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union        Volume 12 Issue 4 2005


             PARA LOS DERECHOS
             POUR LES DROITS

       Sex workers
Volume 12 Issue 4 2005                                            CONTENTS
Journal of the International Centre for Trade Union Rights   2    EDITORIAL: The unionisation of sex workers
● Centro Internacional para los Derechos Sindicales
● Centre International pour les Droits Syndicaux                  FOCUS: SEX WORKERS ORGANISING
                                                             3    Violence against sex workers and the role
I N T E R N A T I O N A L                                         of unions
                                                                  Elena Reynaga

union                                                        5

                                                                  Unionising sex workers in the context of
                                                                  Marianne Jonker
                                                                  Sex worker organising in south east Asia
                                                                  and USAID

rights                                                       8


                                                                  Womyn’s Agenda for Change & Women’s
                                                                  Network for Unity
                                                                  Sex work: European legal frameworks
                                                                  Ashwini Sukthankar
                                                                  Sex workers of the world unite!
                                                                  Ana Lopes
                                                                  Streetwalkers show the way
                                                                  Nandinee Bandyopadhyay
Daniel Blackburn
                                                                  ICTUR IN ACTION
Guest Editor                                                 14   Interventions: China; Djibouti; France;
Ashwini Sukthankar                                                Ethiopia; Guatemala; Indonesia; Iran;
                                                                  Macedonia; Mauritania; Mexico; Russia;
Deputy Editor                                                     Thailand; Turkey; Zimbabwe
Steve Gibbons                                                16   ICTUR map a hit at Canadian union school;
                                                                  Bulgarian jurists look at ILO standards;
Editorial Board
                                                                  Defending trade union rights – legal action
Roy Adams, David Bacon, David Doorey, Dan Gallin, Colin
Fenwick, John Hendy QC, Carolyn Jones Chair,                      centres; British trade union education; Iraq;
Eric Lee, Jill Murray, Rory O’Neill, Tom Sibley,                  Australia – ICTUR lawyers defend union
Nora Wintour, Charles Woolfson, Nick Wright                       rights

Legal Editor                                                      REPORT
Professor Keith Ewing                                        17   Collective bargaining ban under scrutiny
                                                                  Ashwini Sukthankar
ICTUR International Head Office
177 Abbeville Road
London SW4 9RL                                               18   Sex workers in Spain
020 7498 4700                                                     Carmen Bravo
Fax 020 7498 0611                                            20   An anti-trafficking framework is not enough
e-mail                                             Irina Alkhovka
web site                                       22   Scarlet Alliance
                                                                  Ashwini Sukthankar
ICTUR President
Sharan Burrow                                                     REPORT
                                                             24   Colombia: labour rights in the oil sector
Vice Presidents
Mordy Bromberg SC, Fathi El-Fadl, Professor Keith Ewing,          Daniel Blackburn
John Hendy QC, Jeffrey Sack QC, Jitendra Sharma,
Hassan A Sunmonu                                             26   WORLDWIDE: Americas; Australia;
                                                                  Burma/Myanmar; Europe; Global; ILO/Colombia;
Director                                                          India; Labour standards; Social auditing;
Daniel Blackburn                                                  Solidarity action; USA/ATCA; USA

Colombia/Latin America Coordinator                           28   The Eric Lee Column
Miguel Puerto
                                                                  Fast Forward: unions need to use online video
                                                                  to campaign for workers’ rights
Four issues: £20/US$40/C30
Cheques should be made payable to IUR and sent to ICTUR
International Head Office, UCATT House,
177 Abbeville Road, London SW4 9RL, UK

Printed by Upstream, London

INTERNATIONAL union rights
ISSN 1018-5909

Page 1 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005                                               INTERNATIONAL union           rights
                             ICTUR ❐ EDITORIAL

                            Editorial: the unionisation
                            of sex workers
                                 HERE is undeniably controversy about whether it is           who rejected them expressed the opinion that sex work is
                             T   appropriate to treat the sale of sexual services as a form
                             of work. Even the language used to discuss prostitution is a
                                                                                              not like other forms of work, and that the sector is not one
                                                                                              that is easily organised. Lopes notes, however, that the
                             site of tension: some advocates insist on talking about it as    obstacles are by no means unique to sex work, and points
                             ‘sexual slavery’, and assert that the only ethical approach is   out that some of the concerns raised – the semi-legality of
                             to rescue those trapped within it. There are still others who    sex workers, the stigma and the discrimination – are
                             see prostitution as crime, where the prostitute, if she is not   identical to those raised about undocumented migrant
                             a victim, must be a criminal disrupting public order. This       workers.
                             issue of IUR is not a forum for arguments about whether or           Some authors see unions as an alternative to the
                             not sex can be work but rather asks – how is a labour            structure of NGOs which, among other criticisms, are seen
                             rights analysis relevant to prostitution?                        as being too dependent on the politics of funders, as
                                 As the Spanish trade union Comisiones Obreras writes         described by both Scarlet Alliance from Australia and the
                             here, the claiming of labour rights as sex workers’ rights is    Women’s Network for Unity in Cambodia. In the case of
                             a dramatic shift away from the old conversations about how       Cambodia, the article deals specifically with unionisation
                             to deal with the ‘problem’ of prostitution – whether through     and autonomous structure as a strategy to challenge and
                             decriminalisation, state regulation, or abolition – and places   circumvent the funding policies of the United States Agency
                             the emphasis on sex workers’ own understanding of their          for International Development which, under the current US
                             interests.                                                       administration, requires each recipient to declare that it
                                 Many of the articles here address the role of unions in      does not ‘promote, support or advocate the legalisation or
                             this context, in terms of their strengths as well as             practice of prostitution’.
                             weaknesses in dealing with sex worker communities.                   However, many of the autonomous groups described
                             AMMAR, an organisation of sex workers in Argentina,              here – including Women’s Network for Unity – emerged
                             describes an overwhelmingly positive relationship with the       with the initial support of NGOs. Nandinee Bandhopadhyay,
                             union CTA, which initiated a process of organising,              writing about DMSC in India, describes the coalescence of
                             empowerment and education with them in order to combat           an autonomous group out of an HIV/AIDS prevention and
                             the violence and exploitation they faced from police.            treatment project that emphasised peer-led strategies.
                                 Ana Lopes of the International Union of Sex Workers in       Scarlet Alliance also describes the sense of heightened,
                             London, on the other hand, describes having had to               shared vulnerability to HIV/AIDS as a powerful motivating
                             approach numerous other unions before they persuaded             factor for sex workers to come together in Australia.
                             GMB to accept them as members. She notes that the unions             The articles describe differing approaches to the
                                                                                              relationship between sex workers and the state. In the case
                                                                                              of DMSC, the group advocates for nothing more than
  Next issue of IUR                                                                           decriminalisation, and emphasises self-regulation of the
                                                                                              profession even in terms of reducing the numbers of minors
  Articles between 850 and 1,900 words should be sent by email                                or trafficking victims entering sex work. On the other hand,
  ( and accompanied by a photograph and short biographical                     Marianne Jonker, former president of Vakwerk in the
  note of the author. Photographs illustrating the theme of articles are always               Netherlands, accepts that the state has a legitimate interest
                                                                                              in controlling the sex industry and welcomes legalisation in
  welcome. All items must be with us by 1st February 2006 if they are to be                   the country, seeing it as having opened the door to talking
  considered for publication in the next issue of IUR.                                        about further crucial worker rights such as access to social
  Subscribe to IUR: to subscribe, complete the box below.                                     security, retirement benefits, protections against unlawful
                                                                                                  Irina Alkhovka notes that anti-trafficking efforts must
   I/we would like to subscribe to International Union Rights and enclose                     focus on conditions of work in the sex industry, rather than
   £20/US$40/C30.                                                                             merely the process of recruitment into sex work, in order to
                                                                                              be effective.
                                                                                                  Some activists have expressed frustration with the ways
   Name/Organisation                                                                          in which trafficking has shaped the discourse around sex
   Address                                                                                        Others have pointed out that while there is international
                                                                                              cooperation and mobilisation around combatting trafficking,
                                                                                              there are no such efforts to promote, for example, minimum
                                                                                              labour protections for sex workers globally. However, there
   Post Code                                                                                  are signs that this is changing, and there have been
                                                                                              proposals for European and international networks of
   Four issues £20/US$40/C30. Cheques should be made payable to “IUR”                         unions engaged in sex worker organising, for the sharing of
   and sent to: ICTUR, 177 Abbeville Road, London SW4 9RL, UK                                 strategies and the shaping of a common agenda.

INTERNATIONAL union   rights                                                                                                 Page 2 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005

Violence against sex workers
and the role of unions
        UR organisation, Asociación de Mujeres           tion of labour unions, and when we lodged com-

                                                                                                                  Once we had the
        Meretrices de Argentina (Association of          plaints of violence and harassment, the complaints
        Argentine Prostituyes), or AMMAR (with the       were signed not only by AMMAR, but also by the           support of the
acronym alluding to the Spanish word ‘amar’, to          CTA. It was thus fundamental to us to be part of a       trade union
love), was formed in 1994.                               workers' federation that supported and strength-
   At the time, we were dealing with severe police       ened us as the struggle grew harder. Once we had         federation the
crackdowns and oppression. While prostitution is         that support, police thought twice before harming        police thought
not proscribed under Argentine law, neither is it        and harassing us.
explicitly legal. (Pimping, on the other hand, is           Once inside the CTA, we instituted education          twice before
prohibited by Argentine law). Police in some             programmes. We went out into our communities,
provinces and cities were thus relying on local          schools, bars, universities, and poor neighbour-         harming and
ordinances outlawing vagrancy, loitering, and dis-       hoods, and carried out training and workshops in         harassing us
orderly conduct (tellingly referred to as ‘ademanes      sex education and AIDS prevention. One of our
escandalosos’, or scandalous behaviour) to harass        greatest victories came about in 1998, when we
and arbitrarily arrest prostitutes. Penalties for vio-   worked actively to reform the municipal code in
lating these local police edicts included jail time of   Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires. As a result, the
up to 21 days.                                           cities of Buenos Aires and Paraná, and several
   The police demanded bribes and kickbacks from         provinces, repealed those ‘disorderly conduct’
us, and engaged in abuse and arbitrary detentions.       ordinances that had been used as pretexts for
The police would grab us, drag us on the ground,         police harassment. And now, even in provinces
kick and beat us, and take us to jail, where we          where those laws and ordinances have not been
were held in awful conditions, in filthy cells whose     repealed, there has been a political decision not to
floors and walls were covered with excrement and         enforce them. Thus, there are provinces where our
urine. Even prostitutes who were pregnant were           comrades, once they identify themselves as being
held in these cells. We had to mutiny inside the         affiliated with AMMAR, are no longer bothered by
cells in order to get the police to take these preg-     the police.
nant women to the hospital. Inside the jails, and in        This victory in the repeal of ordinances was a
the patrol cars, we were also subjected to rape.         turning point for us in that it gave our organisation
   In 1994, then, in the face of this police harass-     increased visibility throughout the country, and
ment, we decided that we could not confront it           showed us that the way to confront our problems
individually and decided to band together. Before        and demand our rights was by organising. We take
this time, we had also been held back by the fact        every opportunity to get our message out to the
that we believed what we had been told historical-       public, talking to newspapers and doing radio and
ly, that we were trash and had no rights. The            television interviews, and public service announce-
change in our mindset came about in part because         ments whenever possible. Granted, this is not
we began to have contact with people from the            always easy, since there is not much of an indepen-
Central de Trabajadores Argentinos (CTA). Once           dent media in Argentina, and the media monopo-
we were shown that we were citizens like anyone          lies have not been as receptive to us and to our
else, and once we believed it, we launched what          message as we would have liked. Still, we have
we saw as our biggest struggle, to get the police        accomplished a great deal in terms of public per-
off our backs, since they had always been our            ception. We have sensitised a great number of
greatest pimps.                                          people in our society, and now people are begin-
   For the first three months of AMMAR’s exis-           ning to regard us differently, as people first and
tence, we met clandestinely in bars, so that the         then as sex workers.
police would not get wind of our plans. Eventually,         Perhaps in contrast to the experiences of sex
however, the police discovered what we were up           workers in other countries, we experience the
to, and responded accordingly. We were dragged           notion of the client as a violent person as a myth.
from the bars onto the streets and harassed, beat-       Our clients are typically average men, family men,
en, and had our lives threatened. I was personally       who are seeking a service like any other. While          ELENA REYNAGA is President of
threatened and told that the police would plant          there is violence from petty criminals such as           AMMAR in Argentina
five kilos of cocaine on me and arrest me for drug       purse-snatchers, violence, when it comes, usually
trafficking. They said I was crazy, and that they        comes from pimps or the police or the owners of
could get away it because, after all, who would          brothels. These are often the same people. While
believe a whore?                                         brothels are technically illegal, owners of brothels
   In March of 1995, we became part of the CTA,          (and fronts such as massage parlours and saunas)
and this was the turning point in our struggle to        are in cahoots with the police, who look the other
gain acceptance, recognition, and clout. It was of       way and are sometimes part owners or at least take
great help in our combat against police violence,        bribes or a cut of the profits in exchange for their
since we now had the backing of this large federa-       negligence.

