Workers’ Rights: An International issue

At the very last minute, the strike planned by teachers was called off. At 4:00 am today, the Ontario Labour Relations Board declared that a planned one-day walkout by elementary school teachers is illegal and, subsequently, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation president ordered members to comply with the ruling. Teachers are not the only disgruntled public sector employees in Canada; sanitary workers, doctors and other medical personnel, and sanitation workers have had to reportedly accept a pay freeze as part of their salary negotiations.

In South Africa, worker health and safety  has become the subject of a potential lawsuit. Miners are being forced to sue over a deadly lung disease. According to CorpWatch, “thousands of gold miners have asked permission from South African courts to sue some 30 mining companies — domestic and internationally-based — over negligence in health and safety that the miners allege has caused them to contract silicosis, a debilitating and potentially fatal lung disease.” In a similar case the lawyer mentioned that “The South African gold mining industry was focused on production and profit and displayed a flagrant disregard for its black employees health.”

Across the world, there is another worker situation brewing; flagrant cases of migrant worker exploitation in Italy’s agricultural sector are ongoing. As in the U.S., the agricultural sector in Italy depends heavily on migrant workers. Those workers’ labour rights are violated through delays in the payment of wages, below minimum wages, staggeringly long work hours, and the lack of health and safety protections.

When corporations and elected officials alike send the message that the only people who should be regarded with any value are big businesses owners and, in many instances, those of the religious and racial majority there is bound to be civil strife. One of the most disturbing aspects is that the news media often becomes complicit in that their ‘reporting’ presents views that do nothing more further the agenda of the owners. Far too often they do their level best to sully the reputations of workers and organised unions (which shows that the global media has picked up some bad habits from the U.S.’ Fox News!) that attempt to gain fairness and equity for workers.

Whether the issue is health or safety, salaries or benefits the common thread remains the same: promises made are promises that are repeatedly being broken, sometimes in the form of government imposed contracts. Whether elected officials or private corporations, the public’s trust cannot be maintained when the persistent theme is one in which one class has a sense of entitlement and is allowed to treat other classes as though they were meant to be used and figuratively stepped upon.

Workers need to see that governments and corporations reneging on past deals is an international problem. Whether it’s the so-called Liberal Party and the Progressive Conservative parties in Canada, mine owners in South Africa or the Republican party in the U.S., the common thread is that they have lost their damn minds sense of being in service for the people.

Thankfully, many citizens around the world are pushing back. After all, governments and corporations fighting against the interests of the very people who put them in power is not sustainable.