THE MARCH TO DEMAND OHS AS A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT AT WORK IS ON IN AFRICA
IUF Africa Region, under the challenging environment of COVID-19 that has devasted jobs and livelihood of workers, marks the International Workers Memorial Day (IWMD) with a Webinar. The event will be a rededication to the struggle to push employers across the IUF sectors in Africa to invest in elimination of health and safety risks at work in the midst of COVID-19. It will be an event where IUF affiliates across the region will send a clear message that health and safety should not be relegated to the peripheries of fundamental rights but rather must be made a fundamental right at work. This demand is made with no apology. It will be held virtually from 15h00 – 17h00 (CET).
The theme of the Webinar is “We choose to fight for an effective OHS system, amidst Covid -19, based on recognition of health and safety as a fundamental right at work: Together we shall win!!” It is an undeniable fact that the fundamental right to life is denied by poor working environment. The tombs of millions of workers who lost their lives bear testimony to this sad fact. HEALTH BEFORE PROFIT IS STILL OUR DEMAND!! On this day, as the region remembers those who died, suffered injuries and il-heath as a result of preventable workplace hazards, demand an effective OHS system that puts the worker first and profits last. The region shall fight for the living as it demands that health and safety must be a fundamental right at work. The only choice to fight and win is what the region makes.
As the region remembers workers who lost their lives due to poor working environment, argues that any health and safety system that is not based on human rights, and hence lacking a strong voice of workers as a key element, will not be effective. IUF Africa holds the belief that core-determination on matters affecting workers, including health and safety, must be a principle underpinning an effective health and safety system. Other elements such hierarchy of hazard control and risk assessment become non-negotiable part of the system, and thus putting to shame the concept of Behaviour-Based Safety programmes.
The IUF AFRICA Region, support, without any reservation, the global call to make health and safety a fundamental right at work. It is the solemn tribute to workers who died, injured or fell ill due to exposure to preventable workplace risks.
Since the first appearance of COVID-19 in Burkina Faso, the national IUF Women’s Committee and the IUF national Coordination Committee have stepped in where employers and public authorities have been unwilling or unable to provide adequate protection for workers. They have been supplying soap, masks and disinfectant and informing members how to protect themselves, their families and their communities, on and off the job. They have been working with civil society organizations to maximize the impact on local communities.
The Women’s Committee has collaborated for several years with a national personal product company to teach women working in the informal economy how to make soap. With the knowledge gained, the women have been making liquid soap in containers with information on COVID-19 for distribution to IUF members, in their workplaces or at affiliates’ offices.
On April 27 the IUF Coordination Committee organized a distribution to affiliates of soap, disinfectant and locally designed face masks in the capital city Ouagadougou. National Coordinator Bassirou Ouédraogo emphasized the importance of maintaining rigorous sanitation and protection throughout the crisis, at work and at home. He also called on the government to ensure respect for worker rights during the health emergency and after, citing several cases of employers who, under cover of the crisis, had dismissed union members in retaliation for exercising their rights.
The IUF joins with our sister international union organizations in calling for speedy official recognition of COVID-19 as an occupational disease by governments and national health and safety bodies. Official recognition of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 as a preventable occupational hazard, and work-related COVID-19 as a work-related disease, would require employers to take necessary measures to protect workers against the risk of exposure, establish liability for failure and provide compensation to workers and their families sickened and killed by COVID-19.
A short policy brief explains how and why this recognition is needed to protect workers, their families and their communities.
The IUF-affiliated agrifood union FLAI-CGIL, together with numerous civil society organizations, has called on the government to take immediate measures to safeguard the health and safety of the thousands of irregular migrant workers and asylum-seekers living in the country. In an open letter of April 24, the union calls for solidarity with the irregular workers living in makeshift camps and ghettos, many of them employed in agriculture, without access to adequate water and sanitation. Government measures to tackle the health emergency do not reach these populations, putting lives at risk and threatening to transform them into pandemic hotspots.
The letter calls on the government to enable monitoring and prevention measures by requisitioning migrant housing and providing improvements to basic infrastructure. Interruption in the supply of migrant workers from Eastern Europe threatens farm production, while irregular workers are unable to fill the shortage due to their fear of the authorities. Migrants and asylum seekers, the letter states, must be allowed to emerge with confidence from their irregular situation by being given residency status.
The health emergency and threat to food production, warns the letter, can only be addressed by guaranteeing workers’ fundamental rights and strict application of the sectoral collective agreements.
Tunisia’s national trade union center UGTT, together with civil society organizations, activists and members of parliament, has called on the government to take immediate measures to ensure that migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers enjoy full access to medical services, prevention measures and social support in the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the government agreed on April 7 to a limited number of measures including visa extensions, an April 10 appeal (available here in French) insists, in the name of solidarity, on targeted actions to fully protect the rights of non-citizens, including the right to medical services, regularization of migrants’ residency status and easing the population currently in crowded migrant detention centers with an elevated risk of contagion. Most migrant workers in Tunisia are from sub-Saharan Africa.
IUF news release.
A 31 March World Trade Organisation (WTO) and United Nations’ World Health Organisation (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) joint call for coordinated international action to keep international food supplies flowing ignored the welfare of workers in the sector, the global food and farming union IUF has said.
The IUF has written to the three global bodies to highlight a ‘supremely irresponsible defect’ in their appeal for ‘responsibility’: the total absence of advocacy for action to protect the lives, safety and livelihoods of the agricultural workers on whose labour food security depends.
In a letter to the FAO and WHO, the IUF emphasises that in the COVID-19 crisis food security, worker health and safety and public health converge. “With borders closing and markets collapsing, these agencies are now discovering that workers normally considered ‘unskilled’, exploitable and disposable are in fact essential,” IUF notes.
“Protecting food security requires coordinated action to protect food workers, including the nearly 500 million women and men working for wages on farms of all sizes, plantations, in orchards, greenhouses and in livestock and dairy production.”
The IUF letter asserts: “Substantial, open-ended funding from national governments and international institutions must be made immediately available to ensure adequate protection and safe work for agricultural workers as an elementary measure for saving lives and protecting public health and food security.”
IUF news release.
The Citra Mina Workers Union and their national centre SENTRO commemorated Workers Memorial Day with the families of fishing vessel workers declared lost at sea. Over the past two years, at least 17 workers on vessels fishing for the Citra Mina Group are known to be missing or dead and the union continues to investigate other cases. more
To mark Workers Memorial Day, IUF has produced with Pesticides Action Network (PAN) and the Swiss-based NGO, Berne Declaration, a report on the use of paraquat in India. more