Rights abuses debated at International Labour Conference
Rights abuses in Turkey, Mexico, Belarus, Swaziland and Zimbabwe numbered among the 25 cases regarding compliance with ILO Conventions and the rights of workers that were examined by the tripartite Committee on the Application of Standards at the International Labour Organization's annual International Labour Conference in June 2011.
GENEVA: Hundreds of delegates attend the International Labour Organizations' 100th International Labour Conference this year to debate the application of ILO Conventions, ILO fundamental principles and workers' rights.
The Committee on the Application of Standards is one of many committees that met during the conference with the explicit mandate to examine specific cases identified by workers and employers where governments are failing to uphold ILO Conventions that they have ratified.
A total of 25 cases were debated over the course of the last two weeks. The International Metalworkers' Federation has been following many of the cases during the ILC, particularly those involving affiliated unions. The following country reports provide a short summary on what ocurred in a few of the cases.
Despite an intervention by the Minister of Labour and Social Protection of Belarus claiming that "anti-union pressure against independent trade unions is simply empty words," the Committee on the Application of Standards called on the Belarusian government to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into allegations of anti-union discrimination and to implement the Commission of Inquiry recommendations, conducted in 2004.
The rights of workers to cease work in the event of imminent danger was at the centre of debate regarding Mexico's commitment to uphold Convention 155, concerning mine health and safety. Mexican workers' delegate Manuel Fuentes explained that while the government has initiated some measures to improve mine health and safety, the lack of properly-trained labour inspectors, unregulated mining concessions and outsourcing has led to a worsening of the situation, particularly in regards to clandestine mines, or pocitos, where it is estimated some 80 per cent of miner fatalities occur. The employers' group argued hard against the cease work right claiming a good faith approach had to play an important role.
The tripartite Committee asked the Mexican government to provide further information regarding actions taken to uphold Convention 155 and report back immediately to the Committee of Experts. This is the second year in a row Mexico has come before the committee regarding Convention 155.
The mysterious death of a Swaziland demonstrator in police custody and ongoing police brutality was the subject of a heated discussion on Swaziland's failure to uphold ILO Convention 87, freedom of association and the right to organize. Workers' delegates urged the Government to address the human rights crisis, noting workers could not meet, march or use the media freely. "Today we are called to a meeting, tomorrow we are arrested," explained one Swazi worker delegate, adding the social dialogue taking place "is nothing more than a PR exercise organized by the government" to give the impression human and trade union rights violations are being addressed.
Turkey's non-compliance with Convention 87 came before the committee again, the fifth time in the last seven years. Debate lasted well into the night when workers' delegates argued against the government's assertion that legislative improvements have been made, explaining that there is a large discrepancy between workers' rights in law and practice. "The problem in Turkey is not just that the national legislation does not fully conform to international standards, but also the fact that the laws that are in place are often not effectively enforced. Wide-spread anti-union discrimination and failures in the Turkish justice system remain serious problems," argued worker delegate Liisa Folkersma who presented the Sinter Metal case as a classic example of the common challenges workers face when trying to join a union.
"This example is not isolated, but shows that retaliatory dismissal is the single most common way to undermine workers' rights in Turkey. Anti-union discrimination, especially unfair dismissal, in the absence of speedy remedy is one of the most serious violations of freedom of association as it jeopardizes the very existence of unions," Folkersma added.
Frequent offender Zimbabwe appeared before the committee again, regarding ILO Convention 87. Workers from Africa, Europe and China discussed the government's failure to respect principles of Freedom of Association. In closing remarks, the workers' group reiterated the need to immediately implement the "unambiguous" recommendations of last year's ILO Commission of Inquiry. Recommendations include:
- the cessation of attacks on trade unionists,
- the establishment of a Human Rights Commission,
- training in human rights for security forces,
- the strengthening of rule of law, and
- legislation to be brought into line with ILO Conventions.
The Committee called on the Zimbabwe government to withdraw without delay all outstanding cases against trade unionists' and that all anti-union practices - arrests, detentions, violence, torture, intimidation and harassment and anti-union discrimination - cease immediately. The government is expected to report back to the Committee of Experts on its progress.Jun 16, 2011 – Kristyne Peter