Page 3 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005                                                                                INTERNATIONAL union     rights
                           FOCUS ❐ SEX WORKERS ORGANISING

                              In fact, it was the opposition of one of our mem-    do should be considered work. This group, howev-
                           bers to precisely this type of police corruption that   er, never stopped to think that before challenging
                           led to a galvanising event in our history, the mur-     us, they should listen to us and understand that we
                           der, on 27 January 2003, of our comrade Sandra          are not promoting this type of work, but, rather,
                           Cabrera in the city of Rosario. Sandra had spent a      only asserting that this is our reality, and that every
                           long time exposing and denouncing the corruption        day our comrades are being raped, exploited and
                           of the police in the province of Santa Fe, where        discriminated against. We also assert that, in the
                           the city of Rosario is located. The police there took   face of this reality, we have to act and not sit
                           a cut of profits from brothels or ran their own         around, waiting for someone someday to take pity
                           brothels, participated in drug smuggling and            on us and ‘save us’. In fact, quite the opposite. We
                           human trafficking, demanded bribes, and kept a          understand that we have to raise our cultural level
      As a result of       portion of all drugs seized in raids. As a result of    and our self-esteem, not only to defend our rights
                           Sandra’s work, the leadership of the Santa Fe           as sex workers, but also as citizens of a country
 Sandra’s work, the        police authority was forced to resign.                  that was sacked and outraged by the lack of partici-
  leadership of the           This made Sandra extremely unpopular. She had        pation and recognition to which they have accus-
                           been receiving death threats for six months prior       tomed us. The second group of opponents consists
    Santa Fe police        to her murder, both at the CTA and on her cell          of those who have lived, and continue to live, off
     authority was         phone. A police escort was stationed at her door,       us. These are the various mafias that combine
                           ostensibly to protect her. However, three days          many interested parties, and they are the ones who
   forced to resign        before her murder, the police escort was mysteri-       murdered our comrade Sandra Cabrera.
                           ously discontinued. On the night of 27 January             However, things have improved considerably
                           2003, when Sandra went on the street to work, she       since 1994, and this has been due to unionisation.
  On the night of 27       was shot point blank in the back of the head. It        Being part of the CTA has been crucial. The
                           was an execution.                                       Justice, Health, and Education Ministers know us,
     January 2003,            After Sandra’s murder, there was a large protest     and meet personally with us rather than sending
   Sandra was shot         attended by 7,000 people, and not only sex work-        their underlings. We have also had meetings with
                           ers. As a sign of solidarity, there were representa-    President Néstor Kirchner, a progressive, left-of-
  point blank in the       tives from various organisations and trade unions       centre politician who used to be a labour lawyer.
   back of the head        as well.                                                In fact, he was the lawyer for one of the unions
                              A policeman was detained during the investiga-       that is part of the CTA. After 11 years of struggle,
                           tion. The first judge who investigated the matter       we have finally received official recognition from
                           found that there was sufficient evidence before         the government as valid participants in the discus-
                           being taken off the case. The second judge ruled        sion to address the problems in our sector. In early
                           that there was no evidence of guilt, and the police-    October, President Kirchner signed a decree that
                           man was released after three months of detention.       opens up an official line of communication and
                              However, we have not forgotten our comrade.          recognises that the fact that sex workers are not
                           Every Tuesday, Sandra’s comrades in the city of         entitled to social security or retirement benefits is
                           Rosario gather in front of the courthouse, carrying     an act of discrimination that must be addressed by
                           banners with Sandra’s picture and demanding truth       the government. We want recognition of our work
                           and justice. There has been a demonstration on          as work. What we want is to have the same rights
                           each anniversary of Sandra's murder, and for next       as any other class of worker in our country, and
                           January we are planning a march from Rosario to         not special laws, since those are also a kind of dis-
                           Buenos Aires to protest in front of the government      crimination. We are not looking for special privi-
                           buildings.                                              leges, but we will no longer be marginalised. At the
                              Opposition to our organising comes principally       end of the day, we want equality, just like every cit-
                           from two different quarters, each with its own          izen of Argentina.
                           characteristics. The first group of opponents uses
                           highly moralistic arguments, denying that what we

INTERNATIONAL union   rights                                                                                   Page 4 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005
     N October 1999, the Netherlands changed the

  I  law on prostitution. Although prostitution itself
     was not illegal at the time of the passage of the
  new legislation, ‘organising the prostitution of oth-
  ers’ through brothels, private houses, and ‘win-
  dow’ prostitution had been illegal. Now these
  activities are permitted, as long as the sex worker
  consents. The main reason for legalisation cited by
  the Dutch government was the need to exercise
  control over the sex industry through a strict
  scheme of licensing, in order to address the traf-
  ficking of minors and illegal immigrants, improve
  conditions with respect to health and safety, and
  break organised crime networks. Much of the poli-
  cy with respect to the regulation of brothels is left
  up to the municipality, especially in terms of num-
  bers of establishments that will be perc-5.474he
bnd                             642                       Tm250.0141   -31.42797   20Tw
                              FOCUS ❐ SEX WORKERS ORGANISING

                              Sex worker organising
                              in south east Asia and
                                      was part of the group which started the sex      both local and international, chose to continue to

    The policy of the
                                      worker network because I understood after        take funding from USAID. Therefore, by default,
        United States                 the change in the USAID policy that all the      they chose to support the clause discriminating
            Agency for        NGOs, both national and international, had turned        against sex workers. This clause was surely a con-
                              their backs on us. Before this they always told us to    tradiction to the American export of human rights?
         International        form groups and that we needed to be strong and          The change of policy altered the delivery of HIV
        Development           learn skills so we could become independent.”            prevention programmes from the proven rights-
                              (SM, Women’s Network for Unity Member, 2004)             based approach of ‘empowerment = HIV
          (USAID) was            The policy of the United States Agency for            reduction’, to an American dream approach known
                              International Development (USAID) was changed            as ABC: abstinence, be faithful and condom use.
      changed by the          by the current US administration to require all          This is not even worth commenting on; anyone
            current US        recipients of USAID funds to oppose prostitution         who lives in the real world can see that this is ludi-
                              and to prohibit grantees from promoting its legali-      crous, insidious, and harmful. As one member of
    administration to         sation. For some staff of a variety of local organisa-   the WNU put it, “this is unrealistic and does not
             require all      tions in Cambodia, the new policy legitimised            apply to human beings”.
                              overt discriminatory attitudes towards sex work-            The clause ignores the root causes of poverty,
         recipients of        ers, something which they had previously been            powerlessness, and vulnerability. It allows organisa-
      USAID funds to          unable to express because it was not politically         tions involved with these issues to ignore the reali-
                              correct to do so.                                        ties, and to discuss sex work from the simple, neu-
                oppose           “It was so clear to me that we could not rely on      tral de-politicised starting point of ‘it’s because of
  prostitution and to         others, particularly NGOs, because when the poli-        poverty’. The question that is always neglected is:
                              cy changed they started to tell us that we are just      Why is there poverty? Where is all the wealth
    prohibit grantees         like small children in a boat that is sinking; we        going and who controls it? These questions provid-
                              should not try to go out on the river, because we        ed the catalyst for WAC and WNU to investigate in
  from promoting its          are not well equipped. They tried to scare us into       order to understand the issues in a broader con-
           legalisation       not registering as an independent organisation, but      text.
                              before that they said you have to be independent.           Despite all the recent talk of the United Nations’
                              This was very confusing because we did not know          Millennium Development Goals and so on, poor
                              what had changed. Some of us thought it was              countries are becoming poorer and the rich coun-
                              maybe the Khmer practice of not allowing others          tries richer. Within this context, the sex trade
                              to rise, because hierarchy is very common here.”         expands rapidly because there are fewer and fewer
                              (ST, Women’s Network for Unity Member, 2005)             options available to the people of the South, partic-
                                 Womyn’s Agenda for Change (WAC), funded by            ularly for women due to their inferior status.
                              Oxfam, was the only organisation out of seven            Cambodia has not escaped this reality. Neo-liberal-
                              USAID funding recipients in Cambodia that chose          ism should be feared more than HIV/AIDs.
                              to give up its grant rather than discontinue its            Neo-liberalism, the economic fundamentalism
                              empowerment work with sex workers. It contin-            touted by the rulers of the world (the United
                              ued to support their efforts for self-determination      States) and their cronies as the model for prosperi-
                              until they were ready to register as a union,            ty and development, is a false model. This system
                              Women’s Network for Unity (WNU), and manage              allows the extraction of resources that flow to the
                              their own funds.                                         rich countries’ corporations. It is not hard to see
                                 “...why do the Americans hate us so much? For         who benefits when one traces where the money is
                              years we have heard so many people and organisa-         and where it is going. The majority of the world’s
                              tions talk about human rights, and how they want         people are losing the power to manage their own
                              to help landless people, poor people, vulnerable         resources, which are rapidly being exhausted.
    Co-authored by WOMYN’S    people, HIV-positive people, victims of violence.        They can no longer control their forests, their
    AGENDA FOR CHANGE and     Yet they hate us. We are those people. We have suf-      schools, communities or health centres or even
WOMEN’S NETWORK FOR UNITY,    fered all those things and worse, yet they hate us       have a say in their management. The people are
                   Cambodia   and they have developed a policy that discrimi-          systematically impoverished by a system that com-
                              nates against us and punishes us for being poor...       modifies and commercialises all life forms and
                              Trying to survive with the only thing we have left,      treats subsistence farming, not as a way of life and
                              which is our body, is judged as bad by the               livelihood for a majority of farmers, but as some-
                              Americans and they have a policy to discriminate         thing that is useless because it is not a money-spin-
                              against us... Why do they do that?” (SP, Women’s         ner. The following extract from a case study shows
                              Network For Unity Member, 2005)                          the typical result of a system that puts profits
                                 The vast majority of USAID-funded organisations,      before humanity:

INTERNATIONAL union     rights                                                                                    Page 6 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005
   “My parents could provide for us when we were            translates into many families having to choose
young. We had enough rice to eat and then we                which child in the family receives an education. In
sold some so we could buy other goods, like salt,           a society where gender discrimination, women’s
sauce, prohok (fish paste) and material to make             oppression, commercialisation, and commodifica-
clothes. We were not rich but we could survive. I           tion are rampant, it is not the girl child who is cho-
and my siblings could go to the forest and collect          sen to receive an education. This gives rise to a
firewood and yams, we also went fishing and col-            whole generation of young women barely literate
lecting crabs. In the ’90s I remember this started to       or illiterate, faced with increasing inability to sur-
change. Everything became expensive, the govern-            vive as their families can no longer eke out a liveli-
ment did not buy our rice anymore, we started to            hood, who are forced to migrate in search of
produce less because it became very expensive to            income to sustain their families. This road is nar-
grow, we needed to use more inputs like fertiliser,         row and has few alternatives. Young women with
water and pesticides and we borrowed to do this.            little knowledge and few skills in search of employ-
We could not go to the forest anymore, we had to            ment in a society that provides minimal options to
buy firewood, because the company had guards                its poor mean that these women end up in either a        Womyn’s Agenda
and they would threaten us if we went near there.           factory or a brothel. A few may find work in the
I could see that my parents could not support us            households of wealthier urban families, in what          for Change (WAC),
easily. We needed more income to live, so as the            amount to bonded conditions. Nothing offers them         funded by Oxfam,
eldest child I left the village to find work.” (SP,         a future.
Women’s Network for Unity Member, 2004)                        Yet the rulers of the world and their instruments     was the only
   How is this different from the lives led by poor         of subjugation insist on poor countries adopting         organisation out of
people in the past? In the past, people were able to        their frameworks, which have been proven to be
access natural resources. They used natural                 the wrong model for development.                         seven USAID
resources to supplement or replace staple diets                “...all of us hoped that with peace in Cambodia
during months of food shortages. This is no longer          things would get better. Our parents told us that        funding recipients
possible. Governments have succumbed to and col-            this is how life works, but we can see that in each      in Cambodia that
laborated with the World Bank and International             village it is not just one family or one daughter that
Monetary Fund to implement policies whose con-              leaves... it is almost every house. They leave           chose to give up
ditions worsen the lives of people. These are pri-          because of the same set of reasons; just the order       its grant rather
vatisation, trade liberalisation, and deregulation.         changes. It can start because of a health reason and
For the majority of rural people this means that            the debts grow, or debts from having to purchase         than discontinue
they lose their land to those who have the means            food, or a debt to purchase fertiliser.” (SS, Womyns     its empowerment
to buy it up under privatisation. They have to bor-         Agenda For Change, 2005)
row money at high interest rates to produce rice.              Sex work is a way of survival not just for under-     work with sex
Their farming inputs, such as fertilisers and pesti-        privileged women but also for the families that rely     workers
cides, are continually rising in price. Often they          on them. In the South women’s bodies are both
have to pay for the water to irrigate their fields. If      goods and services to be traded and exploited, for
they are lucky enough to get a good yield, which            labour, sex, and experiments.
most are not, they can still barely feed a family. If
there is a drought or flood, they lose everything           Womyn’s Agenda for Change is an NGO advocat-
except for the debt, which they still have to pay to        ing for groups affected by globalisation and
the NGO and/or the moneylender, both at interest            poverty in Cambodia, especially sex workers and
rates that are usurious by any standard. With the           workers in the garment industry. Women’s
privatisation of health, they can no longer afford          Network for Unity is a sex workers’ union in
health care. If they seek treatment in extreme cir-         Cambodia, with more then 5,000 members
cumstances, they have to borrow more money or
sell part or all of their land in order to pay the bills.   workers of the world unite workers of the world unite workers of
This results in a perpetual cycle of debt. Debt and         the world unite workers of the world unite workers of the world
poverty combine to create fertile conditions for            unite workers of the world unite workers of the world unite
exploitation, discrimination, and violence.                 workers of the world unite workers of the world unite workers of
   “...after my mother became very sick, I knew             the world unite workers of the world unite workers of the world
that I had to be the one to go and look for money
                                                            unite workers of the world unite workers of the world unite
because my brother had to stay home and work in
the field. He was now the head of household                 workers of the world unite workers of the world unite workers of
because my father died from AIDs. My younger sis-           the world unite workers of the world unite workers of the world
ter had to stay home and look after my mother.              unite workers of the world unite workers of the world unite
The younger children had to help my eldest broth-           workers of the world unite workers of the world unite workers of
er, so it left me to find a job, to pay for the doctor’s    the world unite workers of the world unite workers of the world
fees and buy food. In Phnom Penh I could not find           unite workers of the world unite workers of the world unite
a job. I was happy to be a servant, but because I
did not know someone, no one would take me in,              workers of the world unite workers of the world unite workers of
so after one month that I was sleeping in the park,         the world unite workers of the world unite workers of the world
I met some girls who told me I could use my body            workers of the world unite workers of the world unite workers of
with men. I came to the city to find work to help           the world unite workers of the world unite workers of the world
my mother with her illness that she got from my             unite workers of the world unite workers of the world unite
father, and now I have the same illness as her.” (SM,       workers of the world unite workers of the world unite workers of
Women’s Network for Unity Member, 2004)                     the world unite workers of the world unite workers of the world
   The downsizing of public services means fewer
teachers, fewer nurses, and fewer doctors. Schools
                                                            unite workers of the world unite workers of the world unite
are informally subsidised by the community, which           workers of the world unite workers of the world unite workers of

Page 7 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005                                                                                   INTERNATIONAL union   rights
                                   FOCUS ❐ SEX WORKERS ORGANISATION

                                   Sex work: European
                                   legal frameworks
 Conference report:                       HE International Committee on the Rights of       have also been seizing condoms as evidence, there
   sex work, human
  rights, labour and
                                   T      Sex Workers in Europe organised a confer-
                                          ence on Sex Work, Human Rights, Labour
                                   and Migration in Brussels from 15-17 October. The
                                                                                            is a strong disincentive for sex workers and their
                                                                                            clients to carry them, resulting in riskier sexual
                                                                                            practices. Many of the conference participants
                                   event brought together sex workers and allies from       noted that other European countries, including
           migration               Europe and elsewhere – including trade unionists,        Finland and the UK, are considering drafting simi-
                                   anti-trafficking activists and human rights experts –    lar legislation, and urged sex worker groups and
                                   for discussions of laws, policies and strategies, cul-   their allies to unite in opposition to such propos-
                                   minating in a day of meetings at the European            als.
                                   Parliament, and finally a march through the city            Several sex workers from France commented on
                                   streets.                                                 the impact of the 2003 law on Domestic Security
                                      Much debate centred on comparisons between            that was proposed and promoted by Nicolas
                                   different legal frameworks in Europe. Stephanie          Sarkozy, the Minister of the Interior. The law cre-
                                   Klee, a German sex worker, described the                 ates a misdemeanour of ‘passive solicitation’, allow-
                                   strengths and weaknesses of the law passed in that       ing police to arrest and prosecute anyone who is
                                   country in 2002. She noted that, on the one hand,        offering to sell sexual services. The determination
                                   it allocates rights and responsibilities around the      of whether or not she is, in fact, soliciting may be
                                   sale of sexual services in several important ways.       based on a reading of her dress and her attitude,
                                   For example, it creates obligations for sex workers      which, many participants noted, was a violation of
                                   to pay taxes and register themselves; with respect       core liberties.
                                   to clients, it clarifies that they may not deny pay-        A plenary session on collaborations between sex
                                   ment of an agreed price to sex workers on the            workers and allies was an insight into both current
                                   grounds that they were not satisfied; in terms of        and historic partnerships. Gail Pheterson,
                                   employers, it imposes a duty to pay health care and      Associate Professor of Psychology at the University
                                   grant paid leave to sex workers they employ. Klee        of Picardie, and Margo St James, founder of the San
                                   identified several problems also, including the fact     Francisco-based sex worker rights group Call Off
                                   that the law makes no provision for migrant sex          Your Old Tired Ethics (COYOTE) described a per-
                                   work through the amendment of immigration regu-          sonal history of alliances between sex workers and
                                   lations. Furthermore, implementation of the law’s        supporters spanning several decades. Pheterson
                                   provisions has been imperfect and inconsistent.          described, for example, advocacy efforts in
                                   The lack of outreach and training by the state has       support of a sex workers’ group in the Nether-
                                   meant that sex workers’ inexperience with the            lands, Red Thread, by an allies’ group calling itself
                                   labour rights framework and distrust of state has        Pink Thread. The Pink Thread argued that there
                                   inhibited their enjoyment of the protections that        could not be freedom for any woman until there
                                   the law affords. Also, the law has been implement-       was freedom for sex workers, and attempted to
                                   ed in different ways in different regions of             shape common ground with feminists, pointing
                                   Germany: thus, while Berlin has interpreted it in
                                   ways that are largely favourable to sex workers,                                  Discussion about positive
                                   Cologne has used it to institute a severe ‘pleasure                               experiences of sex work is not
                                   tax’ that applies to the sex industry alone.                                      in conflict with a discussion
                                      Jesper Bryngemark, an activist from Sweden,                                    regarding problematic working
                                   highlighted the provisions of the abolitionist law                                conditions. Many workers in
                                   passed there in 1999, and its impact. The law states                              different industries may love
                                   that, while the selling of sex is not illegal, buying                             their work but battle day-to-
                                   sex is. The law has resulted in many sex workers                                  day with the conditions under
                                   leaving the streets and seeking other spaces for sex      which they do that work. For example, when a school-
                                   work, including advertising on the Internet.              teacher says “I have too many pupils per class, I have
                                   However, those who do not have other options              too much paperwork to do, our school doesn’t have
      ASHWINI SUKTHANKAR is        besides street-based sex work have experienced            enough money, but I ultimately love my work and find
   Director of the International   great hardship. For example, the increased police         it rewarding”, they are celebrated and respected for
 Commission for Labour Rights      surveillance has meant that undocumented sex              their passion in their work despite the difficult condi-
   and co-editor of this edition   workers are at even greater risk of being appre-          tions. Because many people do not believe sex work-
                          of IUR   hended and deported. Also, the heavy emphasis on          ers can genuinely enjoy their work, the positive expe-
                                   enforcing the law and prosecuting clients has             riences workers may have are often ignored. In order
                                   meant that sex workers have frequently found              to have a balanced debate on sex work, however,
                                   themselves becoming unwilling participants in             these positive experiences too must be recognised
                                   investigations, sometimes even filmed and strip-          and acknowledged.
                                   searched by police hoping to secure evidence of a                            Ruth Frost, striptease artist, London
                                   transaction of money for sex. And, since police

INTERNATIONAL union         rights                                                                                       Page 8 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005
out that society’s failure to recognise women’s                The Anti-Trafficking Centre (ATC), a non-governmental
unpaid domestic labour as work could be analo-                 organisation, works to eradicate trafficking in human
gised to the lack of recognition for sex work. The             beings, particularly women and children from Serbia
Pink Thread also pointed to the ways in which any
                                                               and Montenegro and the region by tackling the causes
woman who is sexually non-conforming can be
                                                               of trafficking, such as gender-based violence, poverty,
labelled ‘whore’, whether or not she sells sex.
                                                               unemployment and lack of opportunities.
   Martin Smith, head of organising at the British
                                                                  ATC provides peer education, information and train-
union GMB, and Ana Lopes, a member of one of
                                                               ing to young women and men through which the
GMB’s affiliates, the International Union of Sex
                                                               organisation aims at empowering youth to take new
Workers (IUSW), spoke of coming together on the
                                                               roles in the society ie. become active citizens of the
basis of the understanding that the right to be rep-
                                                               society they live in. ATC also works on the questions
resented by a union is fundamental. Smith did                                                                                   Sex workers
point out a number of the limitations in the rela-             that are exceptionally important and interconnected –
tionship between a small, autonomous group of                  the issues of nationalism and militarism, responsibility         desperately need
workers like the IUSW, with limited resources for              and facing the past about war crimes committed in
                                                               the last decades in the former Yugoslavia. These                 access to social
organising, and a large, bureaucratic institution. He
noted also the numerous barriers to organising,                issues are important to understand because they dic-             protections, health
including concerns about confidentiality, migration            tate the political climate of the country within which
status, isolation, and competitiveness in some sec-            programmes dealing with the root causes of traffick-             care and pensions
tors. He also pointed out the semi-legality of some            ing are being implemented.
sectors as a hurdle – for example, while several                  ATC also works directly with sex workers providing
strip joints have signed recognition agreements                information on possible dangers of trafficking in
with GMB, brothels, which are illegal in the UK,               human beings and standing as a mediator between
pose a problem. At the same time, he also pointed              institutions and associations and the sex worker com-
to the numerous benefits accompanying unionisa-                munity. Due to being marginalised by society, sex
tion, such as the ways in which it forced a public             workers are one of the vulnerable groups to traffick-
acceptance of sex work as legitimate work, and                 ing and in these respect ATC developed programmes
shifted the debate from the realm of morality to a             with the aim of improving conditions for sex workers
labour rights framework.                                       themselves.
   Finally, Patricia Kaatee from Amnesty Inter-                   ATC’s participation in the conference was vital for
national, Norway and Liv Jessen, head of the Pro               making new links with sex workers and sex worker
Centre, a sex worker group in Oslo, described the              rights activists across Europe. With its repressive and
impact of Amnesty having chosen a sex worker                   discriminatory policies towards prostitution, Serbian
rights activist for its annual human rights award, in          society is far from having a movement of sex workers
the context of the organisation’s Stop Violence                demanding labour rights. In this respect, learning
Against Women campaign. Liv Jessen, the recipient              about the strategies used for building a movement in
                                                               different countries was a valuable resource that I
 According to estimates by the German federal govern-          came back with.
 ment in Germany, about 400,000 women are working                                                      Jelena Djordjevic
 as sex workers. Every day, up to 1.2 million men seek                     co-founder, Anti-Trafficking Centre, Belgrade
 the sexual services of prostitutes.
    Those figures show clearly: in many ways, prostitu-       of the award, talked about the ways in which the
 tion is of major social and economic importance. But         award helped create a space to be able to chal-
 nevertheless, in most parts of society sex work is a         lenge the idea that all prostitution is violence
 taboo. Therefore and because of discrimination               against women.
 against prostitution and prostitutes, working condi-            For labour movements, it is worth highlighting
 tions in this industry are without regulation and are        one of the opinions that was expressed repeatedly
 therefore indecently bad. Hypocrisy in society con-          over the course of the conference. Many confer-
 cerning prostitution makes it difficult for female sex       ence participants argued persuasively in favour of
 workers (and male sex workers as well), to declare in        the recognition of sex work as both a job and a
 public what kind of job they are doing.                      profession, in spite of the fears of the possible neg-
    For two years in Germany we have had a new law            ative impact of regulation by the state. One of the
 on prostitution. Under this law, prostitution no longer      benefits that would accompany state recognition,
 is against public policy. The law was aimed at improv-       many sex workers noted, was access to desperately
 ing the legal and social situation of those working vol-     needed social protections, such as health care and
 untarily as prostitutes. Prostitution as a job opens a       pension benefits. The lingering question was, what
 new field of activities for ver.di, as a service workers     kind of legal framework could be proposed that
 union. Ver.di’s working group on prostitution devel-         would extend these benefits simultaneously to
 oped a support and advice scheme for sex workers as          migrant sex workers?
 well as a sample employment contract in this field.
 This scheme includes individual legal support for
 prostitutes with respect to questions of labour laws
 and taxation.
    Prostitution is an industry with extremely high rates
 of exploitation and violence. Ver.di therefore takes
 sides with the prostitutes against exploitation and vio-
 lence, concentrating on their rights and interests.
                                           Emilija Mitrovic
          Projektbüro Arbeitsplatz Prostitution, Hamburg

Page 9 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005                                                                                              INTERNATIONAL union   rights
                                 FOCUS ❐ SEX WORKERS ORGANISING

                                 Sex workers of the
                                 world unite!
                                       HE International Union of Sex Workers, an           Eventually, we approached the GMB, a British

 We are a collective
                                       informal collective of sex workers and allies,   general union, and one of the strongest in the UK.
  of workers and a                     has emerged in the year 2000. We first arose     Our strategy was to build on common ground: we
       collective of             as a small coalition to plan a demonstration           knew the GMB had started to organise workers in
                                 through Soho, London’s Red Light District on           sweatshops and we made them see that the argu-
       workers is a              International Women’s Day in March, 2000. We           ments to organise such workers could be the same
              union!             paraded through the streets of Soho (London’s red      arguments to organise sex workers.
                                 light district) accompanied by a samba band.              Thus, in March 2002 we have finally been suc-
                                    Since then we made many contacts with sex           cessful at becoming part of a fully recognised
                                 workers from different sectors, and we begun pub-      union. This means that we have achieved what
                                 lishing a regular Bulletin, RESPECT! Our first issue   seemed to be impossible, only two years after our
                                 features an article by Rona, recipient of the Sexual   first campaign. We are now recognised by the TUC
                                 Freedom Coalition’s Sex Worker of the Year award.      (Trade Union Congress). We have established one
                                 Rona expresses pride in her work, and makes a          major basic labour right to all sex workers in the
                                 powerful case for social recognition and accep-        UK – the right to join and be represented by an
                                 tance leading to unionisation of the whole indus-      officially recognised trades union.
                                                                                        How the union works
                                 An international union                                 The Sex Workers’ Branch of the GMB represents
                                 We called ourselves The International Union of Sex     male, female and transgender sex workers, from
                                 Workers. We called ourselves a union because we        different sectors of the sex industry. Although
                                 realised we were a collective of workers and a col-    other people who work in related trades (ie. pro-
                                 lective of workers is a union! We were very clear,     ject workers, sex shop assistants, erotic writers,
                                 since the beginning, that our main demands were        etc.) may join the branch, decision-making remains
                                 the recognition of our work as legitimate work and     with the core of sex workers within the branch.
                                 the full range of labour rights. And we called our-    Our branch is based in the London region and
                                 selves international because our industry has gone     counts 300 official members, who pay monthly
                                 global and it seems to make sense to organise on a     dues. Compared to the total numbers of sex work-
                                 global level too, if we are to respond to the issues   ers, this is a tiny membership. As a union branch,
                                 and problems we face.                                  this is a strong membership and, if you remember
                                    We started as a small group based in London, but    how hidden the sex industry is and that unionisa-
                                 since we set up a web page and electronic discus-      tion in this industry is such a ‘novel’ idea, this is
                                 sion list, we became international. Nowadays, sex      quite impressive.
                                 workers and allies from many different countries          There is a range of benefits that can be gained
                                 and regions of the world use the discussion list to    from being in a trade union. Collective benefits
                                 discuss issues of interest to them, share informa-     include being able to use the union’s political clout
                                 tion, etc.                                             for lobbying. For instance, the UK’s Home Office
                                                                                        started a review of prostitution laws in 2004. We
                                 Working with existing unions                           were consulted on this because we are organised
                                 Although we called ourselves a union, we weren’t       and have a collective voice.
                                 recognised as such. In 2001 we began approaching          Individual benefits include free legal representa-
                                 existing unions to demand that we were accepted        tion and advice, training (the union subsidises dif-
                                 as their members. We had many negative responses.      ferent types of courses: those who enable us to
                                    Those responses were due to the fact that the       work on better terms, such as self defence, pole
                                 view that sex work is different from other work        dancing courses, etc; or those that will help us
                                 and cannot be organised as such is still very com-     leave the industry if we wish to do so, such as liter-
                                 mon, even though Bindman and Doezema (1997)            acy, CV writing, IT skills, etc).
                                 demonstrate the opposite in their seminal article         There are some problems that we must over-
 ANA LOPES is President of the   Redefining Prostitution as Sex Work on the             come and some limitations to the success of our
    International Union of Sex   International Agenda. They compare sex work            partnership with the trade union movement. It is
                      Workers    with other forms of labour, and argue that sex         not always easy to manage a partnership between
                                 work has much in common with other forms of            a small grass-roots group and a big and bureaucrat-
                                 work and that the problems faced by sex workers        ic institution. Sex workers may feel that the big
                                 resemble those faced by other workers. Further-        union is too anonymous. It is important for sex
                                 more, by examining international human rights          worker leaders and allies to work as ‘bridges’
                                 and labour standards, they show that most issues       between the sex workers community and the trade
                                 faced by sex workers could be addressed by inter-      union.
                                 national instruments used to protect the rights of        Some sex workers may be suspicious when it
                                 other workers.                                         comes to joining a union. There are several barri-

