International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has expressed concern over alarming levels of child labour and widespread anti-union discrimination in Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau and Togo.
The international labour body, in a report prepared for the World Trade Organisation’s (WHO) Council meeting, called for a review of trade policies in the affected countries.
The ITUC represents 175 million workers in 153 countries and territories and has 308 national affiliates.
Although the report admitted that the three countries recognise basic trade union rights and freedoms, it noted that in practice the lack of adequate legal protection, poor enforcement and widespread anti-union discrimination have limited workers’ bargaining power.
According to the international labour centre, the absence of respect for the rule of law has a serious impact on respect for all core labour rights.
The report revealed that in Togo’s Export Processing Zone (EPZ), workers have to overpass additional hurdles in organising, even just to pursue what are legally established wages and social benefits in the rest of the country, noting that most of the Zone’s workers are women working long hours for little pay.
In all three countries, the report observed that women face considerable gender pay gaps and a labour market segregated along gender lines. In general, women are less likely to be hired than men because employers prefer to avoid having to pay maternity benefits.
The ITUC report further revealed that child labour, forced labour and trafficking of children are an alarming problem in all three countries as children are forced to work in dangerous conditions and at a sub-minimum wage in agriculture and domestic servitude.
It noted labour inspectorates and law enforcement officials are poorly trained and lack resources to enforce the law effectively.
Human trafficking, debt bondage and forced prison labour are a few examples of forms of contemporary forced labour. Trade unions in most countries around the world are campaigning for ‘Decent Work for all’.
According to international labour centre, “We cannot be serious about this if we allow forced labour to thrive. Therefore, the ITUC is leading a Global Trade Union Alliance to Combat Forced Labour and Trafficking in order to promote geographical and institutional commitment and cooperation to eradicate forced labour and human trafficking”.
Child labour refers to work for children under the age of 18 that is mentally, physically, socially and/or morally dangerous or harmful and that interferes with their schooling.
Forced labour and child labour are closely linked. They occur in the same geographical areas, the same industries and are mainly caused by poverty and discrimination, and up to half of all people in forced labour are children. Forced child labour is one of the worst forms of child labour as stipulated in ILO Convention 182.
According to the ILO’s new global estimate nearly 21 million people are victims of forced labour, trapped in jobs, which they were coerced or deceived into and which they cannot leave.
The Asia-Pacific region accounts for the largest number of forced labourers in the world accounting for11.7 million (56 per cent) of the global total, followed by Africa at 3.7 million (18 per cent) and Latin America with 1.8 million victims (9 per cent) respectively.