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Attacks on Labor Leaders Continued in 2012

Survey does note improvement in Myanmar and Guatemala.

GENEVA — Labor union leaders and workers, including in the textiles and apparel sector in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Egypt, Haiti, Sri Lanka and Guatemala, were among last year’s victims of killings, assaults, arrests and dismissals for seeking to defend core rights, a global survey said.

In 2012, there were 34 labor union activists killed in South Africa, 18 in Colombia, down from 29 in 2011, and a trade union organizer was murdered in Bangladesh, according to an annual survey of violations of trade union rights in 87 countries by the International Trade Union Confederation.

“Genuine free and independent trade unions can only exist in a climate free of violence, pressure, fear and threats of any kind, where fundamental rights are respected,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary.

Burrow said in countries where threats and violence against trade unionists occur, “Union membership decreases, making it impossible for unions to represent the interests of workers.”

The ITUC chief pointed out that in Guatemala, where 53 trade unionists have been murdered in the past six years, “only 1.6 percent of workers are trade union members.”

The report documents widespread breaches of rights of apparel workers and unionists ranging from violent attacks to lockouts and dismissals, and notes that opposition to organized labor was particularly strong in Export Processing Zones in countries such as Guatemala and Sri Lanka.

The report said in Sri Lanka, workers’ rights “continue to be routinely violated in EPZ’s. In many cases, union activists and members are suspended, demoted or terminated.”

Similarly, in Bangladesh last June, it notes, at least 100 garment, knitting and packaging factories in Ashulia were shut for a day after hundreds of workers staged a demonstration demanding a pay increase. In Haiti, the study outlines that 11 workers at the MGA-Gloria apparel factory were dismissed allegedly without cause after the garment factory learned about the formation of a labor union during a training session on collective bargaining.

Egyptian workers were also victims of antiunion discrimination, said the ITUC study, which represents 175 million workers in 156 countries, and includes the AFL-CIO. At the Nile Spinning and Weaving company, the report said, employers refused to honor pay increases that had been agreed upon in a collective accord in July, and subsequently 34 of the workers who went on strike to protest the violation of the agreement were dismissed.

On the plus side, the survey highlights that the Federation of Trade Unions-Myanmar (Burma) organized more than 18,000 new members within six months, and that the government of Guatemala “is now engaging with the ITUC to agree on a comprehensive reform package to improve trade union rights.”