Gig Workers struggle for recognition as workers across the world
27 October: In Australia, the Competition and Consumer Commission authorised companies with less than $10 million turnover to collectively negotiate with suppliers or customers from early next year. The class exemption, covering some 98% of all businesses, will mean owner-drivers, gig workers, franchisees, construction subcontractors, general practitioners, and others can act collectively without fear of breaching cartel or price-fixing laws. However, they would not be allowed to organize strikes and there would be limits on the information they can share with each other.
23 October: In USA, Uber Technologies Inc and Lyft Inc failed to persuade a California appeals court to overturn the earlier court order to comply with the state labour law that mandates the companies to treat their drivers in California as employees, not independent contractors.
Taking no risk, ride-hailing companies are putting in their money supporting a state-wide ballot measure set for a vote in November that would partially exempt them from the said state law.
15 October: In Finland, the Labour Council that operates under the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, issued a statement in support of the legal claim of food couriers as employees, not freelancers. This position of the labour council is however not binding.
15 October: In Spain, the Labour Inspectorate has directed Amazon to provide proper work contracts to more than 4,000 drivers delivering packages in Barcelona and across Spain, and cover more than $7.2 million in back social security payments.
Governments in the Global South under pressure to change labour conditions in line with EU,US demands
24 October: The Bangladesh government has constituted a 13 member tripartite committee to prepare a draft amendment to the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 to ensure continuity of the European Union’s General System of Preferences (GSP) trade scheme. The EU is the largest importer of readymade garments from Bangladesh and as a least Developed Country (LDC), Bangladesh enjoys duty free access to the EU under the Everything but Arms (EBA) scheme. The current GSP regulation will expire on 31 December 2023 and Bangladesh is also set to graduate from its LDC status in 2024. Together, this could mean a loss in export earning to the tune of 7 billion USD.
In October 2019, during an EU monitoring mission, Bangladesh government was forced to agree to the development of a roadmap that would improve the labour rights in the country, with specific focus on the Export Processing Zones. The EU incorporated nine issues in its suggestions: (i) amendment of BLA, labour rules and EPZ labour law in line with International Labour Organisation conventions, (ii) establishing an action plan to eliminate child labour by 2025, (iii) combating violence against workers, (iv) increasing success rate of trade union registration application, (v) eliminating backlog of cases at labour courts, (vi) filling the vacant posts of labour inspectors, (vii) ensuring proper work of remediation coordination cell and (viii) ratifying ILO conventions on Forced Labour (No. 29) and (ix) on minimum age (No. 138).
20 October: The prevalence of children engaged in hazardous work, including using sharp tools, has risen by 14% in the world’s top two cocoa producers, Ghana and Ivory Coast in the last decade, while production has increased by 62% in the same period, according to a recent study commissioned by the United States Department of Labor.
The two West African countries – which together produce about two-thirds of the world’s cocoa – had both questioned the methodology used in an earlier version of the report prepared by researchers from the University of Chicago.
US legislators have criticised the industry and US customs authorities have asked cocoa traders earlier this year to report where and when they encounter child labour in their supply chains.
60% of the Ivory Coast’s export revenue comes from cocoa. As the chocolate industry has grown over the years, so has the demand for cheap cocoa. On an average, cocoa farmers earn less than USD 2 per day, an income below the poverty line. Consequently, workers are often forced to employ their children to ensure their basic need.
The findings of the report raise difficult questions for the 60 billion USD industry. In 2001, big brands such as Nestlé, Mars and Hershey had signed a cross-sector accord aimed at eliminating egregious child labour. Despite missing deadlines to deliver on their pledge in 2005, 2008 and 2010, they continue to insist that ending the illegal practice remains their top concern.
Columbia: Sintracarbon begin negotiations to end 52 day strike at Cerrejon coal mine
22 October: Members of Sintracarbon have been on strike since 31 August rejecting a shift change that would add 72 working days per year with no wage increase at the Cerrejón coal mine, owned by multinationals Glencore, BHP and Anglo American. This shift change will a lead to a reduction of 2,500 direct and indirect jobs and has been proposed without consultation with the union and in violation of the Columbian labour law.
The new shift system – which workers call the “death shift” – will require workers to move directly from day to night shifts without recovery time in a seven day cycle, with no transport home between shifts. It will disrupt family life, generate greater exhaustion and, as a result, increase workplace accidents.
The company claims that this change is necessary to ensure financial sustainability of the mine. Cerrejón produces coal for export to utility companies across the world.
Singapore: Rules on retrenchments amended to allow easier layoffs amid COVID-19
17 October: The tripartite advisory on responsible retrenchment of the Singapore government has been amended to help employers lay off workers amid the COVID-19 crisis with minimum dispute. The main clauses include:
i. Companies to retain Singaporean workers;
ii. Training programme as part of the post-retrenchment package;
iii. Provision of a longer notice period beyond contractual or statutory requirements where possible, so that employees can be mentally prepared
iv. Companies that do not comply with the advisory may be denied government support or have their work pass privileges suspended.