ITUC Global Rights Index 2019: Democracy in crisis

The systematic dismantling of the foundations of workplace democracy and the violent repression of strikes and protests put peace and stability at risk, according to the annual ITUC Global Rights Index, which was published today. The three global trends for workers’ rights identified in the 2019 Global Rights Index show that democracy is in crisis, governments are attempting to silence the age of anger through brutal repression, but legislative successes for workers’ rights are still being won.

  • The ITUC Global Rights Index 2019 ranks 145 countries against 97 internationally recognised indicators to assess where workers’ rights are best protected in law and in practice.

  • The report’s key findings include:

  • 85% of countries have violated the right to strike.

  • 80% of countries deny some or all workers collective bargaining.

  • The number of countries which exclude workers from the right to establish or join a trade union increased from 92 in 2018 to 107 in 2019.

  • Workers had no or restricted access to justice in 72% of countries.

  • The number of countries where workers are arrested and detained increased from 59 in 2018 to 64 in 2019.

  • Out of 145 countries surveyed, 54 deny or constrain free speech and freedom of assembly.

  • Authorities impeded the registration of unions in 59% of countries.

  • Workers experienced violence in 52 countries.

  • Trade unionists were murdered in ten countries - Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Pakistan, the Philippines, Turkey and Zimbabwe.

The report ranks the ten worst countries for workers’ rights in 2019 as Algeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Zimbabwe.

Brazil and Zimbabwe entered the ten worst countries for the first time with the adoption of regressive laws, violent repression of strikes and protest, and threats and intimidation of union leaders.


Belgium, Brazil, Eswatini, Iraq, Sierra Leone, Thailand and Vietnam have all seen their rankings worsen in 2019 with a rise in attacks on workers’ rights in law and practice.


The Middle East and North Africa was again the worst region for treatment of workers, with the kafala system continuing to exclude migrants, the overwhelming majority of the workforce, from any labour protection, leaving 90% of the workforce unable to access their rights to form or join a trade union. The absolute denial of basic workers’ rights remained in place in Saudi Arabia where an Indonesian worker was secretly executed.


Conditions in Asia-Pacific deteriorated more than any other region with an increase in violence, criminalisation of the right to the strike and violent attacks on workers. Ten trade unionists were murdered in the Philippines in 2018.


In Africa, workers were arrested or detained in 49% of countries. Attacks on workers reached unprecedented levels in Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad, Ghana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe as security forces fired live ammunition at protesting workers.


The Americas remain plagued by the pervasive climate of extreme violence and repression against workers and union members; in Colombia alone, 34 trade unionists were murdered in 2018 – a dramatic rise from 15 in the previous year.


In Europe, workers were arrested and detained in 25% of countries. Trade union leaders were murdered in Turkey and Italy.


The ITUC has been collecting data on violations of workers’ rights to trade union membership and collective bargaining around the world for more than 30 years. This is the sixth year the ITUC has presented its findings through the Global Rights Index, putting a unique and comprehensive spotlight on how government laws and business practices have deteriorated or improved in the last 12 months.


The three global trends for workers’ rights identified in the 2019 Global Rights Index show that democracy is in crisis, governments are attempting to silence the age of anger through brutal repression, but legislative successes for workers’ rights are still being won.



Source: ITUC

Download the report, map and infographics here.

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