After working hard throughout the pandemic as essential food industry workers, members of the IUF-affiliated United Workers Union (UWU) are on strike for decent wages and fair treatment.
For workers at the General Mills factory in Rooty Hill in New South Wales, Australia, there is no recognition or reward for their hard work or long hours as essential food industry workers making brands like Old El Paso Mexican Food and Latina Fresh Pasta. This includes casual workers working for more than five years in insecure jobs. Despite being essential in the pandemic, General Mills is refusing to make them permanent.
Yet in its announcement to investors in March this year, it was very clear that all this hard work created value for shareholders:
“In Europe and Australia, third quarter organic net sales grew 7%, primarily driven by growth in Old El Paso Mexican Food and Haagen-Dazs retail ice cream.”
Despite contributing to this sales growth and profit through their hard work, workers in Australia are being denied a fair wage.
IUF affiliates are mobilizing to support the strike at General Mills in Rooty Hill.
Click here to sign the petition!
After months of ignoring union calls to improve COVID-19 safety measures, Cambodia’s largest hotel leisure resort Naga World Hotel Casino announced the mass redundancy of over 1,300 workers for “business reasons”. The mass retrenchment includes over 600 union members and union leaders – including the union president, vice president and general secretary.
Only 18 months ago the union president Sithar Chhim was reinstated after strike action by union members against her unfair dismissal in September 2019. Now Sithar Chhim has been terminated again, along with union vice president Sokha Chun and union general secretary Sokhorn Chhim.
The integrated hotel casino resort is owned by the Hong Kong-listed NagaCorp which declares itself to be “one of the world’s most profitable gaming companies, and the largest gaming entertainment company in the Mekong Region.” On March 8, 2021 – exactly a month before the announcement of mass layoffs on April 8 – NagaCorp announced a USD 102 million profit and that 100% of the profits for the second half of 2020 will be paid out to “loyal” shareholders:
“As a reward to the Shareholders who believe in the long-term growth of the Group despite today’s difficult times and in order to alleviate any sufferings, if any, of these loyal Shareholders who have stayed on faithfully with us during the COVID-19 crisis, the Board has recommended an unprecedented 100% dividend payout of net profits generated for the second half of 2020 as final dividend for the year ended 31 December 2020.”
While millions were paid to shareholders for their loyalty, workers who worked throughout the pandemic received nothing for their loyalty. Instead the company chose to slash the jobs of over 1,300 workers. Unlike the company’s concern to “alleviate any sufferings” of shareholders, it created suffering for these workers and their families.
Under the guise of “consultation” management met with the union to announce its Rationalization Plan, but refused to explain why mass redundancy was the only option. Management also refused to explain how workers were chosen for redundancy.
Although management claims that the job roles of 1,300 workers will no longer exist, over 700 casual workers in insecure jobs will be re-deployed to fill these roles. Similarly, management’s assertion that job cuts are due automation hide the fact that the company deliberately accelerated its plans to introduce new technologies, displacing workers in a pandemic.
After years of refusing to recognize the right of the union to represent its members, management declared that any negotiation over redundancies would be individual not through the union, leaving each worker alone without any representation to be bullied by a multibillion dollar company. Without representation, information or options, and facing economic hardship after months of reduced wages, hundreds of workers were compelled to accept “voluntary” redundancy.
More than 600 union members refused redundancy and are demanding the right to negotiate the terms and conditions of restructuring through their union. Having already terminated the union leadership, management refuses to negotiate.
Over 2,000 union members have signed a mass petition to be submitted to the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training as a formal complaint, demanding reinstatement and an end rights violations and forced redundancies.
For a company that repeatedly fails to tell the truth in its reports to the authorities in France under the Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law and its reports to shareholders, Accor’s actions in Indonesia suggest this is becoming part of its corporate culture.
Accor has repeatedly denied that workers unfairly dismissed at Fairmont Sanur Bali in July 2020 were terminated because they formed a union Serikat Pekerja Mandiri (SPM) and joined the IUF-affiliated FSPM.
However, after declaring that the selected workers were redundant for business reasons, union members were then individually offered their jobs back. The condition was that they sign a letter lying about what had happened.
“It is true that I work as Fairmont Hotel employee, hereby declare voluntarily and knowingly without any coercion from any party that I have never joined the membership of Serikat Pekerja Mandiri (SPM). Thus, I made this statement letter in truth.”
As members of a trade union, SPM, duly registered with the Department of Manpower in accordance with the law, Accor was asking them to sign a document saying they never joined. A lie. Four signed and got their jobs back. Thirty-eight refused to lie and continued their struggle for reinstatement. [See the video UnFairmont about this struggle against unfair dismissal.]
So if you lie you can work for Accor. Without a union. And without the internationally recognized human right to freedom of association that Accor claims to respect.
Now after 10 months they have no chance of returning to work and restoring their rights. Apparently the hotel will be rebranded under another international hotel chain, as Accor walks away from its responsibility in a pandemic. Ruined lives in its wake.
In its next report to the French government under the Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law, will Accor’s Vigilance Plan mention the issue of the violation of worker and trade unon rights in Bali, Indonesia, as a human rights risk? Will Accor admit that it failed to guarantee the fundamental human right to freedom of association? The case of Myanmar suggests the answer is “no”. The company makes no mention of human rights risk in Myanmar where their business partner was named in a UN Human Rights Council report as a crony of the military. If left unchallenged, that sets a dangerous predecent.
