16 Aug 2019 Ferado

India: Kashmir lockdown blocks media, silences critical reporting

INDIA: Communication in and out of the Indian region of Jammu and Kashmir has been blocked since August 4 following changes to the region’s autonomy in India’s Constitution. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the Indian Journalist Union (IJU) have strongly criticized the restrictions imposed on the media under the unprecedented lockdown and called on the authorities to guarantee the media’s access to information and right to work. Security personnel stand guard at a roadblock in Jammu on August 7, 2019. A protester died after being chased by police during a curfew in Kashmir’s main city, left in turmoil by an Indian government move to tighten control over the restive region. Credit: Rakesh BAKSHI / AFP

In early August, Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, used a presidential order to repeal Article 370 and 35a of the Indian Constitution, stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special autonomy. In the following days mobile, landline and the internet were cut off in the region, two political leaders were placed under house arrest and according to BBC, Vox, Reuters at least 500 activists, politicians and leaders have been arrested.

In addition to the communication block, a significant increase in military personnel were deployed in the region. Road blocks and a curfew have also been installed, creating what many have described as a ghost town.

According to a report by the Indian Express the press isn’t welcome. “Most of the TV crew that have flown in are parked in a 1-sq-km area of Zero Bridge in the city.”

IJU Secretary General and IFJ Vice President Sabina Inderjit said: “This gag on press freedom is antithesis of a democracy and demanded that the Union Home Ministry and local administration make arrangements that the media establishments are allowed to carry out their duties and that journalists are immediately issued curfew passes to report from the ground.”

The IFJ said: “We stand in solidarity with our colleagues in Kashmir who are simply trying to do their job in trying circumstances. Access to information is a human right, not something to be controlled by the government in an attempt to control the narrative. We demand that all communication is restored in the region, and guarantees are made to ensure the media are free to do their work.”

16 Aug 2019 Ferado

Rights Group Demands Immediate Release of ‘iLabour Three’ as China Deepens Crackdown on Labor Activists

CHINA: Amid China’s deepening crackdown on labor activists, Wei Zhili, the editor of an online labor rights advocacy platform called iLabour, was officially arrested on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” on Friday – almost five months after he was taken away from his home in China’s southern city of Guangzhou.

Police presented a statement allegedly made by Wei to dismiss the lawyer of his family’s choice – a decision his family said is “clearly against his will.”

“We are afraid that the police may have tortured him and threatened him so that he decided to unhire that lawyer,” one of Wei’s family members told VOA over the weekend anonymously.

Legal Presentation Denied?

Wei’s family said they feel “sad and hopeless,” fearing that Wei has been deprived of his basic rights to seek legal presentation or his next government-appointed lawyer will not look after his best interest.

Wei’s wife Zheng Churan, a well-known feminist in China, is barred from talking to foreign media about her husband’s case. Three months ago, she began a running campaign with a goal to complete 10,000 kilometers and hopes that her loved one will be set free by the time she meets the goal.

If convicted, Wei may face up to a 10-year jail term, according to the lawyer of his family’s choice, whose requests to meet with his client were rejected twice by local police.

Two of Wei’s colleagues – Yang Zhengjun and Ke Chengbing, who were also seized by police from Shenzhen respectively in January and March – may face a similar fate, according to rights groups, which have been demanding the immediate release of the three journalists, dedicated to labor rights.

The three, known as “iLabour Three,” had used the news outlet to publish information on the cases of migrant workers from Hunan province who had contracted pneumoconiosis – an occupational lung disease, while also counseling them about defending their labor rights and petitioning over their grievances.

Set iLabour Three Free

“These journalists were serving the public interest by exposing life-threatening labor violations, and therefore they should never have been arrested,” said Christophe Deloire, Secretary-General of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in a press statement released last week.

He insisted that the Chinese Constitution “enshrines freedom of the press and safe working conditions.”

RSF estimated that “at least 114 journalists and bloggers are currently imprisoned in life-threatening condition in China.”

In its 2019 World Press Freedom Index, the international group ranks China’s level of press freedom the 177th out of a total of 180 countries, which suggests China’s reporting environment only outperforms that in Eritrea, North Korea and Turkmenistan.

Sweeping Crackdown

Also, a group of online campaigners, which run a Facebook page titled Global Support for Disappeared Left Activists in China, noted that, since last July’s Jasic Incident, more than 130 labor rights activists have been detained or disappeared in China. Over 50 of them remain missing or in custody.

The Jasic incident was a month-long labor rights conflict, in which, workers from Jasic Technologies Co in Shenzhen, dissatisfied with what they alleged were low pay and poor working conditions, staged protests and sought to form a labor union.

Their calls drew support from students and professors at more than 20 universities. The Facebook group says more than 60 workers and supporters ended up being detained.

China’s state-controlled Xinhua news, in August, placed the blame on labor groups and foreign forces, saying a Shenzhen-based labor center that partners with Hong Kong-based Worker Empowerment, fanned the protests. It failed to mention that the workers were protesting due to labor rights violations and state violence.

Since then, the group observed that the authorities’ targets of arrests have ranged from worker organizers, leftist students, labor organizations staff and even social workers.

Analysts noted that the detention of workers and supporters, plus the state media’s efforts to discredit them, showed the lengths Chinese authorities would go to, to crush worker disputes.

And China’s crackdown on labor activists has become so widespread that it’s hard to tell what activities are viewed by the authorities as crossing the red line, said Li Qiang, founder and executive director of China Labor Watch.

Riskier Labor Activism

In other words, anything that is beyond the Communist Party’s control will threaten the party’s rule and risk being suppressed, Li Qiang added.

“The Communist Party is concerned that, once highly-educated students or intellectuals with ideology join hands with the working class and get involved in the workers’ movement, the situation may get out of control and become detrimental [to its rule]. What worries the party the most is workers groups being organized,” said Li, who is currently based in New York.

