Murders of labour activists rose sharply in 2009 as the global economic crisis brought violence against workers demanding their rights, a report from the International Confederation of Trade Unions (ITUC) says.
The report, issued to coincide with the annual conference of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva, said governments in developed and developing countries were clamping down on unions and employers were stepping up intimidation and other forms of persecution, including union busting.
“Trade union rights continue to be infringed, in many cases with total impunity, and the repression of trade unionists goes on while governments fail to meet their responsibility to ensure that these rights are respected,” it said.
The Brussels-based organisation said 101 labour activists were killed in 11 countries last year — mainly in Latin America but also in Asia and Africa — against 76 in 2008.
Colombia was the deadliest country for workers, it said, with a total of 48 killings including 22 senior trade union leaders, 5 of them women. Next most dangerous were Guatemala, with 16 dead, and Honduras with 12.
Six were killed in both Bangladesh and Mexico and 4 in Brazil, the report said. Other countries where murders of union activists were reported were the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, India, Iraq and Nigeria.
The report said many countries which had signed up to the ILO’s conventions on core labour standards, including the right to strike and the right to form unions ignored them and failed to protect their own workers.
Many governments and companies had used the economic crisis as a pretext to weaken and undermine trade union rights amid losses of tens of millions of jobs and a continuing threat of unemployment among those still in work.
Apart from the killings, there had been attempted murders and death threats, while thousands of labour activists were in jail in countries ranging from Iran and Pakistan to South Korea, Turkey and Zimbabwe, the report said.
The Middle East was a region where union rights were least protected with major obstacles placed by governments to setting up unions. Migrant workers there were especially vulnerable, often working in appalling conditions.
In Asia, according to the ITUC, organising was generally difficult for workers and in countries like the Philippines, Pakistan and India employers used a wide range of tactics from harassment to dismissal of leaders to break up unions.
In China, it said, growing strikes had caused authorities to take a less hostile stance towards unions, but striking workers still faced harassment and police repression.
Developed countries, including the United States, Germany and Switzerland — also had a far from clean record, according to the report.
Pic: President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe