20 Aug 2017 Ferado

Left-Wing Coalition Calls for National March on August 27 to Demand Release of Rif Detainees

Rabat – La Fédération de la gauche démocratique (FGD), a coalition of three lef-wing parties, has called for a national march on August 27 in Rabat to demand the release of detained Rif activists.

The youth wings of the three parties issued a joint statement condemning the excessive use of violence against the Hirak (protest movement in Al Hoceima and its nearby towns in Rif), which led to the death of activist Imad El Attabi.

El Attabi was injured in the head during the July 20 national march in Al Hoceima. He remained in coma in the military hospital in Rabat until announced death on Tuesday.

FGD said the call to national march on August 27 is intended to show support for the Hirak and stand against the state’s policies aiming at undermining citizens’ rights.

Calls for releasing Rif prisoners have been issued since a massive of arrests targeted Hirak activists in late May and throughout June and July.

On July 29, dozens of activists were released on the occasion of the Throne Day but the bulk of the but a larger number of almost 200 protesters remain in prison in Al Hoceima and Casablanca where they are prosecuted for heavy charges such as “undermining people’s loyalty to state institutions” and threatening the security of the state.

The arrest, prosecution and detention of Rif activist put the government not only at odds with the residents of Rif but also with the rest of Morocco where an important segment of the population, civil society and political elite have shown support for the protest movement in the northern Moroccan region.

20 Aug 2017 Ferado

Claiming rights under the kafala system

The Middle East plays host to the largest number of migrant domestic workers in the world. National statistical sources collated by the ILO estimate that 1.6 million migrant domestic workers are working in the Levant and countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Another estimate, from the International Trade Union Confederation, puts the number even higher at 2.5 million. These women traditionally hail from Asian countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and India, however Ethiopia, Madagascar, Kenya and Uganda have also emerged as new countries of origin.

The admission, residence and exit of migrant domestic workers are governed by the kafala system, a private sponsorship scheme for temporary migrant workers. Kafala ties the work and residence permits of a domestic worker to a specific employer; makes residence permit renewal the responsibility of the employer; and makes employment termination, transfer from one employer to another, and exit from the country contingent on the sponsor’s approval. It is a system that leaves workers at the complete mercy of their employers.

Further, domestic workers continue to be excluded from the scope of national labour laws with the argument that domestic work cannot be regulated like other sectors without violating the sanctity of the employer’s household. Employment contracts thus regulate the employer-agency-worker relationship; however these documents carry little weight without adequate inspection mechanisms. Even where standard unified contracts exist – such as in Kuwait, Jordan, and Lebanon – agreements negotiated bilaterally with countries of origin supersede them, promoting a race to the bottom in the working and living conditions of domestic workers from different nationalities and encouraging stereotypes about the quality of the work performed by women from certain countries.

As a result, domestic workers are overworked, underpaid and cheated by brokers and recruiters. They face considerable barriers to accessing justice and their embassies and consulates do not have the resources or capacity to respond to the volume of complaints. Furthermore, when domestic workers – faced with unfair laws, barriers to justice, and employer impunity – decide to leave the homes of their employers they are declared “absconded” and become susceptible to arrest, long periods of detention, excessive fines, and finally deportation and blacklisting.

Over the past 10 years, international organisations and NGOs in the Middle East have launched advocacy campaigns, submitted legislative proposals, and offered a variety of legal and socio-medical services to migrant domestic workers. These initiatives were rarely guided by the priorities of domestic workers, in part because very few spaces exist for domestic workers in the Middle East to articulate their concerns. The result has been a plethora of well-intentioned but incongruent programmes and services for domestic workers. This is progressively changing. Inspired by images on Facebook and Instagram of domestic workers taking the streets across the world, domestic workers across the Middle East are consolidating in nationality-based or sectorial organisations to make their demands heard.

