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Unions condemn cover up of workers’ rights violations at international labor confab
June 6, 2012

Unions the world over condemned employers’ groups, who yesterday blocked discussion of the worst cases of worker rights violations at the annual International Labor Conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva. 

“Employers at the ILO are trying to keep the worst abuses under wraps and avoid the international scrutiny which could help save lives and tackle some of the most appalling attacks on the rights of working people," said Sharan Burrow, secretary general of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

Since 1926, the conference has discussed the most serious cases included in the annual report of the ILO’s Committee of Experts, a 17-member committee of eminent and independent international jurists. This, year the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) has refused to discuss any cases.

“Last year, 29 trade unionists were murdered in Colombia, but employers don’t think the ILO should even discuss that, nor the terrible campaign of violence against trade unionists in Guatemala or Swaziland.  Egyptians are in the midst of a battle for their most basic rights to decent work, but employers seem to be siding with the military and fundamentalist forces both of which want to deprive workers of a voice,” added Burrow, who heads the biggest international confederation of trade unions, representing millions of workers the world over.

“Employers can no longer question what has long been settled. Under Article 31 and 32 of the Vienna Convention of Treaties, long practice and long time application are controlling in interpretation of treaties,” said Sonny Matula, national president of the Federation of Free Workers (FFW), who is the worker delegate of the Philippines to the Conference.

The IOE has also refused to allow discussion of the withdrawal of collective bargaining rights in Greece and Spain, where plummeting incomes are worsening the country’s economic plight and other serious cases where laws for decent work are under attack. 

“Under the Philippine, constitution freedom of association can be found in Section 8 of the Article III and Section 3 of Article XIII. Freedom of association is coupled with the right to collective bargaining negotiation and right to concerted action which include the right to strike,” added Matula of the FFW, who is also a member of the ITUC. 

“Employer organisations are playing a dangerous political game at the ILO, even as some individual companies are themselves increasingly prepared to discuss workers’ rights openly and frankly,” added Burrow.

“The ILO was established on the basis of social justice and a commitment to respect for the rule of law as it applies to working people.  The world’s most eminent labour law jurists have presented their findings to the ILO Conference, but the IOE is refusing to allow their findings to be examined,” said Sharan Burrow. 

Employers have hijacked the process based on a misplaced ideological conviction that the right to strike, guaranteed under numerous laws, domestic constitutions and international instruments, poses a threat to corporate greed.

“Employer groups are trying to undermine one of the most effective human rights mechanisms in the international system. This might help some of their least responsible member companies make some more profit and sustain governments which allow or even encourage violence against working people, but this will be at the cost of lives and livelihoods of some of the world’s most vulnerable workers,” said Burrow.

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