Conflict & Justice

Labor Lowdown: This week in workers' rights


Clashes broke out during an anti-fascist demonstration on September 25, 2013 in Athens, Greece. Greece's two largest unions in the public sector and in the private sector have called on people to join a large rally against fascism and to call for sanctions against the extreme right Golden Dawn party, as the Greek Supreme Court is investigating all court cases involving party members and followers.


Milos Bicanski

A new investigation revealed “modern-day slavery” in Qatar’s preparations for the 2022 World Cup, despite pleas to the Thai government, Burmese migrant workers continue to be forced into labor in Thailand, public sector workers in Greece go on strike for the second time in a week and a new International Labour Organization report shows child labor has fallen since 2000.

Here are some continuing issues to keep in mind:


An investigative report published yesterday by The Guardian revealed that dozens of Nepalese migrant workers have died in Qatar in recent weeks, and thousands more are subjected to “appalling labour abuses,” as the country prepares to host the 2022 World Cup.

Almost one Nepalese worker died per day this summer, the report said, many of them were “young men who had sudden heart attacks.” The Nepalese embassy in Doha documented 44 deaths between June 4 and August 8.

The Guardian also said that the working conditions of Nepalese laborers—who make up the largest group of laborers in Qatar and are working on a “building binge paving the way for 2022”— fall under the International Labour Organisation’s definition of modern-day slavery.

Evidence of exploitation and abuse has shown forced labor on the World Cup infrastructure project, lack of pay and retention, confiscation of passports, and denied access to drinking water.

"We'd like to leave, but the company won't let us," The Guardian quoted one Nepalese migrant as saying. The migrant is reportedly employed at Lusail City development, which is a $45 billion city being constructed, which will include the stadium for the World Cup final. "I'm angry about how this company is treating us, but we're helpless. I regret coming here, but what to do? We were compelled to come just to make a living, but we've had no luck," he said.


Despite pleas from the ILO and US State Department monitors to the Thai government, tens of thousands of Burmese migrant workers, including children, continue to be forced to work in Thailand’s seafood processing industry, according to The Irrawaddy.

Migrant workers are reportedly are subjected to “wage theft, falsification of labor documents, excessive fees for work permits, confiscation of travel documents and in some cases physical abuse,” according to Washington-based International Labor Rights Forum.

“Migrant workers are paid such shockingly low wages because it benefits Western importers that can get large quantities of cheap shrimp,” the Forum’s director of campaigns Abby Mills said. “Those importers play Thai producers off each other, seeking lower and lower prices, which puts downward pressure on wages and increases the likelihood of labor rights abuses. The incentive for everyone involved is to glaze over potential exploitation while continuing to pay low wages.”

The ILRF issued a statement this week, highlighting what it called “appalling work conditions and misuse of countless thousands of mostly illegal migrant Burmese in Thailand’s lucrative shrimp industry, which is worth US$1 billion in annual exports mostly to the United States.”

The organization has also called for action to stop the abuse.

The ILO launched a “Good Labour Practices” program in Bangkok on September 16 intended to address issues of child labor and forced labor in the industry.

The program, which aims to bring Thai government officials to the table with industry leaders and Thai trade union representatives, receives funding from the US government.


Greek public sector workers—teachers and medical workers, among others—on Tuesday began 48-hour strike against plans to slash thousands of public sector jobs, Reuters reported. This is the second strike in a week.

ADEDY, the umbrella union responsible for organizing the strike, said government the government plan, a requirement from the European Union and International Monetary Fund in order to bail the country out, was "the most merciless plan" to eradicate workers’ rights.

The strategy, which the government refers to as a "mobility scheme,” requires workers to “find work in another department within eight months on a reduced salary, or be laid off.”

"The government must realize they can't fire people just like that," Yiota Papadopoulou, a state high school teacher, told Reuters. "We were hired on merit, we have degrees, we weren't all hired on favors."

According to Reuters, Greece’s administrative reform ministry is required to put 25,000 workers in the mobility pool by the year’s end.

So far, it has moved 12,500 workers.


A new report released this week by the ILO said the global number of child laborers has gone down by a third, from 246 million to 168 million, since 2000.

More than half of those children, 85 million, do hazardous work.

The largest numbers of child labor still belong to Asia and the Pacific, with approximately 9.3 percent of children, or 78 million, still working. Sub-Saharan Africa, however, continues to be the region with the highest incidence of child labor.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, 8.8 percent of children—13 million—are still performing labor, while 8.4 percent—9.2 million—of the Middle East and North Africa’s children continue to work.

While garment factories have dominated child labor news in recent months, the ILO report found that agriculture “remains by far the most important sector where child labourers can be found,” with 59 percent, 98 million, of children working in agriculture.

Over the last 13 years, the decline in child labor numbers was greater among girls, who fell by 40 percent, while boys fell 25 percent.