Global Labour Rights in Decline

to the ITUC
Global Rights Index 2018, which ranks 142 countries against 97 internationally
recognised indicators to assess workers’ rights, the democratic space for
workers is shrinking. The three global trends for workers’ rights identified in
the 2018 Global Rights Index are: shrinking democratic space, unchecked
corporate influence and the importance of legislation.

of association, free speech and the right to strike are being supressed the
world over and the ITUC notes that the number of countries with arbitrary
arrests and detention of workers is on the rise, with the number increasing
from 44 in 2017 to 59 so far this year. Freedom of speech was constrained in 54

troubling trend was captured by Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the
International Trade Union Confederation:

Decent work and
democratic rights grew weaker in almost all countries, while inequality
continued to grow. This was fuelled by the outrageous behaviour of many
multinational companies…[1]

Index warns that workers’ rights are in need of stronger protections. Key
findings include:

65% of countries
exclude some groups of workers from labour law.

87% of countries
have violated the right to strike.

81% of countries
deny some or all workers collective bargaining.

Out of 142
countries surveyed, 54 deny or constrain free speech and freedom of assembly.

The number of
countries in which workers are exposed to physical violence and threats
increased by 10% (from 59 to 65) and include Bahrain, Honduras, Italy and

Countries where
workers are arrested and detained increased from 44 in 2017 to 59 in 2018.

Trade unionists
were murdered in nine countries – Brazil, China, Colombia, Guatemala, Guinea,
Mexico, Niger, Nigeria and Tanzania.
Can Democracy Reverse the Trend?

The Index suggests that
perhaps the best way to reverse the trend of the erosion of labour right is
through democracy and legislative change(s). Burrow notes that there are
several countries which recently demonstrated the power of democracy to protect
labour rights, and approves of Canada’s recent treatment of labour rights:

The power of democracy to change the rules was shown
with newly elected governments in Iceland, Canada and New Zealand acting in the
interests of working people, with laws to close the gender pay gap, provide
paid domestic violence leave and increase wages for care workers.

also notes the challenge that governments face is the obvious challenge that
those who govern have always faced: how to prioritize people first:

The challenge for governments is to govern for people,
not for corporate interests, and make laws that respect international labour
standards and keep open the democratic space that gives workers a voice in
their community and workplaces. Without this we face an insecure and fractured

to Burrows, the increasing failure of governments to protect labour right
threatens democracy and security. Burrows suggests that democracy can reverse
the tide by legislating changes to the rules which would halt the violations of
labour rights and curtail corporate greed. Though this may be true, democracy
can clearly cut both ways. In the U.S., for example, the democratic election of
Donald Trump may bode poorly for labour rights in the U.S.

Ontario, however, we saw some positive movement in this direction with the Changing Workplaces Review, and the
subsequent legislated improvements to employment and labour legislation. But
these changes are just a start and there is much more to do. Whether the new
Ford government will help or hinder the labour movement remains to be seen. One
thing is certain, however, labour needs to remain vigilant in asserting its
interests and reminding those in power that a strong labour movement is in
everyone’s best interests.

International Trade Union Confederation 2018,
ITUC Global Rights Index 2018 : Democratic space shrinks and unchecked
corporate greed on the rise.
Available from:

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