Shamed by our government at the ILO

Sam Gurney is a worker member of the ILO governing body and a London regional rep on National Policy Forum and Britain in the World Policy Commission.

The 4th World Day for Decent Work will be marked by events around the globe on October 7th. Decent Work is the concept developed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and adopted by the rest of the UN, that defines what good jobs should look like and how the global economy should be reshaped to lift people out of poverty.

Its four pillars are; job creation, good conditions in the workplace, social protection systems for those not working and genuine social dialogue through which workers can engage with employers and government. These concepts underpin many of the MDGs and much of what a genuinely rights based development agenda should be about.

However the coalition government has displayed its hostility to the ILO on numerous occasions since it was ‘elected.’ In March they ended the partnership funding agreement between DFID and the ILO that had been supporting work on ending child labour in India, building social protection systems in Southern Africa and developing co-operatives across East Africa with a particular focus on job creation for the young unemployed. In June they voted (along with only 4 other governments out of 183) for a cut to the ILO core budget.

In some ways even more shocking though, because it highlights their abject lack of understanding of the need for a rights based development agenda, was their decision to abstain in the vote on a new convention covering the rights of domestic workers (one of only 9 governments to do so).

Not content with abstaining in the vote they were also the only government to speak against the convention in the main session of the ILO conference. For the record the UK employer rep, from the CBI, voted against and made the only other speech against the convention of the whole conference.

There are between 50-100 million domestic workers globally, they work in one of the most exploited sectors of the economy, often hidden from view and isolated in individual households, sometimes subject to horrendous abuse, frequently treated as part of the ‘informal’ economy and denied the rights of other workers such as contracts of employment, payment in cash and fixed working hours.

The ILO convention is not a radical document indeed many compromises were made in the negotiations between government, employer and workers delegates (the British Trade Union Congress was represented by Marissa Begonia, herself a domestic worker and activist in Justice for Domestic Workers/Unite the Union) in order to achieve a document that would be supported by all sides. However the convention does enshrine the basic concept that domestic workers, including migrant domestic workers, are workers and are entitled to the same rights and protections as all other workers and sets down the minimum entitlements in regard to these rights.

This is important for our development agenda for a number of reasons, not least because domestic workers despite often earning poverty wages are often the main bread winners in their families. Migrant domestic workers remittances are important for the economies of many countries including, like Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. In addition many girls are forced into child labour as domestic workers meaning and so miss out on education.

By ensuring a fairer deal for domestic workers we can do much to help them lift themselves out of poverty as well as protecting their basic human rights. The fact that our government and employers chose to ignore this global picture and not support the convention due to differences on how it might impact on working time regulations in the UK and a spurious argument that it would lead to elderly employers here being imprisoned due to breaches of health and safety regulations (simply not true) shows how far removed the coalitions rhetoric on development is from the reality of their action. And let’s not forget that it isn’t the hardnosed Tories in charge of this issue in the government it is those ‘nice’ ‘ethical’ liberals Ed Davy and Vince Cable.

The TUC alongside the Justice for Domestic Workers (the domestic workers section of Unite the Union) and campaign groups including Kalayaan, Anti-Slavery International and Christian Aid will be launching a campaign to persuade the government to reverse its decision and ratify the convention, join us.

Register at www.tuc.org.uk for international alerts to keep you up to date.

Right to unionise under threat in Swaziland – act now!

ACTSA, UNISON, PCS and Prospect are joining forces to speak out against a new law to be introduced in Swaziland. The Public Services Bill will make it illegal for public officers to take part in political formations or groups. The definition of those groups has, however, been left vague.

Add your name to the petition to stop the Bill

The UK places restrictions on senior civil servants, in order to maintain the impartiality of high-level public officers. The Public Services Bill in Swaziland is not so equitably targeted. Due to the loose definition of political formations, this will preclude public servants unionising.

