Here's just a few things that are important to know about the state of workers rights around the world
- dramatic increase in the number of trade unionists murdered in 2009, with 101 killings, 10 attempted murders and 35 serious death threats recorded.
- 50% of the global workforce now in ‘precarious jobs’
- Firestone highlighted for working conditions in Liberia’s rubber industry.
Firestone, whose practices have been subject to campaigning by the ILRF and others for sometime, came under the spotlight in the Liberia section of the report.
Bridgestone Firestone, which operates the world’s second largest rubber plantation, in Harbel, has failed to respect several of the key commitments in a contract signed with its workers’ union, the Firestone Agricultural Workers’ Union of Liberia (FAWUL). Workers on the plantation have long faced incredibly poor living and working conditions. Firestone rubber tappers live in crowded shacks without running water, electricity or indoor latrines and are required to meet an unreasonably high production quota in order to receive their meagre pay. After a long struggle, workers finally held their first free and fair union election and signed their first contract negotiated by a democratically elected and independent union leadership in August 2008 (see 2009 issue of the Survey).The struggle union organizers face is best summed up in an interview with Zimbabwe’s Vimbai Zinyama,vice president of the ZCTU:
However, by 2009, Firestone management had not yet implemented many of the important improvements in the new contract. For example, the agreement reduced the size of the production quota, but many workers throughout the plantation report that they are still being forced to produce at the old quota level, which means they must hire subcontractors or use the labour of their family members in order to finish their work and be paid. Firestone has also not fully implemented health and safety improvements in the new contract and has not provided transportation for all of the children on the plantation to access schools as the contract says they should.
“Like all other trade unionists, I live with harassment and victimisation. At times, it is truly dehumanising; …When the police comes to your house and harasses you in front of your children, hits you and treats you like a thief, a criminal, it is very disturbing for those surrounding you who are forced to witness such scenes. When a teacher asked my eight-year-old son what the role of a policeman was, he replied "to hit your mother" and avowed in front of the whole class that he had seen it with his own eyes. The teacher contacted me to ask me to explain to my son that this is not the role a policeman is supposed to fulfil. I also have an 18-month-old little girl; it’s a very difficult environment to bring up children in.”
It is a tribute to Vimbai Zinyama that despite such heinous treatment, her struggle for others continues.
The sense one gets from this look back to 2009 is that while workers received little benefit from trickle down economics with the crisis so they are seeing hard fought for rights, drain away. One can be saddened by the report but it is also inspiring reading with true heroes for our times like Vimbai Zinyama. It perhaps remains important to remember what they say 'don't mourn; organize!'Take 5 minutes to write to Firestone: