Select Committee on International Development Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Commonwealth Trade Union Council


  1.1  For fifty years, the trade unions in the Commonwealth have interacted, supported one another, and built a considerable solidarity network. The Commonwealth Trade Union Council links trade union national centres, representing over 30 million trade union members, in 51 of the 54 countries. It is a co-ordinating organisation providing educational support for trade union activities and seeks to promote a democratic and prosperous Commonwealth in which international labour standards are observed.

  1.2  Globalisation has been a familiar term to trade unionists for many years now. We welcome the publication of the White Paper and many of the commitments given within it. However, unless there is much greater recognition of the need for all governments to enforce basic labour standards the White Paper might well be entitled "Making the Poor Work for Globalisation".

  1.3  Who are "the poor"? Beyond defining the term of absolute poverty, the White Paper does not address who or what categories of people the government is committed to supporting. Poor people include the workless and those employed on poverty wages. The issue of core labour standards and their enforcement is therefore central to any poverty alleviation strategy.

  1.4  CTUC endorses the policy of the promotion of economic growth that is equitable and environmentally sustainable. Strong independent trade unions are essential to ensuring that economic growth is equitable and any policy should take account of this and direct initiatives to this end. To achieve, for example, paragraphs 34, 36 and 39 and crucially paragraph 50, the role of trade unions is vital.


  2.1  Chapter 2 of the White Paper emphasises the need for effective regulation to promote and protect human rights, including core labour standards, and equality and empowerment for women. The experience of trade unionists throughout the Commonwealth is one of governments responding to globalisation by taking steps which have entirely the opposite effect. There are numerous examples.

  2.2  In December 2000, the State Government of the Punjab announced that women workers in information technology could be compelled to work any time during the day or night, although since 1948 there has been a ban on night work for women. Working hours in the sector have been increased from nine hours per day to 12 hours and the limit on overtime has been increased from 50 hours to 75 hours per week.

  2.3  In Uganda, a study conducted in 1999 by an independent legal expert on behalf of the CTUC concluded that: "The labour administration system has almost completely broken down so that there is no labour inspection system to speak of and no prosecution of core labour standards violations. There is no effective legal enforcement mechanism available to those whose core labour standards have been infringed".

  2.4  The effects of the absence of effective regulation are that the resources of organised trade unions which could be used for recruitment of informal sector workers and campaigns for improved living standards for all are instead used to secure rights under legislation which governments fail to enforce on employers. Thousands of workers have lost their jobs when state enterprises have been sold off to private companies and in many cases have not received even the basic compensation to which they have been entitled. Precious union resources are used to secure justice when it is the responsibility of the Government to enforce the legislation.

  2.5  Trade unions have an important role in anti-corruption strategies (see para 64) both by ensuring fair and transparent procedures and policies in the workplace through the collective bargaining process and in whistle-blowing. The workforce is well placed to know of financial irregularities within public and private sector organisations.


  3.1  Chapter 3 discusses initiatives in spreading educational opportunity. The role of trade unions both as partners with employers in the development of workplace and vocational education and ongoing training should not be overlooked. Unions' own worker education programmes also make an important contribution, eg on literacy, HIV/AIDS and in education for democracy.

  3.2  As the White Paper rightly acknowledges, access to education and the better paid jobs that flow from it can often be a preserve of a country's rich elite (see for example para 122). The involvement of trade unions in devising and delivering educational packages can extend educational opportunities beyond this narrow band.


  4.1  Chapter 4 of the White Paper stresses the need for greater private investment in developing countries, while at the same time calls for high standards of Corporate Social Responsibility. Developing country trade unionists observe at first hand the behaviour of foreign investors whose behaviour demonstrates a disregard for environmental standards, labour standards and the well-being of local communities.

  4.2  The concept of Corporate Social Responsibility is an unfamiliar one to many developing country businesses. The clothing industry is Bangladesh's biggest export sector and employs 1.2 million workers, most of them women. It is cited in the White Paper as bringing employment dividends for women but there are gross violations of the labour law in the garment factories and the Government takes no action. In November 2000, a fire in the Chowdhury Knitwear and Garments factory killed 48 workers, 10 of them children, and left hundreds injured. Unions are not protected against interference from employers and members face harassment, intimidation and dismissal.