This is wrong: speak out to stop it

ACTSA has said:

Harassment, arrests and threats of unemployment or demotion are regular
occurrences for trade unionists and pro-democracy activists in Swaziland. The Public
Services Bill is an anti democratic measure and a further attempt by the Government
of Swaziland to prevent freedom of association and expression. ACTSA supports the
call of trade union movement in Swaziland and internationally that the Bill should be
dropped.

Contact the Swaziland High Commission to call for the Swazi Government to drop the Bill

Labour’s Manifesto on International Development

Extract from Labour’s manifesto

The global poverty emergency: our moral duty, our common interest

Labour’s international leadership on development has helped transform the lives of millions across the world. Yet too many people still live in extreme poverty, die from treatable diseases, or are denied the chance to go to school.

We will lead an international campaign to get the Millennium Development Goals back on track. We remain committed to spending 0.7 per cent of national income on aid from 2013, and we will enshrine this commitment in law early in the next Parliament. Our aid will target the poorest and most excluded – spent transparently and evaluated independently. We will fight corruption, investing more to track, freeze, and recover assets stolen from developing countries. Further action will be taken to strengthen developing countries’ tax systems, reduce tax evasion, improve reporting, and crack down on tax havens. To increase accountability, we will allocate at least five per cent of all funding developing country budgets for the purpose of strengthening the role of Parliaments and civil society.

Our leadership on debt cancellation has freed 28 countries from the shackles of debt. We will continue to drive this agenda, building on legislation to clampdown on vulture funds.

Access to health, education, food, water and sanitation are basic human rights. We will spend £8.5 billion over eight years to help more children go to school; maintain our pledge to spend £6 billion on health between 2008 and 2015 and £1 billion through the Global Fund to support the fight against HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria; fight for universal access to prevention, treatment and care for HIV/AIDS by 2010; and deliver at least 30 million additional anti-malarial bed-nets over the next three years.

We will provide £1 billion for water and sanitation by 2013, driving this issue up the international agenda, and over £1 billion on food security and agriculture. We will push for the establishment of a Global Council on Child Hunger. We will help save the lives of six million mothers and babies by 2015 and, because international focus on the needs of women and girls is vital, we will double core funding to the new UN Women’s agency. While the Tories would favour private schemes, we will work closely with NGOs and developing countries to eliminate user fees and promote healthcare and education free at the point of access. We will encourage other countries to ratify the ILO conventions on labour standards, as we have done.

Trade can lift millions out of poverty. We will work with the private sector, trade unions and co-operatives to promote sustainable development, quadruple our funding for fair and ethical trade, and press for a fair World Trade Organisation deal, with no enforced liberalisation for poor countries, and increased duty-free and quota-free access.

TUC marks International Women’s Day with celebratory dinner

The Trade Union Congress marked the 100th International Women’s Day with a celebration of women through music, poetry, comedy and speech.

Speakers included Frances O’Grady, Maria Eagle, Bonnie Greer and Hariyatu Bangura, an inspirational women’s leader for the Western Region of Sierra Leone Teacher’s Union.

The evening jumped between hip hop, soul, poetry, an ironing board keyboard and the charming comedy of Josie Long in a surprisingly fluid manner. Despite being a celebration it was clear the day was not simply about celebrating women’s progress but also a day to look at what still needs to be achieved in both the developed and developing world.

There seems to be a general consensus in the media and popular opinion that equality now exists and that the women’s movement is a thing of the past. Events like International Women’s Day draw attention to the fact that not only do women still have far to go but that even these basic rights many women take for granted do not extend to many parts of the world.

It is not a coincidence that one in three women across the world will be raped, sexually abused or suffer domestic violence in their lifetime nor is it a coincidence that there is still a 16% gender pay gap. Gender equality leaves much to be desired and whilst I was personally inspired and encouraged by the event at the TUC I was glad there was a serious tone to the evening and a sense that this was a movement that was only just getting going.

by Lucy Inmonger, LCID

International Women’s Day TUC Event

It is almost time for this year’s International Women’s Day (held on the 8th March each year), a day on which a huge many events are held throughout the world: to celebrate the achievements of women, to encourage further action as well as being a day which signals solidarity with other women throughout the globe.