INTERNATIONAL union       rights                                                                                  Page 10 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005
ers to recruitment. This is mainly due to the fact       ject. Today, we are a London based branch, but we
that most of our work in this industry is semi-legal     hope soon to be ‘upgraded’ to a national branch,
or illegal, which means that many of us want to          since sex workers all over the UK have contacted
remain anonymous. The union represents any               the union, asking for details of membership and
worker, regardless of their immigration status. Yet,     the possibility of organising in their work place.
stigma and fear of having migration status disclosed     Moreover, the trend is spreading. Nowadays, there
deter many sex workers from joining the union            are six unions in Europe where sex workers have a
officially (Lopes and Clammen 2004). It is worth         place. The oldest one is the Greek union that has
remembering that is a problem felt in many indus-        existed since the 1980s! The Dutch union FNV
tries – it is by no means unique to the sex industry.    started organising sex workers roughly at the same
   It is perhaps easier to organise sex workers with-    time we joined the GMB. Since then, Verdi, a
in legal businesses. In fact, the GMB union has          German union, has welcomed legal sex workers in          The UK’s Home
been recognised by two different table-dancing           their membership and dancers in Sweden
clubs in the UK. This has meant that union officers      unionised too. More recently, a general Spanish          Office started a
and volunteers can go in to the club at any time,        union started the process in the Spanish region of       review of
workers have elected their union and health and          Catalunia. Representatives of these six unions were
safety representatives, work contracts have been         present at the European Conference on Sex Work,          prostitution laws
negotiated with the union and grievance proce-           Human Rights, Labour and Migration – a three day         in 2004. We were
dures established. We have less power of action in       conference organised by sex workers that took
flats/brothels which remain illegal in the UK. Sex       place in Brussels, in October 2005 (IUR, p8-9). For      consulted on this
workers in illegal establishments can join the           the very first time, all these representatives came
union and get all the member benefits, but we            together and we made a collective commitment to          because we are
have less power to negotiate with employers in           establish a European network of unionised sex            organised and
these settings.                                          workers! The Manifesto of Sex Workers in Europe
   Finally, it is difficult to organise within the sex   – a document agreed upon in the same conference          have a collective
industry because many of us work independently,          – calls on trade unions to support sex workers in        voice
isolated from other sex workers. These are not the       our self organisation and struggle for fair working
ideal conditions to create and develop a political       conditions.
consciousness and trigger the social need to collec-        Sex workers have been mobilising and organis-
tivise and organise around labour issues. As in any      ing to fight for our rights all over the world and for
other industry, there is a degree of apathy among        a very long time. Only in certain places have sex
workers.                                                 workers chosen to unionise. Unions may be old-
   These problems are common to many different           fashioned organisations and they may not be an
industries that have been unionised for a long time      adequate form of sex worker activism all over the
and that have achieved better working conditions         world. But they may also be a good way to estab-
and greater workers’ control over their work. In         lish our rights. Establishing labour rights and estab-
fact, none of the problems discussed above are           lishing sex work as legitimate work is something
specific to our industry. They have, to different        that unionisation can help us achieve.
extents and with variations, been felt by workers
in all industries that have struggled to organise,
claim rights and acceptable working conditions.

Moving forward
On a more positive note, our alliance with the
labour and trade union movement has help shifting
the debate about sex work from the feminist/
moralist arenas to the labour rights arena – at least
in the UK. There is more public acceptance that
sex work is work and we have the support of the
majority of the trades union movement on our
struggle for unionisation and labour rights.
   When it comes to our own movement and
mobilisation, unionisation brings advantages. First
of all, we must emphasise that although we are
part of the GMB, we are a very autonomous
branch. Thus, we have kept our identity and the
power of decision.
   Many small sex worker organisations struggle for
existence, either because they lack funding, volun-
teers, or because of internal fighting and lack of
democratic mechanisms. As affiliates of the GMB
union, we can take advantage of their existing
structure. There are democratic mechanisms and
procedures that GMB branches are encouraged to
adhere to. To a certain degree, we can call on the
help of other union branches and union organis-
ers. Thus, less is demanded from each sex worker
activist within the union structure, which means
less incidence of the activist burn out syndrome.
   The future looks bright for our unionisation pro-

Page 11 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005                                                                               INTERNATIONAL union   rights
                                   FOCUS ❐ SEX WORKERS ORGANISING

                                   Streetwalkers show
                                   the way
                                         HOUSANDS of sex workers from across West          found confidence as SHIP employees, began to feel

  Sex workers have
                                         Bengal, their comrades from other parts of        emboldened to act collectively against the every-
             projected                   India and beyond, declared the opening day        day oppression of sex workers and raise questions
       themselves as               of their Millennium Mela (carnival) to be Inter-        about the social stigma and discrimination experi-
                                   national Sex Workers’ Rights day. They demanded         enced by them more broadly. However, they also
  upright, moral and               decriminalisation of sex work and the recognition       realised that many of these activities could not be
         law-abiding               of their work as formal labour, and pledge to fight     undertaken directly as part of the health interven-
                                   against the exploitation and marginalisation of any     tion project, and that they needed an organisation
   citizens, acting in             group or people, anywhere in the world.                 of their own.
                                      The night before, the sex worker organisers of          In 1993, with the support of SHIP, sex workers
 the public interest,              the carnival did not know if they would even be         formed the nucleus of an organisation with 13
          in complete              able to hold the mela the next day. Some women’s        members or ‘convenors’. This informal core group,
                                   organisations from the capital city had come to         at the time called the ‘Interlink Committee’, with
   inversion of their              Calcutta to rally other women’s groups in the city      representatives from 12 red-light districts in Cal-
        usual socially             specifically against sex workers and had together       cutta, assumed a more formal character in 1995,
                                   appealed to the state government to ban the mela,       when it was legally registered, with a constitution,
      imputed image                as such an event was culturally antithetical to         as Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC;
                                   Indian tradition and would morally corrupt Indian       Durbar Committee for Co-ordination of Women,
                                   minds. In the face of this reaction, the government     with durbar in Bengali meaning unstoppable or
                                   ministers contemplated withdrawing the permis-          indomitable).
                                   sion granted to the sex workers’ organisation to
                                   hold the mela. But the sex workers’ argument that       The experiment continued
                                   such a retrogressive step would be gross infringe-      In 1999 DMSC took over the management and
                                   ment of democratic rights tilted the balance in         ownership of the intervention programme as a pri-
                                   their favour.                                           mary stakeholder from the state public health
                                      The next day at the opening ceremony sex work-       research and training institution that had initially
                                   ers responded to the incident by defiantly and          implemented the programme. The scale of the
                                   boldly claiming the day in their own name.              intervention programme expanded enormously,
                                                                                           with DMSC-run health clinics operating in red-light
                                   How it all started                                      areas of all the major district towns of West Bengal.
                                   In 1992 a sex worker-focused health programme,          DMSC now runs more than 45 health clinics for
                                   the STD/HIV Intervention Project (SHIP), was start-     brothels and street-based sex workers and their
                                   ed in Sonagachi, one of the oldest and largest          partners and 28 literacy centres for sex workers
                                   demarcated brothel areas in Calcutta. The pro-          and their children in various districts of West
                                   gramme soon spread out to include in its ambit sex      Bengal, with external funding support. It also fos-
                                   workers from all other major red-light areas in the     tered the formation of a network of people living
                                   city as well as a large proportion of street-based      with HIV/AIDS, runs a voluntary and confidential
                                   sex workers. The intervention programme was ini-        counselling and testing centre for sex workers, and
                                   tially funded by NORAD, and then ODA, later             provides subsidised HIV treatment for people liv-
                                   DFID, in collaboration with the National AIDS           ing with HIV/AIDS, along with other associated
                                   Control Organisation (NACO) of India.                   services and campaigns for the right to treatment
                                      Although the promotion of sexual health and          access.
                                   HIV prevention was the primary aim of SHIP, right          DMSC now claims a following of 60,000 with
                                   from the beginning those in charge of the pro-          branches in almost every red-light area in the state,
                                   gramme recognised that even to realise the very         including in places without clinics or other inter-
                                   basic aim of improvement of sexual health, it was       ventions. DMSC has regularly convened state and
                                   crucial to view sex workers in their totality: as       national level meetings of sex workers’ organisa-
                                   complete persons with a range of emotional and          tions in India, which have also been attended by
NANDINEE BANDYOPADHYAY is          material needs, and not merely in terms of their        policy makers, health and development profession-
    an advisor of Durbar and is    sexual behaviour. To do so, it was essential to         als, politicians, administrators, academics, journal-
currently working as Associate     address the factors that determine the quality of       ists and other media people. DMSC members have
Director, in PATH India, 53 Lodi   their lives and to locate these issues in the broader   also attended national and international meetings
     Estate, New Delhi 110 017     social and cultural context within which they live.     on HIV/AIDS as well as sex work-related issues.
                                   As a result, the sex workers who were recruited as         The public health impact of SHIP was acknowl-      Peer Educators or outreach health advocates, as         edged to be a very significant success. Cross-sec-
                                   well as the non-sex worker staff of SHIP were           tional surveys in 1993, 1995, 1998 and 2001, as well
          encouraged to address the whole range of issues         as a series of external evaluations show steady
            durbar_home.html       that sex workers found to be of importance.             improvement in health indicators and a slow rate
                                   Moreover, Peer Educators, by virtue of their new        of rise of HIV infection, especially compared to

INTERNATIONAL union         rights                                                                                   Page 12 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005
other metropolises of India. SHIP gained recogni-           Sex workers engaged in the struggle to establish
tion as a ‘best practice model’ for HIV/AIDS pre-        the legitimacy of their demands are themselves
vention by the National AIDS Control Organisation        acutely aware that social perceptions about sex
of India (NACO), WHO and UNAIDS. This success,           work and sex workers have to change if sex work-
it is now widely believed, has been achieved very        ers are to reverse their marginalisation and social
largely due to the formation of the autonomous           exclusion. For example, they appreciate that to
organisation and community mobilisation of sex           realise their demand of decriminalisation of sex
workers themselves through DMSC.                         work, lobbying with political parties, the state and
   DMSC has undertaken a number of social and            legislators is necessary but not enough. It is equal-
political initiatives since the early days of the        ly, if not more, crucial to build a wider constituen-
organisation and it has emerged as the focus of the      cy of allies, and also broad public support that
collective mobilisation of sex workers in West           would at least not actively oppose their demands.
Bengal, with wider impact on similar processes in        The sex workers see prochar (advocacy) as one of
the rest of India and neighbouring Bangladesh and        the key strategies for making such broad-based
Nepal. DMSC’s political activism has been aimed at       alliances. However, it should be clarified that the
reconfiguring power relations, and questioning the       sex workers’ idea of advocacy is not limited to
social and political ideologies that underpin the        publicising their demands or achievements, but          Explicit political
exploitation of sex workers. Members of DMSC             encompasses a range of ways in which they can
have successfully organised rallies and demonstra-       demonstrate their capabilities and commitment to        objectives have
tions against maltreatment and exploitation by           justice to the wider public through action and          been articulated
madams, brothel-keepers and pimps, against vio-          activism.
lence and extortion by local hooligans and the              The sex workers feel that a critical part of this    for the promotion
police, against forcible AIDS surveillance and unau-     campaign of advocacy to win allies and defuse           and protection of
thorised vaccine trials on sex workers, and against      potential opposition is to ensure that non-sex
the eviction of sex workers from brothels or red-        workers get to know about the reality of sex work-      the rights of the
light areas. Importantly, some of these activities       ers’ lives, so that they do not perceive them as
have been projected as socially responsible work         socially harmful, deviant, and immoral. They find       sex workers as a
undertaken by sex workers as civic-conscious citi-       organising large events such as the melas where         community, and to
zens against unethical practices, corruption, crime      members of the general public as well as represen-
and violence. Sex workers have projected them-           tatives of state and civil society institutions can     redefine their
selves as upright, moral and law-abiding citizens,       freely interact with sex workers, offer an excellent    social position.
acting in the public interest, in complete inversion     opportunity for this.
of their usual socially imputed image of immoral            However, this direct encounter with members of
and illegal operatives. Through these various initia-    the general public has not always been an unmiti-
tives, sex workers have been able to achieve             gated success. Some people were curious, showed
greater power and economic standing within the           them sympathy, and asked them questions, but
sex trade and its social milieu. They have also          then seemed not to engage with their responses or
developed a sense of exercising their own power          change their views. Some even melted away into
to reverse the relations of dominance in the locali-     the crowd, sniggering. This further demonstrated
ty, and have nurtured a notion of solidarity.            the urgency of a more persistent campaign of
Enthused by their early successes and fortified          prochar with non-sex workers to change their
with the realisation of their own capacity to bring      social perceptions and values.
about change, sex workers went beyond protests              One DMSC worker, explaining what they meant
against immediate oppression and launched into a         by prochar, said “Prochar is our strongest weapon.
more ambitious and daring agitation for rights and       We had seen in our HIV work that among all forms
for self-expression. Explicit political objectives       of communication, be it flip charts, video shows or
have been articulated for the promotion and pro-         puppet shows, it is direct dialogue that work best.
tection of the rights of the sex workers as a com-       Unless those who have a message and those who
munity, and to redefine their social position. DMSC      are being addressed have face-to-face discussion,
demands the recognition of sex work as ‘legitimate       neither party will get the real picture, and neither
work’, just like that of others who hire out their       will start trusting the other. That is how we have to
physical labour and sell services in the market. Sex     communicate our demands and explain our posi-
workers have also galvanised themselves into             tion to those in the society whom we have to win
action to condemn the oppression of other sec-           over... For example, so far, people have known that
tions of society with whom they envisage a shared        we are working against trafficking. But no one
predicament. These range from protest against the        quite believed that we could make a difference
persecution of religious minorities to protesting        when big NGOs and the mighty state have failed.
India’s testing of the nuclear bomb.                     They must have thought dismissively, oh what will
   A range of initiatives of DMSC has also been          bunch of prostitutes manage to do? But at these
directed to express sex workers’ new found identi-       melas, thousands of people actually came and met
ty as a socially responsible community. To achieve       us – and they saw not just a handful of activists but
self-reliance and economic security, in 1995,            hundreds of sex workers united in the struggle
DMSC, with government support, registered a sav-         against anyay (injustice) and shoshon (exploita-
ings-credit and consumer cooperative society             tion). We could talk to them directly and clarify
exclusively for sex workers and their children,          their doubts. Also they saw how efficiently we
Usha Multipurpose Cooperative Society Limited            managed to hold the melas without any hitch, how
(Usha), to secure access to subsidised consumer          well we managed the crowd, handled the media
goods, and to credit and banking facilities, which       and fed thousands of guests. They had to appreci-
they are normally denied due to the association of       ate our organising capacities. If we could deal with
their work with ‘illegitimacy’. DMSC also has its        so many suspicious outsiders, they were convinced
cultural counterpart, Komol Gandhar, through             we would surely manage to handle the madams
which sex workers stage plays and programmes of          and other gatekeepers in the industry – we are
music and dance for the public, organise art and         after all very familiar with their tricks”.
literary activities for themselves and their children,
and bring out publications.

Page 13 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005                                                                              INTERNATIONAL union   rights

China                            terms of ILO Convention 87.
                                 ICTUR noted that both the
                                                                   are protected under ILO
                                                                   Convention 87. ICTUR
                                                                                                    same day a truck was driven
                                                                                                    into the picket lines by
ON 7 October police were         arrest of trade unionists and     reminds the authorities          security officers, injuring two
deployed to disperse             the penalty of dismissal in       further that these rights are    workers. The arrests and the
demonstrators who were           retaliation for participation     protected under the              violent attack followed
holding a mass sit-in at the     in trade union activities are     Universal Declaration of         immediately in the wake of
Chongqing local government       violations of ILO                 Human Rights. ICTUR called       strike action by the trade
offices in protest at the        Conventions 87 and 98,            for the immediate release of     union which began on 13
bankruptcy and closure of        which have been ratified by       all arrested trade unionists     September, and the union and
their former employer the        Djibouti.                         and argued that                  its officers have previously
Chongking Steel Factory,                                           alternatively those in           suffered harassment and
which had employed up to
18,000 workers. China            France                            detention must be promptly
                                                                   charged under proper
                                                                                                    sanctions in retaliation for
                                                                                                    union activities.
Labour Bulletin reports that     ARMED special forces troops       provisions of the law and           ICTUR has written to
police violence during the       boarded a ship from military      brought before a court in a      remind the authorities that
dispersal resulted in the        helicopters on 28 September       fair and legal process and       workers have a fundamental
deaths of two women              to end an occupation of the       provided with access to legal    human right to organise
protesters and injuries to 24    vessel by workers on the          counsel.                         activities in defence of their
others. Workers were seeking     route between mainland                                             social and economic interests
compensation for their lost
jobs and had been organising
                                 France and Corsica. ICTUR
                                 understands that workers had      Guatemala                        – including strike action –
                                                                                                    under the terms of ILO
protests at the factory and      occupied the ship in protest      AN ARMED gang raided union       Convention 87, which
surrounding sites since          at the imminent privatisation     premises on 27 September         Indonesia has ratified. ICTUR
August.                          of their employer, ferry          and forced their way into the    called on the authorities to
   In a related incident, CLB    operator SNCM.                    CTC building by threatening      release those arrested and to
reports that a former textile       ICTUR has written to the       the receptionist at gunpoint     ensure that this incident is
worker Shi Xiaoyu was            French authorities describing     before splitting into two        thoroughly investigated by
arrested by police on 19         the intervention of the           groups. The first group          an independent panel and
October after having posted      armed forces in a labour          threatened and beat CTC          that those responsible for the
reports about the Chongqing      dispute as an extremely           General Secretary Miguel         violence – at the highest
protests on the internet.        serious matter and calling        Lucas, searched the union’s      levels – are brought to
   ICTUR has called upon the     for an independent                files and offices, and went on   justice.
authorities to release Shi       investigation into the            to steal a number of personal
Xiaoyu and to investigate
the circumstances of the
                                 decision to deploy the army.
                                 ICTUR acknowledged the
                                                                   valuables from union staff and
                                                                   guests. The second group         Iran
deaths of the two protesters.    role of the state in preserving   raided the office of the         FIVE labour activists have
ICTUR further called for the     public order and policing the     Market Trader’s Association      been sentenced to lengthy
authorities to respect the       criminal law, but reminded        and stole their computer.        terms of imprisonment
rights of workers to organise    the authorities that the right    Miguel Lucas has experienced     following their participation
activities in defence of their   to strike is protected under      an ongoing campaign of           in a rally on 1 May 2004
social and economic              international human rights        harassment which has             when, like workers in every
interests. ICTUR noted that      law.                              included threatening phone       part of the world, they were
China, as a member of the                                          calls to his home.               taking part in demonstrations
International Labour
Organisation, has a              Ethiopia                             ICTUR has called upon the
                                                                   authorities to ensure that
                                                                                                    to celebrate the international
                                                                                                    workers’ festival. On 9
commitment to uphold the         FOLLOWING confrontations          this case is thoroughly          November Mahmoud Salehi,
principles of freedom of         between the police and            investigated. ICTUR further      the former President of the
association under the terms      demonstrators on the streets      called for an effective          Bakery Workers’ Association
of the ILO Declaration of        of Addis Ababa on 1               programme to provide             of Saqez city was sentenced
Fundamental Principles.          November, the Chairman of         protection for Miguel Lucas      to five years imprisonment
                                 the Addis Ababa branch of the     and his colleagues.              and three years exile in the
Djibouti                         teachers’ union ETA Kassahun                                       city of Ghorveh, while Jalal

AS MANY as 160 striking port
                                 Kebebe was arrested and
                                 taken to an unknown location      Indonesia                        Hosseini, a member of the
                                                                                                    Bakery Workers’ Association
workers were arrested at the     where he was held until 12        FIVE trade union leaders from    of Saqez city, was sentenced
international port of Djibouti   November. Since then Mr           PT Musim Mas palm oil            to three years imprisonment.
during the period 24-26          Kebebe has been held at the       plantation and factory in        Days later Mohsen Hakimi,
September. Those arrested        Criminal Investigation Bureau     Sorek District were arrested     Mohammad Abdipour and
were held in detention until     of Addis Ababa, but at no         and appalling acts of violence   Borhan Divargar were each
early October. Most of the       point has he been charged or      inflicted against strikers at    sentenced to two years
workers have now returned        brought before a court.           that site by security officers   imprisonment.
to their jobs. However, 36       Another 24 members of the         on 14 September. The                ICTUR has written to
workers, including 11 union      ETA were also arrested and        arrested union leaders,          remind the authorities that
leaders, have not been           detained, and on 12 and 14        including the President, Vice-   workers have a fundamental
permitted to return to their     November police occupied          Presidents, Secretary and        human right to association
jobs.                            and searched union premises.      Regional Secretary of the        under the terms of the
   ICTUR has written to             ICTUR has written to           union, were arrested by the      Universal Declaration of
remind the authorities that      remind the authorities that       Pelawan Resort Police            Human Rights, the UN
workers have a right to          the arrest of trade unionists     Department in Pangkalan          Covenant on Civil and
organise activities in defence   and their leaders is a serious    Kerinci Riau, and have           Political Rights, the UN
of their interests - including   violation of the rights to        apparently been charged with     Covenant on Social,
strike action - under the        freedom of association that       criminal offences. On that       Economic and Cultural

INTERNATIONAL union   rights                                                                            Page 14 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005

Rights, and the Conventions       protest at the dismissals. The    took part in a rally on 18        membership or activities is a
of the International Labour       company was unable or             September were dismissed or       violation of ILO Conventions
Organisation. ICTUR noted         unwilling to agree a resolution   downgraded following a            87 and 98, both of which
that Iran is required by          to this dispute at a hearing      dispute over recognition of       have been ratified by Turkey.
virtue of its membership of       before the Labour                 the union and salary levels.      ICTUR also reminded the
the ILO to respect the            Inspectorate on 27 October.       During the demonstration one      authorities that these rights
principles contained in the         ICTUR has written to draw       of the union leaders was          are protected under the
ILO Conventions. ICTUR            the company’s attention to        beaten by company guards          European Convention on
called on the authorities to      the protected status of trade     and the Chairman of the           Human Rights.
ensure that the activists are     union rights under                union, Petr Leschik was
given an opportunity to
obtain a rapid review of
                                  international law, in
                                  particular citing the
                                                                    expelled from his apartment
                                                                    together with his family.         Zimbabwe
their convictions and             Universal Declaration of             ICTUR has written to           NEARLY 200 trade unionists
sentences before an appeal        Human Rights, the UN              Slavneft-Megionneftegas           and their leaders have been
court, and called on the          Global Compact, the OECD          calling for the company to        arrested following their
authorities to make clear the     Guidelines on Multinational       cease anti-union activities, to   participation in anti-poverty
requirement for the law           Enterprises and the               re-instate those who were         protests. On the night of 7
courts to respect                 Declaration of Fundamental        dismissed, to reverse             November regional trade
international human rights        Principles of the                 detriments that were enacted      union official Reason
principles.                       International Labour              against the workers and to        Ngwenya was arrested in
                                  Organisation. ICTUR called        engage in constructive            Bulawayo after having
Macedonia                         for the immediate
                                  reinstatement of the 16
                                                                    dialogue with trade union
                                                                    representatives. In its letter,
                                                                                                      provided the legally required
                                                                                                      notice of the march planned
NEGOTIATIONS between the          workers and for constructive      ICTUR cited the Universal         for the following day. On the
government and the education      dialogue with trade union         Declaration of Human Rights       morning of 8 November the
sector union SONK broke           representatives.                  and the Conventions of the        regional vice-chairman of the
down in September,                                                  International Labour              ZCTU Dzavamwe Shambari
apparently due to the
government’s objection to the     Mexico                            Organisation.                     was arrested. Later on the 8
                                                                                                      November 119 trade unionists
political opinions of the union
leadership. Following this
                                  WORKERS at the Rubies de
                                  Mexico factory in Tepeji del      Thailand                          were arrested in Harare within
                                                                                                      minutes of beginning an anti-
breakdown the authorities         Rio, Hidalgo are locked-out       ON 24 October the car             poverty march that had been
have frozen the union’s bank      after having made                 belonging to trade union          organised in accordance with
accounts.                         representations to their          leader Suriyan Wannarit was       the law by the ZCTU. ZCTU
   ICTUR has written to           employer to protest against       blown-up by a bomb in the         President Lovemore Matombo
remind the authorities that       labour rights violations which    car park of the Toyota Motor      and General Secretary
freezing union bank               they claim included the use of    Thailand company car park in      Wellington Chibebe were
accounts is a violation of the    child labour, unsafe working      Phra Pradaeng. The union          arrested elsewhere in the city
rights protected under ILO        conditions and a failure to       leader and one other person       en route to the march. As
Convention 87, ratified by        respect their collective          were injured by the bomb.         many as 50 trade unionists
Macedonia. Furthermore,           bargaining agreement. The            ICTUR has written to the       were arrested elsewhere in
ICTUR notes that the              factory is a supplier of Time     authorities to call for a         the country that day.
authorities have an               Warner branded products to        thorough investigation of the        Many of those arrested were
obligation under ILO              Rubie’s Costume Company,          bombing, emphasising that         denied access to legal counsel
Convention 98 to promote          New York.                         those responsible must be         until the morning of 9
the mechanisms of collective         ICTUR has written to Time      brought to justice. ICTUR         November, although the brief
negotiation with trade            Warner calling for the            observed that this appalling      consultation that took place
unions. ICTUR called upon         company to set about a            attack on a labour leader         was cut short by the
the authorities to release the    constructive engagement           was a criminal action that        announcement that the
union's assets, to cease all      with Rubies de Mexico and to      constitutes a grave violation     lawyers would not be allowed
interference in the union's       use its considerable leverage     of international law.             to accompany their clients
internal and financial affairs    to bring about an end to the                                        during their interrogation.
and to re-open negotiations
with SONK.
                                  lock out. ICTUR noted the
                                  protected status of workers'      Turkey                               ICTUR has written to
                                                                                                      remind the authorities that
                                  rights under international        WORKERS at the public             the arrest of trade unionists
Mauritania                        law, citing the Universal
                                  Declaration of Human Rights
                                                                    municipality of Mamak have
                                                                    been asked to resign from the
                                                                                                      and their leaders is a serious
                                                                                                      violation of the rights to
IN October, 16 workers from       and the Conventions of the        DISK-affiliated Public Services   freedom of association that
El Majabaat El Koubra Tours       International Labour              Employees Union. Those who        are protected under ILO
were dismissed just days after    Organisation. ICTUR further       have refused have been            Convention 87, ratified by
the company had signed a          noted the clear extension to      subjected to detriments in the    Zimbabwe, and under the
protocol with the workers’        corporations of the               workplace and to changes in       African Charter of 1981.
union, the Energy and             obligation to respect these       their roles at work.              ICTUR called on the
Petroleum Workers Union           principles under the UN              ICTUR has called on the        authorities to release all
(CGTM) setting a date for         Global Compact, and the           authorities to intervene in       those arrested or to ensure
union elections of 1              OECD Guidelines on                the municipality and to           that they are promptly
November. ICTUR notes that        Multinational Enterprises.        ensure that trade union           charged under proper
ten of the 16 workers                                               rights are fully respected in     provisions of the law and
dismissed had declared their
intention to stand for union      Russia                            all regions of Turkey. ICTUR’s
                                                                    letter noted that a detriment
                                                                                                      brought before a court in a
                                                                                                      fair and legal process and
office. Union members at the      MANY of the oil workers at        against a trade unionist in       provided with full access to
company are now on strike in      Slavneft-Megionneftegas who       retaliation for their union       legal counsel.

