Employment protection legislation has been perceived as a factor that increases ‘labour costs’ and as an impediment to flexibility, competitiveness and economic growth. Consequently work organisation has been modified to adopt more flexible employment types such as non-permanent and informal employment, temporary agency work or otherwise insecure employment types. These types of precarious employment contracts not only have an impact on union membership, but also on the fragmentation of collective bargaining.
Given their unstable employment situation and high unemployment rates globally, precarious workers are often not in the position to organise and bargain collectively at the risk of losing their jobs. This means that workers are exposed to insecure employment and deprived of the means collectively to represent their interests in order to improve their situation. Insufficient employment protection legislation therefore leads to more precarious work for individual workers and strategically weakens the union movement and its bargaining power. Unions in many countries cited the high level of contract and casual labour as one of the biggest challenges to organising and protecting workers’ rights, notably in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan and South Africa. In South Korea, unions report that employers systematically hire workers on precarious contracts to prevent them from forming unions.
The world of work is changing continuously, but violations of legitimate trade union rights remain widespread. Despite international consensus on the importance of trade union rights and international ratified conventions that support the promotion of freedom of association and collective bargaining rights, there are major issues and challenges when it comes to compliance in practice.
Autocratic regimes denying fundamental civil rights are preventing trade unions from representing the interests of workers and mobilising for democratic change. To demand compliance with international labour standards and to build capacities to organise and mobilise workers the ITUC has launched campaigns in risk countries such as Fiji, Georgia, Guatemala, Myanmar, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Global framework agreements are concluded with multi-national construction companies that will build the infrastructure and stadia for the FIFA World Cup promised by Qatar in order to ensure that migrant workers will have the right to freedom of association and will not be exposed to forced labour. The ITUC also organises and informs workers who are planning to migrate from countries such as India, Nepal, the Philippines and Sri Lanka to Qatar. In countries such as Greece, where International Financial Institutions systematically abolish collective bargaining and workplace democracy, trade unionists are appealing to national and international judicial bodies to refute these changes.
Thus, the international trade union movement is not deterred by the increasingly challenging environment and has been adopting new strategies and global solidarity actions to realise the rights of workers.