The following is a description of the barriers to domestic workers’ unionising in the Middle East; a review of emerging models of collective voice outside the union model; and a discussion of the role of the International Domestic Workers’ Federation (IDWF) in reconciling the organic social dynamics of organising among migrant domestic workers with classical trade unions.
Barriers to the unionisation of domestic workers in the Middle East

Freedom of association is generally restricted in the Middle East. Trade unions and strikes are banned in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Only workers’ committees are allowed, although not for women migrant domestic workers. Domestic workers can join existing unions in Lebanon and committees within union federations in Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain (ILO, 2015). Across the Levant and the GCC, domestic workers are not allowed to run for union-elected positions on account of their migration status.

Domestic workers in Lebanon succeeded in establishing their first sectorial union in the Middle East in 2015 under the umbrella of the National Federation of Employees’ and Workers’ Unions in Lebanon (FENASOL). The union remains unrecognised by the Lebanese Ministry of Labour, but is reported to count over 500 members. It was formed through an ILO-led process involving women migrant domestic workers; four NGOs (i.e., Nasawiya’s Anti-Racism Movement, Insan Association, Frontiers Ruwad (FR), Kafa (Enough Violence & Exploitation); the National Federation of Employees’ and Workers’ Unions in Lebanon (FENASOL); and the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF). The 20-month process, completed in January 2014, had three main objectives: (1) raise domestic workers’ consciousness to encourage active participation in advocacy campaigns; (2) promote collaboration between domestic workers, unions, and NGOs over priorities and interventions; and (3) create synergies with the global domestic workers’ movement (Tayah, 2014).

The 80 participating domestic workers provided the critical mass required to establish the domestic workers’ union in January 2015. Over the past two years the union has concluded agreements with trade unions in the countries of origin, such as the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT) and the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU), to extend protection to domestic workers across the migration cycle. These agreements, unfortunately, lack focus and are not supported by implementation protocols.

The union has also expended substantial energy campaigning for recognition by the Lebanese authorities, but has yet to define a policy position and strategy on domestic work outside of the generic anti-kafala slogans. Union engagement at the policy level is hampered by the sector’s fragmentation across recruiters and brokers at origin and destination; multiple government agencies; origin country embassies; a multitude of policy spaces (national, binational, regional, interregional, global); and transnational policy issues that are at the crossroad of care, migration and employment regimes. All of these require a high level of technical knowledge that FENASOL, in spite of its heightened awareness to the challenges in the sector, still lacks.

Elsewhere, in May 2017, the Arab Trade Union Confederation (the Arab office of the International Trade Union Confederation) supported establishing a national committee of migrant workers as part of the General Federation for Jordanian Trade Unions (GFJTU). The committee is headed by the president of the federation and composed of the presidents of the construction, garment, public services and municipality workers’ unions. It aims to represent migrant workers, including domestic workers. The General Federation of Bahraini Trade Unions (GFBTU) had also set up a committee for migrant workers that will include a focus on domestic workers. These are welcome developments, but the trend toward migrant committees rather than domestic workers’ committees risks stymieing sector-based organising and undermining the principle of equality between migrants and nationals in their working conditions.

Practical, organisational, and political barriers frequently prevent domestic workers from joining domestic workers’ unions and migrant workers’ committees where they are permitted to do so in the Middle East.

Practical barriers include workplace isolation and restrictions on mobility, such as the denial of a leave day outside the home; bans on driving; long and unpredictable working hours; and the withholding of personal documents. Further, the fear of employer reprisal through contract termination (which may lead to deportation) is also commonly cited as a deterrent against organising efforts. Outreach efforts are further limited due to the absence of gathering areas such as parks and churches/temples in the GCC, which often greatly facilitate ad hoc forms of solidarity among domestic workers.

Gender dynamics, conflicts of interest and the inability of migrant workers to comply with strict union reporting requirements constitute organisation- and union-level deterrents for domestic workers. Men dominate the leadership structure of trade unions in the Middle East, and as a consequence they have largely been unable to welcome (women) domestic workers into their ranks. Trade unionists in the region are also employers of domestic workers, especially in the countries of the GCC. Finally, leaders of the domestic workers’ communities wear multiple hats: they are leaders in their migrant communities and leaders in the sectorial union. Their activism on the migration front is incongruent with strict trade union reporting requirements. The domestic workers’ leaders who worked with FENASOL and became the founders of the Domestic Workers Union of Lebanon have since moved on to form the Alliance of Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon. They continue to recognise the importance of the union but prefer the flexibility of organising around both sectoral and national lines.

