20 Dec 2018 Ferado

Over two thousand journalists jobless after newspapers shut in Pakistan

Pakistan’s largest publication house, the Jang Group of Newspapers, shut down five newspapers in various cities rendering hundreds of journalists and media workers jobless on December 16, 2018. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) in condemning the abrupt closure of the newspapers and urges the media house to reconsider its decision and reinstate the media workers. The Jang Group announced the closure of Peshawar and Faisalabad editions of Jang daily and shut down its Karachi-based Urdu-language daily Awam and English-language Daily News along withLahore-based Urdu daily Inqibal without a prior notice to the employees.

The PFUJ also noted that Century Publications’ Urdu daily Express had closed its bureaus in Sukkur, Quetta, Gujranwala and Multan while the Herald Group of Publication shut down Herald monthly. The PFUJ estimated the total job loss in all these closures to be around 2,500.

PFUJ President GM Jamali said: “The PFUJ is profoundly distressed over en masse dismissal of journalists and media workers and urges Prime Minister Imran Khan, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry and Sind Government to take notice of the move by media houses…I urge the concerned authorities to terminate the declarations of all such newspapers that have been closed down to discourage dummy publication and/or later launch with a different approach.”

The PFUJ and its affiliate units staged country wide protests and criticized the Federal and the Provincial governments for their silence and failure to act to resolve the problems of the media industry.

Meanwhile, on December 14 Information Minister Hussain avoided informing the Parliament about the number of employees dismissed from service by private TV channels and newspapers since January 1, 2018. Answering a query, he in a written reply said no authentic figure or data available with the ministry to ascertain the number of employees sacked by print media houses.

The IFJ said: “The IFJ is extremely concerned by the decision to close down newspapers by the Jang Group and other publication houses in Pakistan. The closure and layoff of hundreds of journalists and media workers is an extreme step that should only be taken after proper auditing and consultations with stakeholders including the journalists unions. The publication houses’ abrupt decision without announcing gratuity or retirement plans of the journalists and media workers is unacceptable and against the labor rights of them. The IFJ urges the media houses to reconsider their decisions, and to ensure that the laid off media workers are properly compensated.”

20 Dec 2018 Ferado

Stitched up? Fashion workers urge H&M to deliver living wage

PHNOM PENH, — In an industry riddled with poor health, abuse and labour exploitation, Yim Srey Neang and her colleagues are pleased to have garment factory jobs that are relatively stable and safe.

They speak highly of their employers as representatives of 4,000 people toiling in a factory that supplies to fashion giant H&M from the outskirts of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

But when conversation turns to the so-called “fair living wage”, the tone shifts: Several factory workers begin firing off laundry lists of life’s necessities — food, shelter, education, health care — and their prices in an onslaught of discontent.

“No, it’s not fair,” Srey Neang said on a tour of the factory organised by H&M, the world’s second biggest fashion retailer with more than 4,800 stories located in 71 countries.

“Our salary does not allow us to save money — it’s barely enough to live.”

Srey Neang is one of 1.6 million people worldwide working in factories that supply H&M — part of a global fashion industry that employs at least 60 million people — according to the United Nations’ International Labour Organisation (ILO).

In an industry fuelled by cheap labour — mainly young women — the concept of a fair living wage aims for workers to move beyond living from paycheck to paycheck, where a single accident or emergency can plunge a family into financial crisis.

In 2013, H&M pledged to overhaul its supply chain — seven months after poor conditions in the textile industry grabbed global attention when Rana Plaza, a seven-story commercial building in Bangladesh, collapsed — killing 1,130-odd people.

Consumers and campaigners demanded action, but five years on the Swedish retailer — which reported a profit after tax of about US$1.8 billion (RM7.5 billion) for 2017 — is still wrestling with how to ensure a greater share goes to the workers making its clothes.

While wages are rising on factory floors worldwide, David Savman, H&M’s global head of production, said that the number of factory workers receiving a living wage remained at “zero”.

“Until workers’ unions and manufacturers agree on a figure, we do not know what a fair living wage is,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation during the factory visit.

