A Worrying Trend: Increased Violations of the Right to Collective Bargaining
Collective bargaining: definition and numbers
In a worrying trend, the Global Rights Index of the International Trade Union Center (ITUC) shows that the percentage of countries in violation of the right to collective bargaining has increased from 63% in 2014 to 79% in 2022. Serious restrictions regarding collective bargaining were recorded in 117 countries. The ITUC analysed nine-year data trends to report on the status regarding workers’ rights and found restrictions in all regions of the world, in both public and private sectors.
What does the right to collective bargaining entail?
The ILO defines collective bargaining as “a process of voluntary negotiation between one or more employers (or their organisations) and one or more workers’ organisations (that is, trade unions).” The right to collective bargaining is a fundamental labour right and includes freedom of association. Together they form the main conditions for a working system of social dialogue. The right to collective bargaining ensures a fair process of negotiation to further and protect the interests of workers and employers. Freedom of association ensures the right of workers to form and join organisations of their own choosing, such as a trade union. The right to collective bargaining is enshrined in the ILO’s fundamental Conventions: the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention of 1948 (C087) and the Forced Labour Convention of 1949 (C098). The status of collective bargaining as a fundamental labour right has been reaffirmed in the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work of 1998.
Although Conventions C087 and C098 have a high degree of ratification, respectively 157 and 168 countries, adherence to these conventions seems skewed compared to the course of action in reality. Out of the ten worst countries for working people, as reported by the 2022 Global Rights Index (Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Eswatini, Guatemala, Myanmar, the Philippines and Turkey), 9 out of 10 have ratified the Conventions. However, these countries still permit practices such as mass arrests and violations of both collective agreements and the right to strike. In addition, global powers such as China, India and the United States continue to commit systemic violations of the right to collective bargaining without being bound to the Conventions at all.
This raises questions on how to better enforce the right to collective bargaining and workers’ rights in general on governments and businesses. Standing up for these rights at the moment proves to be a dangerous, but necessary activity in the majority of countries.
The famous global soft-drinks company The Coca-Cola Company (Coca-Cola) scores high in their commitment and governance of their social impact (82 points out of 100) in the 2020/2021 Benchmark of Know The Chain. On the contrary, their ranking on worker voice is decreasing (18 points out of 100, originally 29 points out of a 100), which includes a total lack of worker engagement. Illustrative of this is the fact that two of their local concerns were involved in direct workers’ rights violations. To start, the Swire Coca-Cola Hong Kong Beverages Employees’ General Union (SCBEGU) unilaterally established severe wage cuts and change in pay structure, without involving its trade union. Additionally, Coca-Cola Philippines was engaged in a deadlocked wage bargaining and a nation-wide campaign for the reinstatement of unfairly terminated union leaders, when trade unionists had to endure intimidations by alleged police officers. For a multinational who prides itself on its social impact, it is remarkable that the same trend does not seem to be extended to their employees.