Assaults, threats and firings for union activists remain common around the world.
Brussels (16 June 2009) - More than 200 trade unionists worldwide were killed, assaulted or threatened in 2008 for defending workers' rights, says the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
The international body, which represents 170 million workers in 312 affiliated national organizations from 157 countries, says the death toll occurred mainly in Latin America where 49 died in Colombia, nine in Guatemala, four in Venezuela, three in Honduras and one in Panama.
The total was down from 91 deaths in 2007, and 144 in 2006 but the ITUC says – in an annual report on the situation – that many governments continue to violate workers' rights and in several cases are " themselves responsible for heavy repression of these rights" during the year.
Beyond the death toll, ITUC reported 7,500 cases of workers being dismissed for involvement in trade union activity in 68 countries, including 20 in Africa alone. "These cases are, however, only the tip of the iceberg," the report emphasizes.
The country with the worst record of dismissals was Turkey, where more than 2,000 cases were documented, ITUC says. The next worst countries were Indonesia, Malawi, Pakistan, Tanzania and Argentina.
Its 2008 annual report says several dozen nations resorted to death threats or assaults in dealing with trade unionists. Nine countries – China, Iran, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Burma, Cuba, South Korea, Indonesia and Turkey – imprisoned people for legitimate union activity.
The report says the recession has worsened the situation, prompting some governments to crack down on workers who seek higher wages to cope with rising food prices and other economic problems.
ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder says repressing workers and denying basic rights "wreaks havoc on their lives, as they work extremely long hours in hazardous or unhealthy situations with incomes so low that they are unable to support themselves and their households properly."
On the legislative and regulatory front, newly elected leaders in Australia and the United States have promised to take action to increase worker protection. Burkina Faso, Kenya and Mozambique passed new legislation during the year allowing trade unions to organize. The Maldives ratified a new constitution that guarantees freedom of association and the right to strike.
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