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Monday, February 23, 2015

Right to strike coming under scrutiny worries unions

February 19 2015 at 09:14am
By Amy Musgrave, Group Labour Editor
Johannesburg - The right to strike is coming under serious threat in a number of countries, with trade union federations warning on Wednesday that a ban would see employers cashing in on greater profits while workers’ rights were quickly eroded.
Affiliates of the International Trade Union Confederation (Ituc), supported by the Congress of SA Trade Unions, held protests across the globe on Wednesday to warn that unions would not accept any changes lying down.
Later this month, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) is holding a three-day meeting where employers will push for a ban on the fundamental right to strike.
“IndustriALL, the International Transport Federation, Public Service International and other Global Union Federations are calling for unions and workers around the world to protest to safeguard this fundamental right, which was won through long and bitter struggle,” Cosatu said in a statement.
“All over the world, the right to strike is under attack. International Transport Federation unions confirm that exercising the right to industrial action is routinely met with repressive measures, ranging from sackings, detentions and arrests to violence and even murder.”
In South Africa, attempts to hinder industrial action are also gaining ground, with some big employers’ groups and opposition political parties supporting legal efforts to curtail strikes.
Last year, the DA moved for a bill to empower the courts to stop a strike if it became excessively violent by forcing parties into arbitration, and also to empower courts to declare strikes unprotected if they became violent.
If it had been passed, the bill would also empower the courts to award damages against unions that had not implemented measures to ensure limited violence.
While the government has not opted for the court route, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration has been given more teeth to intervene in strikes.
The ILO, which sets the global standards on labour rights, comprises workers, employers and governments.
The employers’ group has questioned the very existence of the right to strike, established under the ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association, which is ratified by 153 countries. The challenge is also from certain governments.
The workers’ groups and unions want the matter referred to the International Court of Justice to rule on the right to strike in international law. The decision to refer was meant to be made by the ILO in November, but its governing body asked for more discussions.
Governments that oppose the referral include Algeria, Angola, China, India, Iran, Kenya, Russia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, the US and Zimbabwe. They are supported by “deputy” countries that don’t have a vote, such as Bangladesh, Botswana, Chad, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Jordan, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritania, Pakistan, Tanzania and Thailand.
IndustriALL has warned that if the right to strike does not stay in place, workers would find it difficult to protect themselves, and without it, more governments would ban industrial action and punish those who dare to down tools.

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