based on a misunderstanding of “endemicity”, or what endemic means.
We should understand that “living with COVID” does not mean SARS-CoV-2 is no longer serious. It is a policy decision of governments based on politics and economics (not science) that have decided that the current level of illness, hospitalization and death is acceptable in relation to the economic and social benefits of lifting all restrictions.
In countries where there is a good, well-funded, hospital system free to all, and a strong health care system, “living with COVID” might be manageable. We do not live in such countries.
Continue reading on our COVID-19 blog
In the face of growing international condemnation, Cambodian authorities have released eight of the 11 NagaWorld trade unionists from prison on bail. Eight union leaders of LRSU were arrested in January and another three union activists were arrested in February for exercising their internationally recognized right to strike. Eight women were released yesterday while three men remain in prison, with possible release tomorrow. Although released from prison, the charges against the union leaders – charges that effectively criminalize trade union activities – have not been dropped.
The eight union leaders in arrested in January sought release on bail in order to represent their 365 members still fighting for reinstatement and over 3,000 LRSU members denied the right to union representation. Thousands of workers and their families face severe economic hardship and debt due to the actions of NagaWorld and the Ministry of Labour.
To avoid negotiations with the released LRSU leaders to reinstate hundreds of union members, NagaWorld and the Ministry of Labour created a fake union organization on the eve of their release from prison.
The new organization, called Union for Rights and Common Interests of NagaWorld Employees, was registered in record time. What would usually take months was completed in a matter of hours. The fake organization was quickly established to act as a counterpart in “negotiations” with NagaWorld management. The next step is for the Ministry of Labour to grant the fake organization Most Representative Status (MRS), depriving LRSU members of their collective bargaining rights. It is also expected that NagaWorld management exploit the climate if fear inside the hotel casino megacomplex to forcibly deduct union dues for the fake organization from the wages of the majority of workers.
The actions by NagaWorld and the Ministry of Labour are a desperate attempt to show the world that the rights violations have ended and the dispute is over. Just in time for an international tripartite mission to Cambodia scheduled for the end of March. Yet the actions of NagaWorld and the Ministry of Labour in creating a fake union organization and continuing to persecute LRSU members once again violates ILO Conventions Nos 87 and 98 on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.
LRSU has once again made it clear that it seeks good faith negotiations with NagaWorld to secure the reinstatement of unfairly terminated union members and for those opting to accept redundancy to receive their full legal entitlement to separation pay. At the same time the international community must make it clear that all charges against the arrested union leaders must be dropped and comprehensive legal reforms must protect trade union rights and prevent criminalization of trade union activities.
The international community must also make it clear that setting up a fake union organization and creating a climate of fear to silence workers fools no one.
At 2:50PM on Wednesday, February 9, three union leaders wrongfully detained on Saturday under COVID-19 laws were charged and sent to prison for pre-trial detention. Chaup Channath, Sao Sambath and Seng Vannarith were among several striking union members detained on February 5 by authorities under COVID-19 laws. However, because of their role as strike leaders they were charged and sent to prison on February 9, as the government desperately tries break the 53 day strike and cover up the human rights violations at NagaWorld that led to strike action.
The detention of Chaup Channath, Sao Sambath and Seng Vannarith adds to the eight LRSU leaders already imprisoned a month ago and awaiting sentencing: Chhim Sithar (Union President), Chhim Sokhorn (Union Secretary), Kleang Soben (Union Negotiation Committee), Sun Sreypich (Union Negotiation Committee), Hai Sopheap (Union Negotiation Committee), Ry Sovandy (Union Negotiation Committee),Touch Sereymeas (Union Activist), and Sok Narith (Union Advisor).
The actions of the Cambodian government violate several international human rights conventions including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and ILO Convention No.87 and Convention No. 98 on freedom of association and the right to organize and collective bargaining. This compounds the systematic violations of ILO Conventions No.87 and No.98 by NagaWorld management over the past year, when it imposed mass forced redundancies without negotiations with the union, LRSU, and selectively terminated the union leadership and active members. Ministry of Labour officials then colluded with NagaWorld management to prevent effective mediation by the Arbitration Council, forcing LRSU members to vote for strike action.
Instead of resolving this labour dispute during the one month cooling off period in November 2021, management refused negotiations and forced through the unfair termination of union leaders and members. Once strike action began on December 18, 2021, government authorities launched an attack on the union, raiding the LRSU office and arresting leaders and members.
In a further attack on the right to freedom of association, the right to strike and the right to freedom of assembly, new arrest warrants were issued for four women union leaders on February 6, 2022.
ACT NOW! Please support the call to release jailed union leaders!