Caught in the government’s crackdown, labor rights activists in China face an even more unclear and risker fate if they continue their activism, Li said.

16 Aug 2019 Ferado

Subway under investigation by Fair Work over staff underpayment

AUSTRALIA: Subway has said it could terminate franchisees that do not pay staff properly after it emerged the US sandwich giant is under investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman over underpayment of local employees.

The troubled franchise is under pressure after an investigation by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald revealed it is closing stores, suffering from falling revenue and facing a backlash from some franchisees forced to pay the price of costly renovations. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age has confirmed Subway is now the subject of an inquiry by the ombudsman following claims by employees of underpayment across the franchise network.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman’s investigation in relation to the Subway chain is ongoing, and it is therefore not appropriate to provide further comment at this time,” a FWO spokesperson said. A spokesperson for Subway responded to questions by saying franchisees were the “face of Subway” and were required to meet regulatory, financial reporting, workplace and employment requirements.

“Failing in their commitment to uphold these will result in enforcement action and continued non-compliance may lead to termination,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said franchisees are required to conduct quarterly audits of their employment records and Subway conducts both proactive and responsive reviews of employment and financial records.

“All Subway restaurant employees are entitled to payment for hours worked, including for training,” the spokesperson said. “Any employee who believes they have been paid incorrectly by a franchise owner is encouraged to report this to Subway for investigation, through a dedicated employee hotline.”

Systemic underpayment
The $170-billion franchising industry has been exposed as a hotbed of wage underpayment in a series of media investigations. Current and former Subway employees provided by The Young Workers Centre in Melbourne, The Young Workers Centre, a union affiliated group in Melbourne that has received over two dozen complaints about Subway over the last 12 months.

The employees dispute the company’s claim that it is “proactive” and that employment records are audited regularly.

We don’t think it is good enough to wash their hands of responsibility.

Felicity Sowerbutts
Former Subway employee Oscar Machen said he has worked at various Subway outlets from the age of 18 and was paid under the award rate at “pretty much” every store.

“They were all in the game of keeping those wages as low as possible however th

16 Aug 2019 Ferado

Azerbaijan: Supreme Court denies Khadija Ismayilova’s request for early end of her probation

Azerbaijan: the Azerbaijani Supreme Court decided to uphold its charges against investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who was accused of tax evasion. After she has been living under a probation sentence for three and a half years, the former correspondent of RadioFreeEurope / Radio Liberty seeked for an early termination of her probation. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) condemns the court’s decision and demands Azerbaijani authorities to stop her repressions.

Since 2010, Ismayilova had been writing on cases of corruption linked to the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s family, until she was imprisoned in 2014 after a government-driven smear campaign against her. The journalist was sentenced to seven and a half years in jail, but set free after a year and a half due to harsh criticism of international human rights organizations. Since that, Ismayilova’s probationary sentence forbids her to travel or work. Furthermore her bank accounts are frozen.

“I am concerned by the Supreme Court decision in Azerbaijan, rejecting Khadija Ismayilova’s petition for early termination of her probation period. Her continued foreign travel ban is a serious hindrance on her professional activity as a journalist.”, said OSCD Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Desir.

“We are convinced that the constant harassment against Khadija Ismayilova is intended to silence her, to prevent her from working. We call on the authorities to put an end to this latent censorship,” said the EFJ General secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez.

According to the “Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project” (OCCRP), the Azerbaijani government has accused her of “multiple offenses since 2014, from criminal libel to encouraging a colleague to commit suicide.”, in order to intimidate her. Ismayilova won several prices for her investigative journalism, such as the Right Livelihood Award, the PEN Freedom to Write Award and the Courage in Journalism Award.

8 Aug 2019 Ferado

Call for framing rules to enforce Sindh Home-Based Workers Act 2018

A sub-committee on the Sindh Home-Based Workers Act 2018 resolved on Tuesday that the rules of the law should be finalised within 15 days as the delay amounted to government’s indifference towards the workers.

The consultative meeting of the 14-member committee and other stakeholders was held at a hotel in Karachi by the provincial labour department and the Home-based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF).

HBWWF general secretary Zehra Khan said that although the law was passed a year ago, it was yet to be implemented as its rules were not still notified. She said a sub-committee was formed in September last year which had floated several suggestions and recommendations in this regard and a draft was also finalised.

Khan further said that this consultation was held to discuss the draft of recommendations and send it to the concerned quarter so that this hallmark law could be implemented as early as possible.

Labour affairs consultant Gulfam Nabi Memon said the SHBW Act was the first law of its nature in whole of the South Asia. He said no neighbouring country had such a comprehensive law for home-based workers.

He said HBWWF and Sindh labour department; besides, other stakeholders had played a great role in making the SHBW’s Act a reality. He said that soon the Sindh Labour Directorate would start registration of the home-based workers.

Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research’s director Karamat Ali said it is true that this is the first law of its sort in South Asia but it is sad that this law is yet to be implemented as its rules are not notified despite the passage of a long time.

He said action should be taken against those who were responsible for this inordinate delay. He said that after submitting the recommendations they should be approved within two weeks.

The Sindh labour and human rights department’s Syed Ali Ashraf Naqvi said that all lacunas in the act should be removed and far-reaching recommendations floated to notify befitting rules for the act so as to ensure its early implementation.

He said it took a lot of time to finalise things as many departments were involved in it. He, however, extended all-out cooperation on behalf of his department. He said now as the Supreme Court of Pakistan had given the definition of ‘government’, a lot of corrections would be made in the draft.

National Trade Union Federation deputy general secretary Nasir Mansoor said it was necessary to work for the universalisation of workers-related matters, as without it the desired outcomes could not be achieved.