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TUC wants 'decent work' for the world's poorest

The TUC has yesterday published a new five year international development strategy, setting out how it plans to use members' money and grants from the government and other organisations to raise wages and improve rights for some of the world's poorest workers.

The document, Global justice, global solidarity, has four key priorities, to:

  • enable workers to build democratic and accountable unions, states and institutions;
  • secure equality and social justice through the union movement;
  • support vulnerable workers to help improve their working lives; and,
  • ensure international trade and investment promote decent work.

Launching the strategy, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Unions are tackling poverty pay and exploitation at work all over the world. Our new strategy takes the lessons unions have learnt in Britain - about vulnerable work, the need for a voice in the workplace, and equal rights for women - and shares them with unions in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

'Our plan as UK trade unionists is to assist workers in countries like Iraq and Zimbabwe and help them build democratic societies. We want to help reduce the spread and stigma of AIDS in sub-saharan Africa, and plan to use events like London Olympics to persuade major multinationals to make sure no worker involved in supplying goods for 2012 is badly treated.'

The strategy's foreword is written by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark who is now head of the UN Development Programme. She says:

'The TUC's vision of productive, sustainable, and decent work for all is central to the pursuit of human development. Development is about far more than just increasing GDP per head, it must also be about improving people's ability to shape their own lives.

'Through union organisations workers can have a more effective say, not only on wages and conditions, but also on the wide range of policies which have an impact on their lives. Free trade unions are an indispensable component of a democratic society.'

Global justice, global solidarity contains a number of case studies to illustrate the work that the TUC and its member unions are involved in around the world, including work with Nepalese domestic workers like Rohini Prasad Dahal. Rohini started work aged ten, and has worked for half a dozen different families in the last eight years. He says:

'One house owner treated me like a thief and if they went out, they would lock the doors and lock me out too. They would only give me leftover food to eat, dirty bedding to sleep on and old clothes to wear. I had no day off, and during the first five years, I received no pay from any employer.'

Rohini is probably the youngest union General Secretary in the world, and at just 18 years old, the union he heads, the Nepal Independent Domestic Workers' Union (NIDWU), is increasing its influence with support from the TUC as part of a global fight for rights at work for domestic workers. The union was only set up a few years ago, but already it has almost 1,000 members.


- Other quotes from Global justice: global solidarity which illustrates projects in which the TUC and UK unions are involved include:

'We are inspired by your eagerness and swift action in aiding the working people of Zimbabwe to fight for total freedom and democracy. It has not been a lonely struggle for us because of friends like you.' Gideon Shoko, Deputy General Secretary, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.

'Women participants show their passion by speaking out on the issues that affect women's sexual health. They are now ready to debate and challenge, with evidence, any idea that further discriminates against women with regards to HIV/AIDS.' Esther Ogunfowora, project co-ordinator, Nigeria Labour Congress, speaking about the impact of a TUC-supported project.

'I wanted to make domestic work into decent work and that is why I became a trade unionist. As a union, we try to make sure that employers recognise that domestic workers are like other workers and should enjoy full rights.' Sonu Danuwar, founder of the Nepal Independent Domestic Workers' Union.

'The international Playfair 2012 campaign has already had some impact - we are now negotiating with the major sportswear brands. The ongoing support of fellow workers in the UK is vital for us to continue making progress.' Lilis Mahmudah, Chair, Women's Empowerment Programme, National Industrial Workers' Union Federation, Indonesia.

- Rohini's story:

'I get up at 4am in the morning. I have to set my mobile phone alarm to wake up. At this time I focus on my studies. During the day, I work on NIDWU matters and then in the evening I carry out my domestic work duties: cleaning, cooking, and looking after the children. I go to bed at midnight.

'I first became a domestic worker when I was ten years old. At this time, the economic conditions of the country and the Maoist insurgency made my neighbourhood dangerous. My mother is dumb and my father is deaf and all our property had been stolen by relatives. My father was worried that I would be kidnapped by Maoist forces and forced to join their army and so he encouraged me to leave for Kathmandu to become safer.

'I started as a domestic worker, and over the years I have changed my employer four or five times in search of better conditions. One house owner treated me like a thief and if they went out, they would lock the doors and lock me out too. They would only give me leftover food to eat and old and dirty bed clothes to sleep on and old clothes to wear. I had no day off at all, and in fact, during the first five years of my domestic work, I received no pay from any employer.

'Now I am in a better situation. I am totally free between 11-4pm every day, so I can do NIDWU work. I get 1,000 rupees a month (about £9) although from this I have to pay my food, education costs and other living costs, so I basically break even. My brother who is also in Kathmandu gives me some pocket money.

'Now I hope that NIDWU will be capable of protecting domestic workers in Nepal. As General Secretary, I have to call meetings, inform members of our work, increase membership, write reports and communicate with members. I feel happy and proud of myself that I have reached this position and I am sure I can do what NIDWU needs me to do.

'I would like to thank the TUC for this new project which will help NIDWU to grow its membership base, improve its management and develop new advocacy skills.'

- To help Rohini, the TUC has been working to tackle the exploitation of domestic workers by working with the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT) and the Nepali Independent Domestic Workers Union (NIDWU). The TUC is supporting a project run by GEFONT to build capacity in NIDWU and ensure that government policy supports domestic workers.

- Global justice, global solidarity is available at http://www.tuc.org.uk/extras/GlobalJustice.pdf - hard copies are also available

- All TUC press releases can be found at www.tuc.org.uk

- Register for the TUC's press extranet: a service exclusive to journalists wanting to access pre-embargo releases and reports from the TUC. Visit www.tuc.org.uk/pressextranet


Media enquiries:
Liz Chinchen T: 020 7467 1248 M: 07778 158175 E:
Rob Holdsworth T: 020 7467 1372 M: 07717 531150 E: rholdsworth@tuc.org.uk
Elly Gibson T: 020 7467 1337 M: 07900 910624 E: egibson@tuc.org.uk




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