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.
Following reports of two COVID-19 outbreaks in the Naga World Hotel Casino complex in Phnom Penh in February, the IUF-affiliated Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of Naga World (LRSU) wrote three letters to management calling for stricter COVID-19 safety measures and to ensure workers’ rights to a safe workplace. Management ignored this and COVID-19 cases escalated, forcing a shutdown of operations. Now over 1,300 workers are being forced into redundancy, including the union leaders who called for improved safety.
The union also called for greater transparency and for management to share information with the union about these outbreaks. In its letter dated March 1, 2021, LRSU wrote:
On behalf of our 4,000 members at NagaWorld, we call on management to immediately apply comprehensive safety protocols and measures in accordance with WHO guidelines to limit the community spread of COVID-19 in the hotel casino complex [Naga 1 and Naga 2] and ensure the safety of our members and staffs. We are extremely concerned that we only learned of the COVID-19 cases at NagaWorld through media reports and individual workers. We received no information from management about the positive cases or what actions are being taken. In the absence of any information – including the names of those who suspect test positive for COVID-19 – it is impossible for us to assist in contact tracing and tracking. We believe this lack of transparency and cooperation significantly increases the risk for all 8,000 employees.
Management refused to provide any information to the union and forced workers to continue working. When casino customers from overseas who had already tested positive were allowed into the Naga 2 casino on February 25, police arrived to take them into custody. But within hours the casino was operating again and workers were ordered to keep working.
The union urgently requested testing for the casino to be closed for cleaning and for members to be tested. Management refused. On March 1, the union made five demands:
1. The management to immediately apply comprehensive safety protocols and measures in accordance with WHO guidelines to limit the community spread of COVID-19 in the hotel casino complex [Naga 1 and Naga 2] and ensure the safety of all staffs.
2. All workers of NagaWorld should remain at home without any punishment and on fully salary until it is declared safe.
3. All places in both building must do deep cleaning and disinfecting from specialist group.
4. Stop putting pressure on workers at all forms and all workers must have covid-19 test and confirm negative before return to workplace.
5. Stop suppressing information and to have greater transparency in tackling the community spread of COVID-19
Management again refused to respond to the union’s demands.
Management’s constant refusal to respond to union demands is part of a long history of denying workers the right to union representation. For more than two decades management has refused to fully recognize the union and dismissed union leaders in 2009 and 2019 attacked unions leaders.
In November 2019, management refused to respond to union calls for measures to protect workers from violence and abuse by customers.
Now in the pandemic – which is accelerating in Cambodia – management is determined to maintain its refusal to fully recognize and negotiate with the union. Even as it puts workers’ lives at risk.
The temporary closure of the hotel casino complex after these outbreaks is the direct result of management negligence. As the union states in its March 1 letter: “It appears that management was more concerned about preventing public awareness of possible community transmission at Naga World. Management instead gave priority to resuming business operations. This negligence put at risk the safety and health of customers and workers and the community as a whole.”
Management negligence is now costing hundreds of workers their jobs and livelihoods. Blaming the temporary closure for lost income, Naga World Hotel Casino is now laying off over 1,300 workers.
The union responded with REDUNDANCY NO! VACCINATION YES! – arguing that if workers are vaccinated and COVID-19 safety measures are put in place, then business can resume.
Management still refused to negotiate with the union. Instead the company escalated the attack on union rights by terminating the union president, vice president and general secretary who raised COVID-19 safety concerns in March.
Coca-Cola workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines responded to the strike in Hong Kong with solidarity actions, with messages calling on the company to respect trade union rights and collective bargaining rights.
Coca-Cola Hong Kong to respect collective bargaining rights! Respect union rights @Coca-Cola HK!
The Swire Coca-Cola Hong Kong Beverages Employees General Union launched strike action on May 28 to protest aggressive wage cuts and defend collective bargaing rights.
The union, which is affiliated to HKCTU and the IUF, took industrial action in response to management’s unliteral move to cut wages and change the structure and composition of wages. This not only undermines members’ livelihoods, pushing them even further from a decent wage, but also denies long-established collective bargaining rights at the company. The Swire Coca-Cola Beverages Employees General Union is among the very few private sector unions that has exercised collective bargaining rights for over decades. Now this is under attack.
The banners read “Swire Coca-Cola HK Betrays and Abandons Workers” and “Swire Coca-Cola HK Pay Cuts While Sales Increase”
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]