Additional organisational barriers include low salaries, time limitations and language barriers. Low salaries mean that domestic workers are unable to pay membership dues and are unlikely to pay for transportation to attend union activities. Where the leave day is respected and tolerated by employers, domestic workers are also much more likely to rest rather than to spend their free time with the union. Language barriers in Middle Eastern countries – where domestic workers hail from over 12 countries of origin – are also an obstacle to sector-wide strategies.

More broadly, national level politics serve as another layer of obstacle for domestic worker organising. Population politics – migrants make up half the population of the GCC and over 90% of the population of certain countries like the UAE and Qatar – and the pressing issue of integrating refugee populations into labour markets of countries like Lebanon or Jordan are always thin lines to tread. On top of that, unions are often associated with certain political parties, and in some countries there is a growing rift between independent trade unions and government-supported trade unions. These dynamics greatly complicate organising in the region as these tensions are often instrumentalised to exclude domestic workers from unions and policy agendas.
The association model for collective voice in the Middle East

Domestic workers can set up or join trade unions but they can also adopt the association model of organising (e.g. community-based organisations), and/or experiment with arrangements straddling the association and union models (Bonner, 2010, pp. 10-15). There are many examples of migrant workers’ associations organising around gender, race, nationality and/or occupation in the Middle East. These associations have adopted union characteristics (e.g., paying membership fees) but do not have union powers.

In 2011, the Anti-Racism Movement in Lebanon established the Migrant Community Centre as a meeting space for migrant workers, and offered trainings in online activism, self-defence, computer skills, and grassroots advocacy. The MCC is now host to the Alliance of Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon, which is starting to receive attention. On Labour Day 2017 it led the Migrant Workers’ Parade, reading out a statement under the slogan “Kafala kills” that denounced the deportation of domestic workers who give birth in Lebanon and the deaths of migrant domestic workers that are not properly investigated. Photos of the parade and the workers’ demands featured on the evening news and in major national newspaper outlets. In follow-up to the parade, the alliance and concerned NGOs are planning a meeting with the Ministry of Labour to discuss potential strategic partnerships on and with domestic workers.

Other associational models in the region include Migrante International – the global alliance of Filipino Overseas Workers (OFWs) – which counts as a national chapter in Saudi Arabia. Migrante International receives complaints of OFWs in distress and their families and seeks redress for their grievances. It also regularly conducts research and fact finding missions and embarks on corresponding advocacy campaigns. The Sri Lankan Women’s Society in Lebanon organises around gender and nationality, although it is an association of mostly domestic workers, and The Domestic Workers Solidarity Network in Jordan represents Ethiopian, Bangladeshi, Indonesian, Sri Lankan and Filipina domestic workers. The network organises worker literacy programmes and legal clinics.

The Middle East has also experimented with hybrid forms of organising. With Anti-Slavery International (ASI), the Lebanese NGO ‘KAFA (enough) Violence & Exploitation’ supported the establishment of a self-help group of Nepalese women working as domestic workers in Lebanon (NARI) in 2012. NARI members are affiliated to GEFONT, becoming trade unionists at origin and civil society activists at destination. NARI advocated for the establishment of a Nepali embassy in Lebanon.

20 Aug 2017 Ferado

New Union Formed for Transportation Sector

BAHRAIN: A new union representing staff in the transportation, aviation and telecommunications sectors has been launched.

The General Federation for the Transportation Sector has been formed by unionists from Gulf Air, DHL and Bahrain Airport Services.

It initially aims to represent around 1,000 people employed by the three companies, but expects to grow its numbers by taking on members from other firms.

The aim is to improve the bargaining power of unionists in those sectors, who are seeking strength in numbers.

