Freedom at Work to organize in the workplace and bargain collectively gives workers a voice on the job and the opportunity to strive towards a better life. Workers around the world face systematic barriers to organizing including egregious acts of violence and intimidation.
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are part of the four core labor standards recognized by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights yet these rights are frequently violated. View ILRF's Freedom at Work Toolkit here.
The following outlines common tactics used by governments and employers worldwide:
10 Ways Companies and Governments Bust Unions
- Hiring paramilitary groups or colluding with local police or military forces to perform violent acts of intimidation against union leaders, activists and their families. These acts include assassinations, death threats, false arrests and physical and verbal harassment. According to the International Trade Union Confederation's Annual Survey, 76 unionists were killed in 2008. Colombia continues to be the most dangerous place to be a union leader and the Philippine military systematically commits acts of violence and intimidation against unionists.
- Contracting workers out to temporary employment agencies, labor “cooperatives,” or moving them to short-term contracts to disable them from joining unions and bargaining collectively. Even when contract workers can legally unionize, they are less likely to risk being fired for unionizing when their jobs are so precarious. Learn about Pakistani Lipton workers' struggle to organize and become permanent employees.
- Firing workers who are organizing or workers who are already union members. In countries where it is illegal to fire workers without “just cause,” firings are often under the guise of “layoffs” where many workers are told to leave but only non-union members are hired back. Learn about Turkish workers' who were fired for trying to unionize.
- Blacklisting workers who were fired for organizing throughout a particular region or industry, sending an even stronger message that employers will not allow workers to form organizations of their choice. Learn about pineapple workers who were blacklisted for unionizing in Costa Rica.
- Benefiting from Export Processing Zones (EPZs) which are often exempt from laws establishing freedom of association, the right to bargain collectively and other labor laws. It is almost always illegal to strike in EPZs, so when workers protest the conditions – which are often some of the worst in the country -- they can be arrested, or subjected to violence. An estimated 63 million people are employed in EPZs worldwide. Over 53 million are accounted for in Asia with China alone accounting for 40 million. Learn about violence against workers in EPZs in the Philippines.
- Factory and farm closings, reorganizations and relocations that are specifically designed to eliminate union presence or send a message that “unions force factories to close.” The same facility often reopens with new non-union employees miles away. Learn about Russell workers in Honduras.
- Replacing independent unions with company-dominated unions or company run “committees” comprised of workers chosen by management. Certain countries allow companies to negotiate “pacts” or other non-binding “agreements” meant to replace legally binding collective bargaining agreements (CBAs). They are rarely democratically negotiated by workers. These tactics are often promoted by employer-funded anti-union schools meant to spread discriminatory messages about unions to workers starting at a young age. Learn about Dole cut-flower workers' struggle in Colombia to battle a company dominated union and the Liberian Firestone workers' independent union.
- Interfering in the union registration or collective bargaining process and manipulating workers into revoking their union memberships. Interference in the union process often occurs at the government labor department level. It is also common for companies to refuse to bargain a contract (CBA) with workers for years on end, even if their union is legally registered. This frustrates workers and weakens the union. Learn about truckers in the U.S. who are being denied the right to collectively bargain.
- Exploiting migrants and children and recruiting them to replace union workers or serve as “strikebreakers” are common tactics used by companies to create xenophobic resentment and decrease solidarity amongst workers. Migrants are sometimes legally barred from unionizing and employers often threaten to deport migrant workers who try to organize. Children are also illegally employed as another tactic to undermine adult union organizing efforts.
- Criminalizing labor activists through defamation charges, false arrests, arrests of striking or protesting workers or illegal detentions. In countries where counter-terrorism efforts targeting rebel groups are strong, military forces have accused union activists of being terrorists. Learn about criminalization of unionists in the Philippines.
If your union is facing repression or violence because of your organizing, please contact ILRF at firstname.lastname@example.org.