Page 15 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005                                                                        INTERNATIONAL union   rights

                                  in which ILO conventions          violations of freedom of           freedom of association, with
ICTUR map a                       have been relied upon as          association                        particular regard to Decree
hit at                            binding law or as persuasive
                                  authority to aid interpretation
                                                                    ■ provision of information on
                                                                    union rights and international
                                                                                                       875 which froze union assets
                                                                                                       in August this year. ICTUR
Canadian                          of the law by national courts
                                  around the world.
                                                                    labour standards
                                                                    ■ collecting information on
                                                                                                       will issue a more detailed
                                                                                                       report on the TURC project in
union school                         The conference was
                                  organised by IADL and the
                                                                    issues such as sub
                                                                    contracting, migrant labour
                                                                                                       a future edition of IUR. For
                                                                                                       more information about the
ICTUR Director Daniel             International Commission for      and the informal sector            project see or
Blackburn attended the            Labour Rights.                       The first legal action centre   contact the ICTUR office.
Seventh Annual Leadership                                           opened with assistance from
Development School of the
National Union of Public and      Defending                         ICTUR was the TURC
                                                                    Indonesia, which is now            Australia –
General Employees in
Ontario, Canada. A major          trade union                       operational with a staff of four
                                                                    lawyers. Two further projects      ICTUR lawyers
theme for the NUPGE school
was Labour Rights are             rights – legal                    to provide legal action centres
                                                                    around trade union rights in
                                                                                                       defend union
Human Rights in support of
the campaign of the NUPGE         action centres                    Iraq and Colombia are
                                                                    currently being developed.
and UFCW Canada unions to         ICTUR President Sharan                                               A PANEL of legal experts
promote this idea (see IUR
12.2, pp18-19). Speakers from
                                  Burrow chaired a meeting of
                                  ICTUR officers, staff and         British trade                      confirmed by the Australian
                                                                                                       National Committee of ICTUR
across Canada together with
guests from the USA attended
                                  correspondents in Geneva on
                                  4 November for discussions        union                              has presented submissions to
                                                                                                       the Australian Senate
the school to talk on key
union issues from organising
                                  around ICTUR’s efforts to
                                  support trade union rights        education                          Committee Inquiry into the
                                                                                                       Howard Government’s
and strategic union planning      legal action centres around       IN November ICTUR Director         Workplace Relations
through cooperative unionism      the world. ICTUR Vice             Daniel Blackburn gave two          Amendment (Work Choices)
to consideration of               Presidents Mordy Bromberg         presentations to trade union       Bill 2005. The ICTUR panel,
international issues. The         SC and Fathi El-Fadl outlined     representatives at the CONEL       led by ICTUR Vice President
ICTUR Director gave a             ICTUR’s work on building the      trade union education centre       Mordy Bromberg SC, has
presentation on the work of       Trade Union Rights Centre in      in London on international         submitted a detailed legal
ICTUR and discussed the role      Indonesia and on developing       labour law and the work of         examination of the extent to
of the International Labour       a similar office in Iraq. The     ICTUR. Students agreed that        which the legislative reforms
Organisation and the status of    meeting approved a set of         the ICTUR world map wall           will fall short of the minimum
ILO Conventions. ICTUR’s          recommendations for future        poster made complex issues         standards required by ILO
world map wall poster now         work to support legal             of international law easy to       conventions. ICTUR argued
plays a central role in ICTUR     initiatives to defend trade       take on board and was helpful      that ‘in so far as this
presentations, and in this case   union rights in countries         to their understanding of how      legislation proposes further
drew attention to the fact        where these rights are most at    international law works and        restrictions on the freedom to
that, in contrast to most         risk or where unions lack the     why the ILO is an important        bargain collectively and to
countries in the world,           formal capacity to produce        institution.                       strike it is already the case
Canada has not ratified ILO       independent analysis and                                             that Australia now has one of
Convention 98. Participants at
the school snapped up copies
                                  research on legal and
                                  organisational issues. It was     Iraq                               the most restrictive regimes in
                                                                                                       the developed world’.
of the map, and NUPGE             agreed that ICTUR would           ICTUR Vice President Fathi El-     ICTUR’s submissions are
placed an order for hundreds      follow strategies appropriate     Fadl will visit Iraq in early      available online at
of copies to support its labour   to the circumstances of the       December to meet with    
rights campaign.                  countries involved but would      labour lawyers, trade
                                  ordinarily try to generate        unionists, academics and
Bulgarian                         linkages between labour
                                  lawyers and their
                                                                    human rights organisations in
                                                                    preparation for the planned
jurists look to                   organisations in developed
                                  and developing countries to
                                                                    opening of the Trade Union
                                                                    Rights Centre in Baghdad
ILO standards                     support and finance the
                                  creation of new centres or
                                                                    early next year. During his
                                                                    visit Fathi El-Fadl will meet
ICTUR Director Daniel             projects.                         with government
Blackburn joined ICTUR Vice           Trade Union Rights Centres    representatives to discuss the
President Jitendra Sharma and     have the following priorities:    role of international law and
colleagues from the               ■ legal analysis and critique
International Association of      of the labour law
Democratic Lawyers at a           ■ providing an advocacy and
conference hosted by the          activist service for unions
Union of Bulgarian Jurists to     dealing with union rights
examine the monitoring and        issues
enforcement of international      ■ providing education and
labour standards. The ICTUR       training on labour rights
Director gave a presentation      ■ the collection of data on
on the growing relevance of       union rights issues
international law at the          ■ campaigning on union
national level, highlighting      rights issues
cases from around the world       ■ documentation of cases of

INTERNATIONAL union   rights                                                                               Page 16 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005

Collective bargaining ban
under scrutiny
      ROM 1 November to 3 November 2005, a del-

                                                                                                                  Lawyers from
      egation of labour rights experts convened by
      the International Commission for Labour                                                                     Canada, Sweden,
Rights (ICLR) visited North Carolina, in the south-                                                               Nigeria, South
east of the United States, to examine a statute bar-
ring collective bargaining rights for public workers                                                              Africa and Mexico
in the state. The delegation, sent at the request of                                                              investigate a
United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of
America (UE), a union that has been organising pri-                                                               collective
marily low-income public workers, addressed the
statute in terms of its conformity with international                                                             bargaining ban in
legal standards on freedom of association and col-                                                                the US state of
lective bargaining, including applicable conven-
tions of the International Labour Organisation          norms to bear on the issue, the delegation’s work         North Carolina
(ILO). The delegation also analysed the impact of       was also informed by comparative perspectives on
the legislation, addressing allegations that the        public sector collective bargaining, based on the
absence of collective bargaining rights may have        specific experiences of the lawyers in their respec-
exacerbated racial and gender-based discrimination      tive jurisdictions.
in employment. The findings of the ICLR delega-            Over the course of the three days on the ground
tion in both of these respects are expected to be       in North Carolina, the delegation undertook exten-
relevant to the UE’s submission of complaints to        sive site visits to workplaces around the state,
international bodies such as the ILO Committee on       meeting the employees of state-run institutions
Freedom of Association and/or the ILO’s Com-            such as schools for the deaf, municipalities employ-
mittee of Experts on the Application of Con-            ing workers for street cleaning and other public
ventions and Recommendations.                           services, and the housekeepers at state universi-
   The statute in question, NCGL §95-98, was            ties. The delegation discussed the statute with
passed in 1959 in response to an attempt by the         state and local politicians, legal experts who have
Teamsters to organise police officers in the city of    researched its history, and the broad coalition of
Charlotte. A provision prohibiting unionisation of      unions that have been working towards repeal. At
public workers was struck down by a federal court       the request of UE, the delegation also provided
in 1969 as an unconstitutional restriction on free-     trainings in international law and standards to the
dom of association, but the remainder of the            union’s leadership and allies in North Carolina. The
statute, which declares public sector collective bar-   delegation’s visit ended with a public hearing
gaining agreements to be ‘against the public policy     where workers from all over the state gave testimo-
of the State, illegal, unlawful, void and of no         ny about working conditions, focusing on the per-
effect’, remains on the books and continues to be       ceived impact of the absence of collective bargain-
enforced. While 12 of the 13 states in the south and    ing rights. Workers described unmediated discrimi-
southeast United States place some degree of            nation in hiring and discipline; arbitrary dismissals;
restrictions on collective bargaining for public        inconsistent application of pay scales; favouritism
workers, those of the state of North Carolina,          in promotions; absence of grievance procedures or
along with Virginia’s, are the most extreme, affect-    other mechanisms to enable the fair resolution of
ing all public workers, not merely state employees,     disputes.
and prohibiting municipalities, school boards and          The delegation is currently seeking opinions
state-run institutions from passing locally-applica-    from a wider range of legislators and legal experts
ble regulations enabling collective bargaining for      in North Carolina regarding the statute, in terms of
their own workforce.                                    possible justifications in law and policy for the an
   The ICLR delegation was composed of lawyers          absolute or partial bar on public sector collective
and legal experts with significant experience in        bargaining. It hopes to conclude its analysis of tes-
public sector unionism: Peter Barnacle (Canadian        timony, documents and other materials shortly, and        ASHWINI SUKTHANKAR is
Union of Public Employees); Rudi Dicks (Congress        expects to issue its report in early 2006. The report     Director of the International
of South African Trade Unions); Stellan Gärde           will address the statute’s compliance with interna-       Commission for Labour Rights
(labour lawyer and member of the International          tional law and standards, as well as a comparative        and co-editor of this edition
Commission of Jurists from Sweden); Yemisi              understanding of how other jurisdictions have             of IUR
Ilesanmi (Nigeria Labour Congress); Claude              dealt with implementing public sector collective
Melançon (labour lawyer from Canada); Patricia          bargaining in the face of some of the practical con-
Juan Pineda (Frente Auténtico del Trabajo,              cerns identified by stakeholders in North Carolina,
Mexico). They were joined by two representatives        including possible costs to taxpayers or compro-
of ICLR, Jeanne Mirer and Ashwini Sukthankar. In        mised delivery of public services as a result of
addition to bringing analyses of international          industrial disputes.