They refused to lie, so cannot work at Accor…..
In 2019 the United Nations General Assembly declared 2021 as the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour (IYECL). The prospects of any progress towards this goal are extremely dim. As we have already witnessed, decades of neoliberal policies created extreme vulnerability among working people and turned the pandemic into a crisis. As we enter the worst global recession since the 1930s and the worst global food crisis in 50 years, there is a risk that child labour will increase over the next decade. What the UNCTAD Trade and Development Report 2020 calls “the lost decade” will also be a lost decade for children exploited in all forms of child labour.
The greatest exploitation is in agriculture where 108 million children work, constituting 70% of child labour. While poverty is the obvious context of child labour, we have worked with our members in agriculture and plantations to identify three key drivers of child labour:
- piece rate wage systems
- unfair crop prices
- denial of human rights and debt
There are of course other causes of child labour that need to be addressed. Identifying these three specific drivers helps to identify solutions.
- We must establish guaranteed minimum wages as a living wage throughout the year and stop wage theft and unfair deductions. Agricultural, farm and plantation workers can only do this through the right to organize (as defined under ILO Convention No.11) and through collective bargaining. This is also a critical issue in the supply chains of transnational companies that claim to be addressing child labour. By allowing suppliers to deny the right to freedom of association and impose piece-rate wage systems, these companies are perpetuating child labour.
- We must guarantee fair crop prices and collective bargaining to ensure this translates into better, more stable incomes throughout the year. This also requires government crop price support schemes. Again, transnational companies claiming to eliminate child labour in their supply chains need to ensure fair prices are paid. The premium should be paid to small and marginal farmers and farm workers, not layers of traders and “middlemen” or certification bodies.
- We need to recognize the causes of debt in the context of lack of access to human rights. (The report to the UNHCR on private debt and human rights in January 2020 provides a useful framework for this.) We must eliminate the causes of family debt and ensure free access to health care and education and access to affordable housing, food & nutrition. We need to extend social protection and livelihood assistance to all small and marginal farmers and farm workers. (ILO Recommendation No.202 is an important instrument in defining the scope of this social protection.) Social protection must be financed through corporate taxes. Transnational companies that claim to be eliminating child labour through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) schemes should also stop hiding in tax havens or demanding tax holidays.
Another aspect of our program is to incorporate the elimination of child labour into our work on climate change and climate justice. We are working with our affiliates to develop a better understanding of the link between child labour and climate crisis and climate migration, as well as biodiversity loss and environmental destruction. Climate change and biodiversity loss lead to debt, displacement, and climate migration. There is a higher incidence of child labour among climate migrants as they desperately seek work elsewhere. There is also a higher risk of trafficking in children. Our affiliates in several countries, particularly India, Bangladesh and Myanmar, have been campaigning for crop subsidies and livelihood assistance for farmers and farm workers affected by climate change. These demands should be seen as vital to the elimination of child labour.
Download higher resolution JPEG piece-rate wages [1MB] or PDF piece-rate wages [3MB]
Download higher resolution JPEG unfair crop prices [3MB] or PDF unfair crop prices [10MB]
Download higher resolution JPEG debt & human rights [1MB] or PDF debt & human rights [1MB]
Throughout the IUF Asia/Pacific Region, our members are outraged by the imprisonment of Brother Lee Cheuk-yan, General Secretary of Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU).
Brother Lee Cheuk-yan was charged for involvement in five “unauthorised” rallies in the 2019 peaceful protest movement, May 1st and the June 4th Candlelight Vigil in 2020. He was sentenced to 14 months with two more cases pending trial.
In his submission to the court, Brother Lee Cheuk-yan reaffirmed that he had done “no wrong in affirming the rights of people to peaceful procession and I believe history will absolve me”.
May 1st – international workers’ day – is our day for workers around the world. It commemorates the Haymarket massacre in Chicago in 1886 when a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour work day was brutally repressed.
The June 4th Candlelight Vigil commemorates the bloody repression of the democracy movement of students and autonomous workers organizations in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
To ensure we do not forget these momentous acts of collective courage in our common history, HKCTU leaders and members exercised their internationally recognized right to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression to honour the sacrifices of workers on May 1, 1886 and June 4, 1989.
Brother Lee Cheuk-yan is now persecuted and imprisoned for exercising these rights – peacefully bringing workers together in remembrance of what we fought for and what we must not lose. Once again it is a tremendous sacrifice in the face of oppression.
This reminds us that we must be relentless in our continued support for workers in Hong Kong in the struggle for freedom and rights. HKCTU represents that freedom and is the only trade union organization defending workers’ rights. We must mobilize support internationally.
The members of IUF in the Asia/Pacific region stand with Brother Lee Cheuk-yan and with HKCTU. And on May 1 and June 4 we will not forget!
Please read Conscience Cannot Be Imprisoned: The Belief Remains, The Resistance Continues | Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (hkctu.org.hk)
In the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic the Schreiber Dynamix Dairies Employees Union (SDDEU) in Baramati extended support for contract and casual workers, ensuring free PPE and financial support. Despite the challenges in the pandemic, the SDDEU also continued to negotiate the conversion of casual workers to permanent jobs.
Brother Nanaso Thorat, SDDEU President, presents a permanent appointment letter
On February 11, 2021, 20 casual workers were appointed to permanent positions. This included workers who were casuals for more than 15 years. This is the result of a sustained effort by the union to tackle precarious employment over the past ten years.