“The idea is to have a union that represents workers in the aviation, telecommunications and transportation sector in Bahrain,” said spokesman of the newly formed union Mahmood Salman.

“The new union is still in its infancy stage before we see more sectoral unions joining us.”

The new body has been formed by the National Labour Union of Gulf Air, the National Union of Bahrain Airport Service Workers and the DHL Trade Union.

It comes under the umbrella of the Bahrain Free Labour Unions Federation (Al Hurr), which represents around 20,000 members in all sectors.

“There are common issues faced by those employed in the sector and it makes sense to be a strong lobby group, rather than individual unions,” added Mr Salman.

The General Federation for the Transportation Sector has already held its first meeting, during which board members agreed to draft bylaws and seek co-operation from other unionists.

“At the moment there are so many infrastructure projects happening in Bahrain, like the airport modernisation programme,” said Mr Salman.

20 Aug 2017 Ferado

BREAKING: McDonald’s workers are going on strike for the first time in the UK

UK McDonald’s workers are set to strike for the first time in the UK, following a vote in favour of action at two London stores.

40 workers at the outlets were balloted over what food workers’ union BFAWU say is the “company’s failure to deal with grievances related to drastic cuts to employee hours and bullying in the workplace,” which they view punishment for joining a union.”

96% of those who took part in the ballot voted in favour of action, with workers demanding a wage of £10 per hour and union recognition.

It comes off the back of high-profile ‘Fight for 15 [dollars an hour]’ fast food worker campaigns in the US – and successful unionisation in New Zealand.

Shen Batmaz, a McDonald’s worker at the Crayford store in South East London, said:

“In spite of being a global giant and a household name, the conditions McDonald’s workers are subjected to across the world are simply not up to scratch.

“This strike in the UK is part of a global movement advocating for fair salaries and decent working conditions. McDonald’s should listen to all its employees around the world, and take immediate action.”

Ian Hodson, National President of the BFAWU:

“We, at the BFAWU, fully support the historic decision by these brave McDonald’s workers to stand up and fight back against McDonald’s – a company that has let them down one too many times.

“McDonald’s has had countless opportunities to resolve grievances by offering workers a fair wage and acceptable working conditions. Instead, they have chosen to ignore their workers by tightening their purse strings – filling their CEO’s pockets, at the expense of workers here in the UK and across the world.”

Workers at the stores are reportedly struggling to meet their rent payments – whilst some have even lost their homes.

The US fast food effort has become a major political campaign in and of itself – leading to more than 10 million workers now being on the path to $15 an hour.

20 Aug 2017 Ferado

Proposed crippling countrywide strike TO SAVE ECONOMY, ASSETS, NATURAL RESOURCES– D.J. RAJAKARUNA

SRILANKA: Convenor of the Ceylon Petroleum Joint Union Alliance and General Secretary of the Petroleum Common Workers’ Alliance, Dadellage Janaka Rajakaruna said yesterday their proposed countrywide strike in unison and combination with all the other unions of the essential services of the country, was to protect the essential services, the national economy and the country’s natural resources as well.

Rajakaruna functions as a Deputy Operations Manager of the CPC at its Muthurajawela installation. He is a science graduate of Kelaniya University and holds a Master’s degree in Industrial Chemistry from the Peradeniya University. He said theirs was a method, adopted to generate the revenue in keeping with national interests.

He also said this was not a strategy to topple the government, but to make the government understand the dire need for rethinking some of its decisions in deference to the people’s wishes.

? You told Ceylon Today just last Sunday Edition which was published as the lead story that you were planning to stage a crippling strike which would deprive the civilians of their basic rights and their access to electricity, water and other essentials. What is the latest development? Is this a veiled threat, or are you serious or are we to assume that this is an outright joke and meant to be taken with a pinch of salt?

A: As you know we had three demands…. The Hambantota Port …

? Please answer to the point. The question is at what stage is the strike as of now?

A: Our discussion with the government stopped at the stage with President Maithripala Sirisena assuring us that he will talk to China Merchant Port and get us the bunkering operations at Hambantota. This is also due to the President telling us that there was a clause in the agreement that amendments could be made to the agreement. The President assured us that he will negotiate with the Chinese and get back to us. That was where the meeting ended and that was the final stance of the President.