Page 17 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005                                                                               INTERNATIONAL union      rights
                               FOCUS ❐ SEX WORKERS ORGANISING

                               Sex workers in Spain
                                  N view of the interest in gaining more in-depth         ‘In order to get to Spain, they contact organisa-

      The Women’s
                                  knowledge of the possible models of interven-        tions which provide the means to travel and to find
  Secretariat of the              tion in relation to the world of prostitution, the   them a place in a club in exchange for large
        Comisiones             Secretaría Confederal de la Mujer (women’s con-         amounts of money. Once they have arrived at these
                               federal secretariat) of the trade union Comisiones      establishments, and in spite of generating easy
 Obreras organised             Obreras has decided to organise a work team             money for the organisation, they are paid an
    the Seminar on             whose aim was to approach the complex reality of        amount that they consider to be merely satisfacto-
                               the sex market and industry.                            ry’.
     Civil Rights for             Part of this complexity lies in the lack of social      There is a notorious increase in clubs and their
                               and labour recognition, in the incorporation of         organised activities for economic profit, but the
  Female and Male              new technologies which generate different types         people starting up these clubs and those working
 Workers in the Sex            of supply and demand, in migration-related phe-         in them do not have the same obligations or the
                               nomena, in changing models of sentimental rela-         same labour rights that exist in other sectors.
        Industry on            tionships, in the different demands of the people          There are many people working in clubs or flats,
      26 May 2005              involved, in the lack of a homogeneous legal frame-     while there has been a decrease in street prostitu-
                               work within the European scope and in the differ-       tion. Those who do work in the street often say
                               ent stances of the feminist movement with regard        that the prefer to work independently, without the
                               to prostitution over the last few decades, which        need to depend on anyone.
                               range from abolitionism to defending the recogni-          Through the study and the different interviews
                               tion of human rights and civil liberties for prosti-    we did with the different social groups acting with-
                               tutes.                                                  in this scope, we learned more of the intervention
                                  We have seen a need for political, legal, labour     models proposed, which are basically: the prohibi-
                               and social intervention aimed at defending the civil    tionist movement, which defines prostitution as a
                               rights of those practicing prostitution of their own    crime; the current interventionist movement
                               free will, along with the demand for the protection     which demands that the State regulate prostitution
                               of the victims of sexual exploitation and realistic     as an economic activity like any other and fights
                               solutions for those who wish to cease the activity.     violence, coercion, deception or lack of freedom;
                                  These interventions should be accompanied by         abolitionism, which considers that to legalise pros-
                               strict compliance with the laws against coercion,       titution would be to ignominiously legitimise sexu-
                               violence and sexual abuse against children and the      al discrimination against women who are exploited
                               trafficking of people for sexual exploitation. There    by men, and lastly, an increasingly larger amount of
                               ought to be guarantees by the State aimed at apply-     women practicing prostitution are making them-
                               ing the law and punishing those who force third         selves heard and are claiming: labour rights as sex
                               parties to practice prostitution against their will.    workers.
                                  Recent reports drafted in Spain provide us with         The combined viewpoint for possible interven-
                               some conclusions that can help us to better under-      tions has led us to interview political parties at
                               stand the reality of prostitution. Some of these con-   national level in order to learn of their political
                               clusions are common and we consider it important        interventions in this respect. We also held inter-
                               to list them herein.                                    views with the Government, the main agent of leg-
                                                                                       islative initiatives and public action schemes,
                               A changing context                                      which ought to consider specific measures aimed
                               The phenomenon of prostitution has undergone            at dealing with prostitution; all these political
                               certain changes and the most important aspect           groups have been invited to participate in the sem-
                               involves the globalisation of migration; this has       inar organised by Comisiones Obreras in relation
                               become more female-based, with a growing num-           to the theme.
                               ber of women who migrate independent from par-             We were unable to share our conversations and
                               ents or husbands. Domestic help, hostelry and           exchange of opinions with other agents that we
                               prostitution are the main work channels for             considered to be of interest and who also have a
                               women migrants.                                         stance and opinion in relation to the theme, such
                                 Most of the women practicing prostitution in          as the different women’s associations, associations
                               Spain are migrants and only two of every hundred        of neighbours that have specific petitions for
                               are Spanish.                                            actions, NGOs with different programmes of activi-
      CARMEN BRAVO is the        According to recent reports by the Guardia Civil      ties or employers organisations which also make
    Confederal Secretary for   police force: ‘The arrival of migrant prostitutes has   proposals with regard to developing the activity.
   Women for the Comisiones    displaced the Spaniards, with a big drop in the            None of the agents with whom we exchanged
              Obreras, Spain   amount of nationals practicing prostitution. Until      opinions maintain postures of consensus for the
                               just a few years ago, the women were deceived in        design of interventions to be applied to the areas
                               their countries of origin and were told that they       of prostitution. Furthermore, no political party has
                               were coming to work as waitresses or home help,         presented us with any programme dealing with
                               whereas at present many women are hired or even         prostitution that goes any further than the current
                               volunteer to the organisations, aware that they are     legislation.
                               going to work as prostitutes from the very begin-          In view of this reality, we consider what can be
                               ning.                                                   done and how to do it, with whom and for what.

INTERNATIONAL union     rights                                                                                  Page 18 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005
We sought what we deemed to be suitable answers          ■ Pilar Alvarado Ballesteros, National Co-ordinator
to each of these questions.                              of SAM and GRUME.
   We must ask what this class and socio-political          Moderator: Magdalena López Precioso, Teacher
trade union organisation can do to defend the civil      at Valencia University.
rights of these people, being very aware that these         One of the round tables that had aroused the
are attained through hard work and that the              greatest expectations was the one dealing with
defence of these rights is very controversial among      workers from the sex industry, and they certainly
people who do not recognise them. We therefore           did not disappoint us at all; the people participat-     Workers from the
believed it suitable to convoke this forum in order      ing expressed clearly and coherently the fight for
for all to deal with the different types of discourse    their rights, they bravely addressed the auditorium      sex industry
and ideology, and to establish a debate on the pro-      and made it very clear that there is not one single      expressed clearly
posal of interventions within the scope of prostitu-     argument to support denying rights to any group,
tion, in order to bring the different parties together   and we would like to thank and acknowledge the           and coherently the
in order to reach consensus and to avoid a very          participation of the following workmates:                fight for their
serious risk: not doing anything and indefinitely        ■ Justine Abellán (Barcelona);
sentencing thousands of women to exploitation            ■ Joana Pérez (Barcelona);                               rights and made it
and degradation in our country.                          ■ Purificación Gutiérrez (Madrid);
   We must conjugate and unite proposals for inter-      ■ Carolina Hernández (Madrid).
                                                                                                                  very clear that
vention among all agents currently acting in the            Moderator: Justa Montero, Feminist Assembly           there is not one
prostitution sector, giving a voice to the prostitutes      The group comprising the representatives of the
themselves and to all those that have drafted inter-     political parties lacked specificity in their            single argument to
vention proposals from within the legal, political,      approaches and offered no initiatives and even           support denying
social, economic, etc., contexts. In this way,           showed excessive reluctance to accept any kind of
through legal, social, administrative and political      compromise in relation to the present or the             rights to any group
measures, the rights and obligations, liberties and      future.
dignity of thousands of women can be guaranteed.         ■ Presen Urán, Head of the Secretaría de Políticas
   Why Comisiones Obreras? Because we are a              de Igualdad (equality policies secretariat) of the
socio-political trade union and we are concerned         political party Izquierda Unida;
with an old and complex phenomenon involving a           ■ Sandra Moneo of the Partido Popular (political
lack of rights, stigmatisation and a criminal status,    party);
mostly involving women who are cohabiting with           ■ Maribel Montaño, Secretaria de Políticas de
us in society, in industry, market, economy, health      Igualdad (equality policies secretary) of the PSOE
and education, and who also suffer from loss of          (socialist party).
their origins, poverty, lack of freedom, violence,          Moderator: Carmen Rivas, Telemadrid Television
persecution, etc.                                        journalist.
   We are working to promote debate and partici-            In the group of associations we learned of the
pation in order to design an itinerary aimed at lead-    tasks and programmes being developed from dif-
ing us to the recognition of rights and liberties for    ferent standpoints.
people working in prostitution.                          ■ Rocío Nieto, APRAM;
   “You cannot deny the humanity of others with-         ■ Isidro García, Fundación Triángulo;
out undermining your own” James Baldwin.                 ■ Kepa Astrain, ABIATZE;
                                                         ■ Concha García, HETAIRA.
Examining the issues                                        Moderator: Concha Colomo, Doctor from the
The Women’s Secretariat of the Comisiones                Montesa Centre, Madrid City Council
Obreras trade union organised the Seminar on                When we listened to our colleagues from
Civil Rights for Female and Male Workers in the          Argentina and Holland, we were aware of their
Sex Industry on 26 May 2005, at the headquarters         common sense, and of a sense of compromise and
of the Economic and Social Council; the format of        solidarity with the working classes and we under-
the seminar attempted to deal with the theme from        stood that our duty as trade unionists is to make
different perspectives.                                  the world a better place. Nobody listening to Elena
   The following people intervened in the inaugu-        could have denied her the rights due to her, either
ration:                                                  from the moral or trade union point of view, or to
■ Julian Ariza, Vice-president of the Economic and       question the fact that her dignity as a person and
Social Council;                                          as a worker was beyond all doubt and that her
■ José Mª Fidalgo, Secretary General of the Trade        experience as a trade unionist sets us a path to fol-
Union Confederation of Comisiones Obreras;               low in the conquest of human, civil and labour
■ Carmen Bravo, Women’s Secretary of the Trade           rights. The following people participated in the
Union Confederation of Comisiones Obreras;               round table of trade union experiences:
■ Soledad Murillo, Secretary General for Equality        ■ Elena      Eva Reynaga, Representative of
Policies.                                                Redtrasexlatcar, Ammar and CTA, of Argentina;
   The round table on focus and legal and sociologi-     ■ Sietske Altink, El Hilo Rojo Foundation, associat-
cal perspectives provided us with a complete             ed with the Dutch trade union FNV.
analysis of the current situation, and the following        Moderated by Simón Rosad, Head of the Trade
people intervened therein:                               Union Action Area of Comisiones Obreras, CONC.
■ Pilar Gallego, Government Sub-delegate in
■ Raquel Osborne, a Teacher at the Political
Sciences and Sociology Faculty, UNED University;
■ Rhut Mestre i Mestre, Doctor in Philosophy of
Law, UV-EG;

Page 19 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005                                                                               INTERNATIONAL union   rights
                                  FOCUS ❐ SEX WORKERS AND TRAFFICKING

                                  An anti-trafficking
                                  framework is not
                                        A STRADA in Belarus grew out of the Young          against trafficking, which leads to exaggerating the

     No country will
                                        Women’s Christian Association of Belarus           numbers of opened cases and therefore the num-
  issue a ‘sex work                     (BYWCA) and joined the international La            ber of those who are trafficked.
 visa’. Thus all sex-             Strada network in 2001. BYWCA/La Strada has                 On 9 March 2005, a new regulation on anti-traf-
                                  been doing anti-trafficking work for seven years.        ficking came into force. It was introduced by the
        workers from              When we started, the issue of human trafficking          president, through a decree. There are some pro-
  Belarus migrating               was politically neutral, so we got good results in       gressive elements to the new regulation – so, for
                                  terms of lobbying of the government for recogni-         example, it forbids criminalising victims of traffick-
 abroad are put in a              tion of the problem, creating public awareness           ing. Before, victims used to be penalised for cross-
                                  about the risks, and promoting safer migration           ing borders without documents and so on. But we
     situation where              practices. But once it became political a year ago,      still don’t know how these positive aspects will
        they have no              and the President and the international organisa-        translate into practice. The bad aspects of the regu-
                                  tions got involved, the strategies being mobilised       lation we have already experienced. The recruit-
       protections in             to combat trafficking in human beings (THB) actu-        ment activities have simply gone further under-
   terms of working               ally began to reflect the desire to counteract illegal   ground, and are harder to identify – it used to be
                                  migration. The government looks at the issue as          that the main channels were that pimps organising
          conditions              though migration from Belarus had little to do with      sex work in Belarus would get in touch with their
                                  gender, labour and employment issues, and the            counterparts in other countries to arrange for
                                  human rights situation. It became a bigger priority      placements, tickets, documents etc. Now, the
                                  to address THB as an organised crime issue rather        recruitment happens through ads on the Internet,
                                  than a human rights one. The state is very slow to       or women will call on our hotlines and tell us that
                                  expand decent work opportunities for our people,         they just saw an ad for recruitment in Kiev at a
                                  or is not interested in doing so, because it would       bus-stop, or in their post-box, and that they are
                                  mean the recognition of informal sectors, and regu-      going. It is very informal, and law enforcement
                                  lating sex work as labour.                               can't control it at all. There are 600 agencies in
                                     In the legislation that was passed in 2000, there     Russia and 400 in the Ukraine who offer jobs
                                  are three provisions of the Criminal Code that           abroad, and the borders with Belarus are very
                                  relate to THB. The first deals with ‘sexual and          porous. When flights to Abu Dhabi were cancelled,
                                  other’ exploitation, the second with recruitment         you just found all of the women from Belarus at
                                  for exploitation, and the third with kidnapping for      the airport in Kiev, still headed for the Gulf.
                                  exploitation. And yet, 90 per cent of the criminal          After the new regulation was introduced in
                                  cases that have been filed have been under a provi-      March 2005, La Strada began lobbying the govern-
                                  sion dealing with pimping and the exploitation of        ment to supplement the clear law enforcement
                                  the prostitution of others by third persons. In          emphasis by negotiating labour quotas with coun-
                                  order to get around provisions addressing the use        tries of destination. If you won’t expand the legal
                                  of deceit in recruiting, traffickers have begun to       possibilities for work abroad, you will never have a
                                  tell women openly, “you are going to work in pros-       solution to the problem of trafficking. But, since
                                  titution, but with very good conditions – you will       most countries of destination are in the EU, they
                                  be able to choose and refuse clients and you will        would impose conditions for engaging in negotia-
                                  work in Brussels”. So they can use the excuse that       tions, for example: first Belarus must comply with
                                  there is no deceit or force, and that they told the      international standards in the sphere of human
                                  women exactly what they will be doing. But many          rights protection (such as the rule of law, the
                                  women still can't leave once they get to the desti-      recognition of violations, and releasing people
                                  nation, so it is still trafficking.                      who are in prison for their political opinions) and
                                     Another problem with applying the Criminal            only then can negotiations start. So it is a vicious
   IRINA ALKHOVKA is National     Code provisions is mixing the pimping of sex-work        circle.
      Co-ordinator of La Strada   and trafficking. Law-enforcement talks about all            For Belarussian sex workers planning to migrate
    Belarus Programme for the     forms of prostitution, voluntary or not, as ‘internal    it is especially bad. There is no possibility for them
Prevention of Traffic in Women    trafficking’, to make pursuing the pimps look more       to migrate legally and to work legally in the sex
 in Central and Eastern Europe    legitimate. The problem is that it is harder to get      industry; no country will issue a ‘sex work visa’.
                                  evidence for trafficking convictions than for pimp-      Thus all sex-workers from Belarus migrating abroad
                                  ing convictions. So, between 2001 and 2004, there        are put in a situation where the have no protec-
                                  have been almost 1,000 cases. But if you analyse         tions in terms of working conditions. So, many of
                                  these cases, you see that of 500 cases opened,           them are exploited, but for Belarussian law-
                                  there are references to just 200 victims. There is       enforcement it is a challenge to recognise them as
                                  political pressure to show high results in the fight     victims.