Some observers call for individual brands to narrow focus and take direct action to increase wages in their own supply chain, but Savman said such an approach would be unsustainable.

“We don’t want to create an isolated bubble of fairness,” he said, adding that H&M wanted to see collective bargaining, where representatives of workers and employers negotiate a wage floor.

“We want to see frameworks put in place to raise standards across the entire industry — frameworks that will remain in a market after we pull out.”

New fashioned

H&M’s 2013 vow to tackle a problem that has been discussed for decades was a first for the textile industry — a five-year plan to overhaul pay structures and give workers more of a say. Five years on, at their “Fair Living Wage Summit” in Phnom Penh last week, H&M reported that it had exceeded targets for workers who had been educated on how to earn more and for employees who could elect their representatives.

The Microfinance Organisation, a US-based non-profit, surveyed 180 factory staff in Bangladesh — H&M’s second largest source market — and found that workers in the Swedish giant’s supply chain were earning more than workers in other factories.

Those workers reported spending US$8 more on food each month, being less burdened by debt and in better health.

But at an average of 49 cents an hour, many staff in H&M’s supply chain were still earning hourly rates that violate Bangladeshi labour laws, and union membership was “almost non-existent across the full sample”, according to the study.

H&M says it wants workers at the negotiating table, head-to-head with factory bosses and without the influence of governments, whose interests generally lie in keeping wages low.

Factory bosses are rightfully fearful of this, Savman said, so H&M has committed to “ringfencing” a living wage — removing wages from their purchasing negotiations with factory owners and covering any fluctuations that occur.

“We want to insulate them from labour costs so that they are more confident to come to the table,” he said.

No excuses

Cambodia’s garment industry has been overhauled in recent years — with the monthly minimum wage set to rise to US$182 next year from US$61 in 2012.

Yet a survey of 41 garment workers by the Centre for the Alliance of Labour and Human Rights found that while the average wage was significantly higher than the minimum, workers were still earning less than US$1 an hour — and living month-to-month.

Moeun Tola, the charity’s executive director, called for major brands to stop making excuses and improve workers’ pay.

“If H&M really wants to pay a living wage, they can go directly to their supplier and make an agreement,” he said, adding that this could encourage competitors to follow suit.

A review of H&M’s tactics by the Ethical Trading Initiative, however, found that it could not be fully effective without an increase in workers’ bargaining ability at factory level, more transparent pay structures, and better purchasing practices.

William Conklin, Cambodia country head for the Solidarity Centre, a US-based non-profit promoting workers’ rights, said that while H&M deserved credit above other brands who were “doing nothing”, it now had the chance to be a “trend-setter”.

“So what if workers in their (H&M) factories are paid better than other factories? They’d have a steady supply of labour,” Conklin said. “It’s not an excuse for not moving ahead.”

The Asia Floor Wage Alliance, an advocacy group, has marked US$480 as a fair monthly living wage in Cambodia, while a group of Cambodian unions have called for a US$225 minimum wage from 2019.

“H&M can reject those figures, that’s fine, but they need to come up with a counter figure and act,” Tola said, pointing out that many workers in the country were living with no safety net.

“A garment worker only needs to have one accident or one serious illness in the family and the whole salary is gone,” he added. “They are very vulnerable. What happens next?” —