? But when did that happen? I mean the meeting with the President?

A: That was on 1 August. There were also the Minister of Petroleum Industries, Arjuna Ranatunga and the General Secretary of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Mahinda Amaraweera at that meeting.

? So, today is 17 August, almost three weeks since he gave the assurance. Didn‘t the President give you an update?

A: No. Not yet. But the President had asked all ministers to provide their observations on this report for the report with their recommendations to the next Cabinet meeting. The report about the agreement that was signed had come to the Cabinet. The report with whatever inclusions and removals was to have been incorporated with the amendments by the Cabinet this week. That was what we were told. There was also a Cabinet paper which went up in 2016 for the CPC to get 16 of the 99 tanks. The estimate that was prepared by the CPC engineers was that the Lanka IOC was paying only US$ 10 million for the 16 tanks. So, why should we be repairing tanks elsewhere when there are readymade ones? We can prove that we could recover this investment from the savings in the transport costs. Now the distribution of petroleum to areas such as Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa are done from Colombo. If they are done from Trincomalee, there could be a massive saving. We are constructing a new pipeline from the Jetty to the upper tank farm. We are also constructing an administration building as well. There are also the bogeys which will enable the petroleum to be transported by train. Only 500 metres of the railway track is broken. All we have to do is to get that repaired. It is for the construction of that the US $ 10 million will be incurred.

We also have the option of getting a foreign party to supply us with the oil which could be stored in the tanks. That will also mean that we will not require an investment at all. The investors will be able to store it and take it at any time they want. But, we will be levying a charge for that. That will also mean that all the tanks would be refurbished and we will be able to make all the money for the CPC. That will also mean that there would be opportunities for offering bunkering services for ships as well. The Lanka IOC is surreptitiously doing bunkering up to 12,000 tonnes per month. The LIOC does not have a licence for Bonded Cargo in Trincomalee.

? What is the earthly sense in doing bunkering when the Colombo prices are very expensive, more than any of the competing ports in the region? Just to prove a point. In Colombo International Furnace Oil (IFO 380) is US $ 330 per tonne, while in Singapore, it is US $306 per tonne, Fujairah, it is US $ 302 per tonne, Cochin-US $ 307 per tonne and Kelang (Malaysia) it is US $ 308 per tonne.IFO 180 in Colombo is US $ 345 per tonne, while in Singapore, it is US $ 345 per tonne, it is US $ 330, Fujairah – US $ 340, Cochin-US $ 309 and Kelang –US $ 328.In Marine Gas Oil, it is US $ 530 per tonne in Colombo, US $ 464 in Singapore, US $ 543 in Fujairah, US $ 655 in Cochin and US $ 490 per tonne in Kelang. How do you reconcile this?

A: The reason is that the bunker business has not been developed.

? What is the earthly sense in providing bunkering services, given that Sri Lanka is a mere 5 million-tonne market and only 1.8 million tonnes are processed at Sapugaskanda while the remainder is imported which makes the costs higher ?

A: That is because the bunker market has not been developed. Now the issue is that the supply has been restricted to only 4-5 players.If there is more competition, each of the players will get a very small market share. That facility should be restored by the CPC as our freight costs would be definitely cheaper due to the fact that we are bringing more oils and other products as well.

It is also on the same basis that we asked for the bunkering operations at the Port of Hambantota as well. The previous government messed up in style regarding the bunkering facility at the port there. What they should have done was to install the buoy and we will be in big business.

? MP Bandula Gunawardena, in an interview with this column last week, alleged that the government has made a saving of US $ 4 billion from the drop in global petroleum prices in the last two years and that no government had that benefit, which could have gone to settle all the foreign commercial loans. He has also said that the money is still at large and unaccounted. Is that true?

A: The fact that the US $ 4 billion was saved was true. But, Rs.8.44 billion was used to pay the Lanka IOC for the losses they incurred with the government not making the corresponding decrease in the price. They had a large parcel which was unsold. We import what is necessary for immediate requirements. In some months, the government made a profit of Rs. 38 per litre of diesel.