This year the TUC will be holding an exciting celebration involving a variety of entertainment: music, politics, poetry, comedy and some campaigning. It is also an important opportunity for the TUC to showcase some of the work it continues to do globally in order to empower women in their attempts to improve their rights in a number of developing countries.

The event will be opened by Frances O’Grady, TUC Deputy General Secretary, Glenys Kinnock will be in attendance, international trade unionists are able to speak and Lorraine Bowen will act as compére throughout the evening. Zena Edwards will be singing, along with hip-hop duo Poetic Pilgrimage and Josie Long will be providing the comedy.

It promises to be a fantastic evening and it is well worth attending: for more information, including tickets, check out this link to the TUC event page.

By Daniel Sleat

Trade Unions and Haiti

Trade unions have played a highly valuable and multifaceted role in Haiti. In many ways the nature of the response by trade unions, not only in the region but around the world and within the UK illustrates the valuable role they can play in international development. While recent newspaper reports, notably in the Times, have sought to discredit DfID’s support for trade unions, recent events underpin their ability to unite work forces around the world on an astonishing scale.

UK trade unions have responded quickly and in some measure to respond to the recent catastrophic events in Haiti. Unison for example made a pledge of £10,000 to the Disasters Emergency Committee, as well as further donations to TUC Aid which will be used by trade unions in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The TUC, as well as helping through its TUC Aid scheme, has moved quickly to organize a concert for Haiti which took place on the 3rd February to raise much needed funds to help with the aftermath of the earthquake.

International trade unions have also been active, largely through the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The funds given by ITUC have largely been used to give much needed humanitarian assistance to Haitian affiliate CTH, via three Dominican Republic unions which united swiftly following the earthquake: CASC-CNUS-CNTD.They collectively sent aid such as water, food and important medical supplies, as well as sending over teams to Haiti and setting up offices to help collect funds, clothing and other essential aid materials. The CTH headquarters was also turned into a refuge for affected workers and a base for the distribution of medical and aid supplies.

A further example of the type of support trade unions have been providing can been seen in the actions of solidarity organisations who sent the CTH two ambulances with staff to help deal with the devastating medical issues arising out of the earthquake.

Clearly trade unions have, in the case of Haiti, played an extremely helpful role in the aftermath of the earthquake. Moreover, these examples underline why trade unions can be so valuable to the government and why DFID supports them.

By Daniel Sleat

Allegations on TUC’s development role without foundation

Posted on Left Foot Forward on Friday

A slew of recent articles seek to undermine the important and justifiable role for the Trades Union Congress in delivering development policy.

TUCOn Monday, The Times reported that “The Government is giving the Trades Union Congress millions of pounds from its foreign aid budget to pay for the education of British trade unionists and to support advocacy work in Britain.”

The International Policy Network (IPN), who released the report on which The Times reported, claimed on Wednesday on Conservative Home that this money “was spent in the UK on activities that do not seem to have yielded any practical benefit to the poor either inside or outside of Britain.” IPN then made this following astonishing accusation:

“To make matters worse, unions that are members of the TUC represent over half the funding of the Labour Party. Since the DfID grants to the TUC come with few constraints,it is possible that DfID’s money could essentially substitute for money that would otherwise come from member unions – freeing them up to give more to the Labour Party.”

On the same post the Conservative’s shadow minister Andrew Mitchell said: “Labour have some very serious questions to answer about how they are spending aid money which is supposed to go to people in some of the poorest countries in the world.”

Left Foot Forward looks at these allegations and refutes each in turn.

Claim #1: DfID spending money in the UK is a bad thing.