20 Dec 2018 Ferado

Experts for sending workers under BLA to protect rights

BANGLADESH: Trade union leaders and migrant rights activists on Wednesday suggested the government to send workers under bilateral agreements with overseas job destination countries to protect their rights and ensure accountability of their employers.
Speaking at a dialogue on MoUs/BLAs for Overseas Employment organised by Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment ministry at its conference room at the city’s Probashi Kallyan Bhaban, they said that the bilateral agreement was stronger than the memorandum of understanding in bargaining for the rights and benefits of migrant workers.
Overseas Employment ministry joint secretary Mohammad Akhtaruzzaman moderated the dialogue while senior officials, representatives from International Labour Organisation and non-governmental organisations were present.
Trade unionist and founder of the AWAJ Foundation Nazma Akter, who attended the dialogue, told New Age that Bangladesh government should proceed on signing BLAs with the recipient countries to protect rights of the workers.
She called for participation and involvement of workers and trade unions in all process of negotiation and consultations in light of the social dialogue defined by the ILO to protect rights of the workers.
Speaking at the dialogue, migration expert Asif Munier said Bangladesh should go for BLA with the job destination countries as the BLA could be more helpful to make accountable the employers to ensure due rights and benefits of workers than that of MoU.
He also suggested taking necessary preparations with the participation of all concerned people before signing BLA with a job destination country.
Migrant rights activist Anisur Rahman Khan said that in most occasions workers were deprived of their due rights from their employers. Bangladesh sent workers under MoUs, so the employers were more or less reluctant to ensure their rights and benefits, he added.
He stressed the need for giving all types of supports to the women workers who are the most frequent victims until they were ensured justice from their employing countries.
Debate for Democracy chairman Hassan Ahamed Chowdhury Kiron said that though the government has set maximum ceiling of the cost of migration to the outbound workers, recruiters were not following the ceiling.
He suggested maintaining a chart of migration cost at the recruiting agencies offices to help build awareness about the fixed charge.
Overseas Employment ministry additional secretary Ahmed Munirus Saleheen said migration cost has become the basic problems in the migration sector.
Both the destination and origin countries will have to be responsible to implement the existing MoUs, he added.
Ministry’s additional secretary Aminul Islam said that due to huge supply of workers from Bangladesh, they could not bargain strongly with the employing countries.
So the workers’ rights and others benefits should be mentioned in the BLAs and MOUs properly to their enhance negotiation capacity, he observed.
Though Bangladeshi workers migrate to 165 countries for jobs, Bangladesh signed bilateral agreements with only two countries, MOU with 11 and MOC with one.
Absence of formal arrangements with most of the destination countries make ‘our workers vulnerable abroad,’ officials and rights activists told New Age.
Bangladesh has bilateral agreements regarding manpower recruitment in place with only Kuwait and Qatar, according to Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training.
A memorandum of cooperation with Japan provides for sending technical interns from Bangladesh, said BMET.
And memorandums of understanding for sending workers are in place with Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, South Korea, Oman, Libya, Bahrain, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Maldives and Kampuchea.
According to the International Labour Organization, bilateral agreements provide effective collaboration mechanism between countries of origin and destinations for migration of workers under agreed principles and procedures.
The ILO advises countries of origin and destination to make bilateral agreements to serve the interests of both the sides, and particularly to protect the interests of migrant workers.

20 Dec 2018 Ferado

Thai rail workers case taken to ILO

Sawit Kaewvarn, Pinyo Rueanpetch, Banjong Boonnet, Thara Sawangtham, Liem Morkngan, Supichet Suwanchatree and Arun Deerakchat have been ordered by the supreme court to pay a fine of THB24 million (USD726,116) for running a health and safety initiative at the state railway of Thailand (SRT).

The activists are all members of the State Railway Union of Thailand. They started the initiative after the Hua Hin rail crash of 5 October 2009, with the aim of exposing insufficient safety standards. For their plan they were sacked, and reinstated in 2014 after a global campaign of support but without compensation for lost wages and benefits.

In 2013, the ILO committee on freedom of association (CFA) found that the initiative by the activists was industrial action, and therefore protected by the principles of freedom of association.

The joint letter, from ITF general secretary Stephen Cotton and ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow, to ILO director general Guy Ryder says “it appears from the judgment that the Thai Government failed to transmit the CFA’s conclusions to the Supreme Court … There is a now a very real possibility that these fines could bankrupt the individuals concerned.”

The letter demands that Mr Ryder “call on the SRT to withdraw the fines and reimburse the seven union leaders for monies deducted; ensures that the union leaders receive full compensation for lost wages and benefits which they have not received since their reinstatement.”

Stephen Cotton added: “This situation exposes a number of failures in Thai law to protect the rights of workers and trade unions, including the right to strike, for which the Thai government is responsible, as a member of the ILO.”