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.
With the surge of COVID-19 in cities across India, millions of migrant workers returned to their villages in rural areas. They feared a repeat of the 2020 crisis when they lost their jobs and livelihoods during the strict lockdown. Around 20 per cent of migrant workers who returned in 2020, stayed in their villages. This added to the employment crisis in rural areas.
In this crisis the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) has proven to be a vital source of livelihood for rural communities. In most cases it is the only work available for rural workers.
NREGA provides 100 days of paid employment on public works for unemployed rural workers. This work includes building public wells, irrigation ditches, and working on their own land. This in turn supports access to potable water and food security in rural communities.
The IUF-affiliated Gujarat Agricultural Labour Union (GALU) assisted more than 20,000 members and returned migrant workers in six tribal districts to gain paid work under NREGA. Rural workers in tribal districts are the most vulnerable, with a high rate of out-migration due to poverty. After returning to their villages the paid work under NREGA is crucial to their livelihoods.
COVID-19 testing at NREGA sites
GALU ensures that NREGA pays for marginal farmers to farm their own land for food crops and rural communities have access to food grains under National Food Security Act. While promoting mask wearing, distancing and washing hands at NREGA worksites, GALU also arranged for COVID-19 testing with local authorities.
GALU is now focused on promoting vaccine awareness and access to vaccines. GALU is organizing vaccination drives in rural communities through its awareness campaign and arranging free & safe transportation to vaccination centres for women workers. Initially this transportation will be arranged for 2,000 women.
In the COVID-19 era NREGA will continue to play a vital role in rural workers’ access to the right to food and nutrition and the protection of livelihoods. GALU along with other IUF-affiliated unions such as SEWA are demanding that NREGA coverage is extended to 200 days of paid work.
In the early stages of the pandemic in 2020, women’s self-organized Water, Sanitation & Health Committees on tea plantations in West Bengal and Assam included COVID-19 awareness in their ongoing fight for health and safety rights.
From April 2020 they ensured physical distancing and wearing masks, assisted home-based workers to make three-layered masks and distributed them to workers in the plantation. They also formed teams to inspect company-run hospitals for pandemic preparedness and met with the plantation management to secure quarantine and isolation facilities in the plantations.
The women’s Water, Sanitation & Health Committees are now playing a vital role in encouraging workers and their families to be vaccinated. They met with the management in plantations in Assam and West Bengal to ensure equitable and safe access to vaccines within the plantations.
The women’s committees are also working closely with government women health workers (ASHA workers) to ensure that when vaccines are available, plantation workers are ready and willing to be vaccinated.
The women’s committees will also maintain a list of names and dates to ensure workers and their families return for their second dose.
A Water, Sanitation & Health Committee member in the Nowera Nuddy tea plantation in West Bengal commented: “Despite the shortage of vaccines, we are getting some. So we must make sure that as many as people as possible in the plantation are vaccinated. No vaccine allotted for the plantation should be returned unused.”
So far 146 workers and family members in the Nowera Nuddy tea plantation are fully vaccinated.
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.
The recent surge in COVID-19 in India has had a terrible impact on rural areas. Agricultural workers, small and marginal farmers and their communities are faced with a neglected, under-funded and under-staffed rural health care infrastructure, and as a result suffer higher rates of illness and fatalities. Due to the role of union leaders and organizers as community leaders taking charge in this crisis and trying to ensure access to both health care and food security, they need to be physically present to represent, petition and demand on behalf of their members and their families. As is so common in villages and rural areas, access to livelihood programs, food rights and social protection must be negotiated with the authorities and the role of union leaders and organizers is vital. At the same time, this puts them on frontline in this pandemic, taking much greater risk.
As leaders they also play a vital role in promoting wearing masks, washing hands and distancing to slow the spread, and to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
In response, the IUF Asia/Pacific Regional Organization is supporting women leaders and organizers in villages in several states in India. Through the IUF Asia/Pacific Regional Solidarity Fund and the special contribution of the United Workers Union (UWU) in Australia, we are able to support thousands of women leaders and organizers in rural areas as frontline workers in the fight against COVID-19.
The IUF-affiliated Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) through their VimoSEWA co-operative provides COVID-19 health insurance for SEWA women organizers and leaders who are involved in COVID-19 safety awareness, livelihood protection and vaccine awareness. Under this scheme anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 receives immediate cash assistance. This helps to meet basic needs during quarantine, including food and medicine, and is crucial for them being able to support their members.
There is an urgent need to get members and their communities vaccinated as soon as vaccines are available. SEWA Madhya Pradesh is organizing COVID-19 safety and vaccine awareness programs to reach out to rural communities in 62 villages in three districts through mobile vans to give information on COVID-19 testing and vaccines that will benefit around 10,000 people. Since SEWA Madhya Pradesh is trusted in these villages, this campaign is proving effective against the fake news that was causing vaccine hesitancy or anti-vaccine sentiment. There is dramatic increase in the number of people in these villages signing up for vaccination.
Women in villages are often unable to reach vaccination centers due to the lack of safe public transport or dependence on male relatives for transport (where vaccine hesitancy among men effectively denies women access to vaccination). In response SEWA is also organizing free & safe transportation to vaccination centres. Initially this transportation will be provided for 1,600 women. By providing free & safe transportation, an important obstacle is removed and allows union leaders and organizers to finally break through vaccine hesitancy in rural areas.