  4.3  Best practices and voluntary initiatives are no substitute to a proper regulatory framework and the enforcement of core labour standards. The work of the ETI is extremely valuable, but has not as yet improved working conditions universally. CTUC believes that this is because guidelines, norms and best practice are not of themselves enough. Core labour standards are only the most basic of labour rights that are also fundamental human rights which should be vigorously enforced worldwide. The Government should express and strengthen its support for the ILO and its role in this area.


  5.1  The White Paper mentions the adverse effects which changes in trade patterns can have on particular groups and of course workers are the most vulnerable. The experience of trade unionists in the Commonwealth is that they are under constant pressure to accept worsening conditions in order for their employers to remain competitive. Time and time again, experience has shown that accepting lower wages and poorer conditions does not guarantee job security but has the opposite effect.

  5.2  The new opportunities cited in non-traditional agriculture come with detrimental effects on workers' health unless steps are taken to ensure that proper health and safety practices are followed. In terms of worker health and safety, agriculture ranks among the three most dangerous occupations with increasing use of machinery and chemicals at the root of many workplace accidents and illnesses. A recent ILO report noted that much of the agricultural workforce lacked training in safe practices and called for urgent steps to reduce farm workers' exposure to harmful chemicals.

  5.3  Box 10 on page 68 illustrates the problem of unequal pay between men and women in Bangladesh. Research has shown that the issue of pay inequality between men and women can be reduced through strong trade unions and collective bargaining as well as a regulatory framework.


  6.1  The White Paper says that there is a need for improved environmental practices and effective regulation. Where trade unions are recognised, they play a key role in negotiating safe occupational health and safety and environmental practices. However, where there is no union recognition and an atmosphere in which workers are afraid to speak out about harmful practices there is great scope for exploitation of the workforce and the local community. It is also true to say that workers are those most exposed to risk from environmentally unsafe industrial practices.

  6.2  The recent (November 2000) tragedy at the ESS Chemicals factory in Lenasia, South Africa, where 11 workers, the majority of them women, burnt to death imprisoned in an inferno, was a horrific consequence of the failure of an employer to adhere to even minimum safety regulations. It also illustrated the inability of the Department of Labour to ensure compliance with workplace safety requirements.


  7.1  Trade unionists support the statement that development assistance works best when it supports a strategy designed and led by the national government in consultation with its civil society. However, consultation means serious long-term participation in strategic development and is not a cosmetic exercise. Trade unionists are key players in civil society and should receive the same particular attention as faith groups (para 311). Legal protection of trade union rights in compliance with ILO core standards is a yardstick of whether a government has a strong commitment to poverty reduction and has good policies in place (para 314).

  7.2  The White Paper mentions the "powerful international campaign" which led the call for more generous debt relief focused on poverty reduction. Trade unionists in many Commonwealth countries were pleased to be associated with Jubilee 2000 which did so much to explain complex economic issues in simple language and to expose the international financial institutions to the scrutiny of the people whose lives were affected by their decisions. The legacy of Jubilee 2000 is a worldwide network of pro-poor campaigners who will continue to highlight the problems developing country governments face today because of inappropriate lending policies by donors and unsustainable spending policies by governments.

  7.3  The White Paper emphasises the need for nationally owned poverty reduction strategies with full participation by civil society. Trade unionists are extremely disappointed that in one of the first countries to adopt a PRSP—Uganda—there were no consultations with the trade union movement.


  8.1  Trade unionists in the Commonwealth welcome the commitment to sharpen the focus of the Commonwealth's activities on its areas of comparative advantage. One of the Commonwealth's strengths is the vibrancy of its many civil society organisations, often overlooked by the official Commonwealth. We look forward to seeing the White Paper's emphasis on the contribution of civil society translated into meaningful opportunities to participate in policy formulation.

  8.2  The White Paper calls for stronger national and global civil society demanding the changes necessary to deliver the International Development Targets. The UK Government must realise that a strong civil society will at times speak out against the policies of the government and its international allies and will advocate policies which are at variance with the World Bank and IMF prescriptions. This is part and parcel of the development of a democratic, transparent and accountable society. The challenge to the UK is to find a way of working with civil society to ensure that the economic growth resulting from globalisation is sustainable and equitably shared. Globalisation will work for the poor only if the poor do not become the slaves of globalisation.

Annie Watson, Director

Gibson Sibanda, Chairperson

Commonwealth Trade Union Council

January 2001

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