The Times article clearly implies, and IPN explicitly so, that the spending of DfID money in the UK is a bad thing. There has, in fact, been a clear and transparent justification for doing so since DfID’s first White Paper in 1997 established the Building Support for Development programme (BSD) which addressed the need for an “increased public understanding of our global mutual dependence and the need for international development.” The then Secretary of State Clare Short states in the foreword the need for “an informed public opinion [to] help ensure that the UK plays its full role in generating the international political will necessary to meet the international poverty eradication targets.”

There is therefore nothing shadowy about DfID granting money to the TUC to spend in the UK – it is part of a broader strategy that includes development education and engagement with the media, businesses faith, BME and diaspora groups. The Times and IPN made much of the sentence in the BSD evaluation which said there was “little evidence regarding the effectiveness of the individual projects.” But that single sentence is a comment on the evidence sought or found, not explicitly on the project itself or the wider relationship with the TUC. The same document actually praises DFID’s work with the TUC (page 28).

Claim #2: The TUC have no expertise in development and have been given the money in a secret deal.

IPN claimed in their report ‘A Closer Union‘ that the TUC should not have received a Partnership Programmes Arrangements (PPAs), which are given by DfID to civil society organisations to achieve DfID’s objectives. They claim that “obviously [the TUC] is not an organisation that has a track record of performance in international development,” and claim that the arrangement is a “secret arrangement” because, “The terms of this grant still have not been published on the DfID website.”

IPN fail to outline why the TUC are an inappropriate partner for a project aimed at ”increasing [the] rights of workers in developing countries through greater support for and strengthened capacity of developing country trade unions.” Responding to the article in The Times, the TUC General SecretaryBrendan Barber said: “With more than six million members in the UK and strong links with fellow trade unionists in every developing country, the TUC is a sensible and appropriate partner for overseas aid.”

It is true that the TUC are not listed on the DfID web page explaining the PPAs, but this seems more likely a technical error than a conspiracy. It is however publicly listed in their project directory, and you can read the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and Objectives online.

While the new MoU authorises the TUC to spend money on UK activities (as part of DfID’s Building Support for Development work above), the TUC are now rolling out their capacity building work in developing countries as part of their 2009-11 partnership with DfID – including two new funding arrangements with ITUC-Africa and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions to support their capacity to work on women’s empowerment, post-conflict resolution, the rights of migrant workers and political advocacy.

Claim #3: “DfID’s money could essentially substitute for money that would otherwise come from member unions – freeing them up to give more to the Labour Party.”

By adding claim 1 and 2 together they have made their most serious allegation, claim 3. But the sum is closer to 2 + 2 = 5. There is no evidence of any link between DfID’s work with the TUC and the funding of TUC member unions to the Labour Party.

The TUC is not affiliated to the Labour Party. The majority of unions that make up the TUC are not affiliated to the Labour Party. The majority of the unions that have received funding from DfID are not affiliated to the Labour Party either.

The TUC receive LESS under a Labour Government than they did under Major’s Conservative Government. As Brendan Barber stated in his letter to the Times, DfID’s support for the TUC has “actually, year for year, been less under the current and recent Labour governments than it was under John Major’s administration.” The TUC have received what amounts to £450,000 a year over the period 2003-11. The £2.4 million the TUC recieved for the PPA was part of a total of £90 million given to 27 organisations. DfID is doing what governments of all persuasions all over the developed world have done when they distribute small parts of their overseas aid budgets through unions. As Barber pointed out, George W. Bush’s Administration channelled $20 million a year through the US trade union movement.

Labour does actually receive money from DfID – but so do the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. DfID fund the Westminster Foundation for Democracy to develop comprehensive programmes of joint activity between UK parties and their sister parties in developing countries.

It is the Conservatives and IPN  who have some serious questions to answer.  IPM make serious allegations of the Labour Government’s links with the TUC, but are they as impartial as their status as a charity (No.CC 262982) requires? Left Foot Forward intends to investigate this further.

On Monday we reported on the Conservatives’ fixation with triviality when we examined their aid proposals. It now appears they are not only happy to associate themselves with petty issues, but slanderous ones as well.