Some of the funds could have been used for the refurbishment of the Sapugaskanda Refinery.

? But Petroleum Minister Arjuna Ranatunga told this newspaper (State Affairs- 4 August 2017) that there were three investors who had expressed interest in refurbishing the refinery and they were willing to provide the funding and technology for that. Also, among them was the third richest Saudi Prince (Ceylon FT lead story on 24 July 2017). So, what is the issue?

A: The refinery was originally built in 1969. There was a foundation stone for the refurbishment laid by the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2007, but, nothing happened. But the feasibility study came only in 2010. That said that the requirement was US $ 2 billion. The recovery period was 6-8 years. But with the drop in the fuel prices, the recovery period would have been less than five years. That means the annual profit would have been US $ 400 million which was around US $1 million profit a day. We apprised all these facts to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and he directed Minister Arjuna Ranatunga to expedite the project.

? How would you describe the strikes and your demands from the government?

A: We staged a strike on 24 April. We took up all the issues with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. It was a spin-off of the strike we held on 24 May. Then we discussed with the Minister of Petroleum Arjuna Ranatunga and Strategic Development and International Trade Malik Samarawickrema. We discussed the Trinco tank farm. He said this agreement with India was due to the lack of funds in the government. He said the estimate was not even prepared. We said we have the estimate prepared by the engineers. We showed the two ministers how to make money from both the Trinco Tank Farm and the Hambantota bunkering. Minister Ranatunga took on the project after that where he said that he will find the investors.

? What is the nitty-gritty of the Trincomalee Tank Farm (TTF) project?

A: The TTF is before Court as we have sued the government. The Prime Minister assured us that there will not be any decision on the TTF till the verdict of the case was given. Then we had a long discussion with him at a meeting on 13 July. He said he could not give a definite answer but he said he will arrange a meeting with the President. He did not do that instead put it to the Cabinet on 25 July which was also the day we struck again. We got to know that on 23 July, but we wrote to the Prime Minister again on 24 July. We gave the government time till 4.30 p.m. When that did not happen we started the strike at 5 p.m.

? So, at what stage is the crippling strike which you promised to mobilize all forces?

A: Even in the most recent Cabinet meeting this week, the observations of all the Cabinet Ministers had not been taken. Only Arjuna Ranatunga and a few others have done it. This is because President Sirisena has said that he has the authority to amend the agreement. We have told the government how to deal with the Trincomalee and Hambantota issues and how to raise the money and move on. We have found out that even the 2003 government to government agreement has no validity. Former Petroleum Minister Susil Premajayanth, after consulting the Attorney General said the 99 tanks have to be released to the CPC.

? So, how many tanks does the CPC own now?

A: Now all the tanks are held illegally by Lanka IOC. When we were about to start the construction, the Prime Minister told us to hand them over to India. Now the CPC is losing US $ 1.5 billion annually, but when the government runs short of money it will lose the port.

? Now, come clean. I am looking at your face first, and then looking at you directly between your eyeballs! Is this a subtle move to topple a democratically elected sovereign government? We know that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is determined to return to power at any cost. Is your effort as a part of that or are you being the cat‘s paw of the Joint Opposition which is desperately wanting to bring Mahinda Rajapaksa to power? Please reply after talking to your conscience!

A: No, not by a long shot! A majority of the members of the unions are from the JVP. So, do you think that the JVP wants President Rajapaksa back? If we wanted to topple the government, there would have been different ways. This is to stop the government compromising the people. We are not compromising the people like the way that the government is compromising them.

? Now that the government has declared all these services such as petroleum as essential services, what have you decided to do, if all the employment contracts of the current employees are terminated like President J.R. Jayewardene did in 1981 when your union members are absent from work, whatever the morality of the cause is?

A: Can a government do that and stay in power? This will be something like emergency where it will have to go to Parliament and get the approval every month. I hope the government will be in existence for them to have the essential services throughout.