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
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
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
7. USING DEVELOPMENT
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
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 PRSPUgandathere
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