Abuse of workers’ rights reached record highs in 2022. Where are things getting better and worse?

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This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Victoria Masterson, Senior Writer, Formative Content

  • The ITUC Global Rights Index 2022 ranks 148 countries by their respect for workers’ rights.
  • Abuse of workers’ rights reached record highs in 2022, the Index finds.
  • The Middle East and North Africa is ranked as the worst region for workers’ rights.
  • Only three countries worldwide saw their ratings improve this year.
  • Better workers’ rights means improved productivity and more jobs, the International Labour Organization says.

Workers have rights.

But in many parts of the world, these rights are violated.

The Global Rights Index 2022 found that abuse of workers’ rights reached record highs in 2022.

The report covers 148 countries and is published by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the world’s largest trade union federation.

The ITUC’s General Secretary, Sharan Burrow, responded to the latest findings by calling on governments to ensure workers have “jobs, wages, rights, social protection, equality and inclusion”.

Here are some other insights from the global rankings:

The right to strike is increasingly criminalized

Strikes are severely restricted or banned in 129 of the 148 countries in the report.

Workers exercising their right to strike in these nations can be dismissed from their jobs instantly, and union leaders taking part in the strikes can be prosecuted.

In some countries, industrial action is “brutally repressed”, the ITUC says.

The proportion of countries violating the right to strike has grown from 63% in 2014 to 87% in 2022.

Collective bargaining rights are being eroded

When unions negotiate with employers to improve pay and conditions for their worker members, this process is called collective bargaining. It is a fundamental right for all workers.

But there are “serious restrictions” to collective bargaining in 117 countries, the Global Rights Index 2022 says.

“Restrictions have been recorded in all regions and in both public and private sectors,” the ITUC says.

This reflects a “concerted attempt by employers” – sometimes in partnership with governments – to curtail the rights of workers, the Confederation adds.

Violating the right to establish and join a trade union

All workers have the right under international labour standards to set up or join a trade union.

But 115 of the 148 countries the Index covers deny this right to certain categories of worker. These include migrant workers, domestic workers, temporary workers and some categories of public employees.

The proportion of countries violating this right grew from 58% in 2014 to 77% in 2022.

Workers are denied access to justice

Without access to justice, workers can’t have their voice heard and assert their rights.

But workers have no access or reduced access to justice in 97 of 148 countries, the Global Rights Index 2022 finds.

Trade union leaders are often detained and prosecuted on inflated charges, the ITUC says.

And trials are often not impartial, while also showing “disregard for due process”.

Where are workers’ rights violated?

The Middle East and North Africa is the world’s worst region for workers’ rights, the Global Rights Index 2022 states.

Workers in this region face systematic violations of their rights, or no guarantee of their rights at all.

Workers’ rights are also systematically violated in Asia-Pacific, the world’s second worst region for such rights. Violations in 2022 included “extreme police brutality” to repress strike action, the ITUC says.

In Africa and the Americas, there are “regular violations” of workers’ rights, the Index shows.

Are there any improvements in workers’ rights?

Europe improved on last year’s ranking in the Global Rights Index 2022. But the region, which includes 39 countries, still shows “repeated violations” of workers’ rights.

This includes collective bargaining rights being “severely trampled” in most countries and a more than doubling of the share of countries where workers face violence, from 12% in 2021 to 26% in 2022.

Only three countries worldwide saw their ratings improve in the Global Rights Index 2022. These are El Salvador in Central America, Niger in West Africa and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East.

Why are workers’ rights important?

Work is part of daily life for billions of people and underpins our dignity, well-being and development as human beings, says the International Labour Organization (ILO), a United Nations agency that promotes rights at work.

The ILO says workers’ rights help protect people’s human rights.

Human rights are basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world. They include the right to equality, justice and freedom of expression.

Workers’ rights are the foundation of equal and just societies, the ILO says. When workers have rights, the benefits include better conditions for workers, improved productivity, increased consumer demand and more and better jobs, it adds.

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