INTERNATIONAL union        rights                                                                                    Page 20 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005
   Within Belarus, prostitution is not a crime, it is        Marriage also used to be a channel for going
an administrative offense. If you are a sex worker        abroad. But now, companies offering ‘marital ser-
working in Belarus, you have to pay a fine if you         vices’ need to obtain special permission for their
are caught by the police – and then of course you         activity – a license – and need an agreement with a
have to go back to the street to raise the money to       company abroad, not just an individual. And they
pay it. La Strada would not attempt to promote            have to record all of the personal data of women
legalisation at this moment, however, for reasons         travelling abroad – name, age, where they live,
of political realities, the current unwillingness of      where they work, everything. If a woman wants to
society to accept such discussions, and because of        get acquainted with someone abroad, all of her
the wishes of sex workers themselves. The taboo is        personal data goes to the database of the Ministry
so strong in society, and in the absence of function-     of the Interior. The justification is that the informa-
ing democracy, there is no way to defend a point of       tion is needed ‘in case something bad happens’,
view in public. So it would make the lives of sex         but in reality it is a means of control.
workers even harder. It is like the provision for            At La Strada, we concluded that an anti-traffick-
three years of parental leave in Belarus. In theory,      ing framework is not enough, and in fact it can do        We need closer
it is a good idea, and the provision is by law avail-     more harm than good. We need closer cooperation
able to any family member, not just the mother. But       with groups working with migrant workers and              cooperation with
in practice, there is very little social tolerance for    sex workers, and we need to engage in common              groups working
anyone except women taking that leave. So it              strategising.
means that women are not an attractive option for            La Strada has tried hard to initiate dialogue with     with migrant
employers, who fear that they will have to pay            the government with respect to policies on sex            workers and sex
three years of parental leave and then re-employ a        work, or on gender issues. There is a National
worker who will have to be re-trained in three            Action Plan on trafficking, and La Strada submitted       workers, and we
years of development in the field. If the govern-         comments on it, urging emphasis on prevention
ment had actually asked women what they want-             and rehabilitation, not just law enforcement. Right       need to engage in
ed, they would not have passed this legislation.          now, many victims of trafficking who return and,          common
   It is worth trying to understand the social and        in particular, those who have testified in courts
economic context for sex work in Belarus. For             abroad, have no choice but to cooperate with              strategising
example, a good number of the sex workers are             Belarussian police, because of the automatic shar-
university students. Today, there are a growing           ing of information between Belarussian embassies
number of institutions where you have to pay for          abroad and the Ministry of Interior. The main strat-
higher education, and when you consider that              egy of investigation is to place the victim of THB at
average salaries are about US$250 per month in the        the centre; other evidence is rarely collected.
cities, and US$100 in rural areas, and that the aver-     Victims and witnesses have to appear physically in
age cost of a university education ranges from            court, and the protection measures are weak and
US$500 to 3,000 per year, you can imagine that stu-       not appropriate to the reality. Protections are often
dents must either give up on the idea of a universi-      available for the judge and the prosecutors, but not
ty education, or do something else on the side, like      for victims and their families. The measures are so
sex work. At the same time, those who enter sex           lacking that in one case, a witness appeared in
work must work with a pimp – there are very few           court with a gas mask on; in another case, with a
opportunities to work independently. Whether you          basket covering her head.
are talking about call girls, escorts, street-based sex      La Strada has also participated in the drafting of
workers or those who are based at hotels, the sex         the national action plan on gender equality promo-
industry is organised and controlled by pimps.            tion for 2006-2010, and lobbying for implementa-
   Before the new regulation was passed, at least         tion of CEDAW as a means of combating violence
there were private employment agencies to assist          against women. But in spite of our interventions,
those who wanted to migrate. Now many have                organised crime, trafficking and illegal migration
closed down, since the requirements are hard to           are prioritised, without any emphasis on address-
meet: they need to provide the persons seeking            ing gender-based discrimination or social services.
work with a contract, not with the foreign media-         An empowerment approach is missing. Women
tor, but with the employer itself. With some labour       must have the right to go abroad, to marry a for-
sectors, such a thing is just not possible – for exam-    eign man, to study. They have the right to travel –
ple, au pairs, where the main employer is a foreign       and the right to information. So we need to focus
family. Thousands of young women used to go as            on safe migration behaviour. We need to advise
au pairs, especially to Germany, to live with fami-       women that, regardless of their immigration status
lies and study. They were matched by au pair agen-        in a country, there are certain institutions that they
cies there; agencies in Belarus don’t have the            can turn to if things go badly for them. But this
capacity to set up all of those contracts them-           kind of work needs to be supported international-
selves, and so an option has been closed off. Now         ly. Other groups in Belarus scare women: “don’t go
of the 40 agencies that used to provide this ser-         abroad, you’ll get trafficked”. You don’t see the suc-
vice, only 10 have been able to renew their               cess stories that you could learn from, instead you
licensees. This has not preventing trafficking or         see public campaigns featuring images of abused
migration, on the contrary, as with the recruitment       and naked women, or of blood on a wedding
of sex workers, everything has gone underground.          dress. The message is, don’t go and you’ll be safe.
People have to pay higher prices to the middlemen         But if you stay at home, remain a virgin, never
than they paid to the agencies, and there is no           work and never study, you’ll be paralysed and may
proof of payment. So, rather than trying to make          as well be dead. Is it worth it?
migration more safe, the regulations have intro-
duced a lot of limitations for those who want to
migrate for a job.

Page 21 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005                                                                                 INTERNATIONAL union   rights
                                   FOCUS ❐ SEX WORKERS ORGANISING

                                   Scarlet Alliance
  Sex workers need                        CARLET ALLIANCE was formed in 1989. At              Our working parties are open to any sex worker
      to be engaged
       with research
                                   S      that stage, there were some funded sex
                                          worker organisations at the state and territo-
                                   ry level in Australia, but no national forum. Some
                                                                                           and the issues are developed at the national forum.
                                                                                           One of our new working parties is focusing on
                                                                                           inclusivity. At a time of self reflection, we recog-
                                   individuals from the Australian Prostitutes             nised those amongst us who are particularly mar-
 projects about wex                Collective (APC) the first funded peer-based sex        ginalised - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sex
                work               worker organisation (1986) and supporters joined        workers, drug-using sex workers, sex workers
                                   together with the idea that a national representa-      experiencing mental health issues, transgender sex
                                   tive body would be more effective, strengthening        workers, migrant sex workers -and that we were
                                   the sex worker rights movement in Australia. So it      not doing enough to be inclusive. Some of the
                                   grew out of the reality that Australia is composed      other crucial issues of the moment we are working
                                   of states and territories, and legislation happens at   on include ethical research and legal reform. With
                                   the level of states and territories, but that we need   respect to research, we were concerned about the
                                   to take a step beyond for effective advocacy.           ways in which sex workers become the subjects of
                                      This all started soon after the first awareness of   research that does not end up having positive out-
                                   HIV/AIDS and the effect that it could have on sex       comes for our communities. So, in addition to
                                   workers. So there was already increased awareness       upskilling sex workers in order to ensure we can
                                   and discussion among sex workers. In addition to        make informed decisions about participation in
                                   HIV/AIDS related concerns, access to health care        research we are also developing guidelines for
                                   and police corruption were taken up; laws that          researchers to ensure that they treat sex workers
                                   deemed sex work illegal were challenged; the high       as partners, not just participants, in research, and
                                   levels of stigmatisation and public ignorance were      to insist that we are represented from the earliest
                                   discussed; and we addressed industrial issues such      stages of development. We also have some respon-
                                   as unfair dismissal, and choice in accepting and        sibility to do this because Australian researchers
                                   refusing clients, and to have greater capacity to       are doing research on sex workers in developing
                                   negotiate the range of services employers wanted        countries in our region. We cannot ignore the legit-
                                   us to provide.                                          imate concerns sex workers have raised about
                                      Scarlet Alliance didn't have a formal structure at   research processes. In support we need to be
                                   that point; and was more like a loose body where        engaging with researchers about these concerns.
                                   individuals from different state and territory level       Our work with respect to legal issues is ongoing
                                   groups came together to create a lobbying tool,         – at any given time, we are involved in mobilising
                                   which was called at that point the National Forum       around law reform in at least one state or territory.
                                   for Sex Worker Organizations. The organisation          Usually, we are only involved in attempting to
                                   was incorporated in 1994, and now every year it         improve the proposed legislation, rather than
                                   elects an executive board and other spokesper-          being consulted from the point of developing it, so
                                   sons, where delegates from member organisations         in terms of lobbying, we are often caught on the
                                   nominate and vote on candidates. Only past or pre-      back foot. Currently, we are experiencing attempts
                                   sent sex workers can be nominated.                      to deprive us of basic principles of natural justice:
                                      The organisation’s name was changed by consti-       there are routinely attempts to reverse the burden
                                   tutional vote to be Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex    of proof with respect to charges of soliciting, as
                                   Workers Association, in order to more correctly         well as denial of the right of appeal. So for exam-
                                   portray who we are. So we started accepting mem-        ple, in Western Australia a police officer can give a
                                   bership from extremely small groups, and moved          move-on notice to anyone suspected of being a
                                   away from our structure of being a national forum       street-based sex worker or a client. This results in
                                   of funded organisations. The shift was also about       the individual being barred from access to a
                                   accepting that sex worker groups in Australia had       mapped section of the city centre for up to 24
                                   changed. We really wanted to maintain an authen-        hours, without possibility of challenge. And if you
                                   ticity of representation, and that meant acknowl-       receive several such notices, police can apply to
                                   edging that some of our existing member organisa-       the court for a 12-month restraining order barring
                                   tions were limited by the funding they receive: it is   access to the area. In addition, the state is often
                                   not unusual for a government health department          seeking increased police powers, such as the right
                                   funding a sex worker project to restrict its recipi-    to enter our homes or places of work without a
      ASHWINI SUKTHANKAR is        ent from doing advocacy work, and we did not            warrant, and to make an arrest based solely on sus-
   Director of the International   want to be a collective of muzzled organisations.       picion. There have been recent proposals for the
 Commission for Labour Rights         Our meetings are open to any sex worker, past        licensing and registration of individual sex workers
   and co-editor of this edition   or present, but we exclude those who own or run         – not just places of employment – and to force sex
                          of IUR   sex industry establishments, since owners and           workers to carry an ID card.
                                   operators have a different agenda, and because             We are also opposed to what is called legalisa-
                                   their inclusion would limit the freedom of speech       tion, but is in fact a licensing framework for broth-
                                   of sex workers who would be afraid of repercus-         els or other sex industry premises. Queensland and
                                   sions in the workplace if they expressed them-          Victoria have introduced this model, and it has
                                   selves frankly. We will have to reexamine this rule     resulted in a two-tier industry, with a smaller num-
                                   if cooperatively run establishments ever take hold.     ber of brothels actually receiving a license, and the

INTERNATIONAL union         rights                                                                                   Page 22 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005
majority not meeting the requirements of licensing        tain countries attempting to come and work in
or choosing not to because of the expense. So the         Australia are seen as a group to be stopped.
government is seen to be doing something -- and              Australian immigration has heavily targeted sex
terms like ‘cleaning up’ are routinely used -- but it     industry premises that advertise Asian sex workers.
only serves to create a false hierarchy.                  Sex workers in those workplaces discuss the obvi-
   Scarlet Alliance has worked for some years with        ous racism of which sex industry workplaces are
the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers         targeted as well as who is picked up and who is
Union (LHMWU), which covers sex workers. In               not. Backpackers or sex workers from other west-
one case, in Western Australia, the union even sup-       ern countries who might work in the sex industry
ported a worker through an unfair dismissal case in       while they are here are rarely targeted, but sex
the industrial court, which was found in her              workers from Asian backgrounds are.
favour. The importance of this case, Phillipa v              Scarlet Alliance has campaigned for the availabili-   This critical
Carmel, was that even though the sex industry             ty of visas for migrant sex workers, because in our
location was illegal in Western Australia, the work-      experience, the majority of women entering               precedent has
er was still identified as an employee, and it was        Australia under a contract to work in the sex indus-     increased the
confirmed that there was an employer/employee             try are not tricked – they knew that they would be
relationship. This was a critical precedent that has      working in the sex industry, and a visa would serve      negotiating power
increased the negotiating power of sex workers, in        to remove the role of the middle person who              of sex workers, in
the face of a high level of lobbying by owners to         organised the transport and the contract, and
have sex workers identified as sub-contractors,           would mean that once they were in the country            the face of a high
with the result that the employer’s responsibility is     they would be working legally and would be more
much lower, and there is no obligation to provide         empowered to report undesirable working condi-
                                                                                                                   level of lobbying
superannuation, industrial rights etc. So sex work-       tions. It is their illegal work status that makes them   by owners to have
ers are often told that they are merely ‘hiring’ the      susceptible to unfair working conditions or coer-
room, even though in reality the owner has a high         cian. The Australian response has relied entirely on     sex workers
level of control over when they work, what ser-           an anti-trafficking discourse which understands          identified as sub-
vices they provide, to whom, how much they                people who enter the country under contract as
receive, and how they conduct themselves.                 ‘sex slaves’. In the search for victims the human        contractors
   Part of the sticking point in terms of dealing         and industrial rights of sex workers are not
with the union is that sex workers do not receive         acknowledged.
such representation very often. Unions operate on            Abolitionist groups have seen this issue as a
the basis that if they have enough members from a         means to progress their anti-sex work agenda.
particular industry then they will represent them         These groups refuse to accept sex work as work,
in industrial disputes, but they do not recognise         ignoring the voices of sex workers, and instead
that there are great problems associated with being       understanding sex work per se as violence against
open about being a sex worker. We have had dis-           women. In the meantime it is individual women
cussions about coming up with a strategy so that          who are the losers.
members don’t have to be identified as sex work-
ers. But if the union can’t say that they have 300
sex workers on their books, they find it harder to
negotiate with rest of membership to prioritise sex
work on the agenda. So this is an area of difficulty
that we need to sort out. Even in cases where
there has been involvement, and sex workers are
willing to risk their anonymity and follow through
an industrial court claim we have had mixed
resuts: sometimes the union framework, in not
acknowledging the need for some sex workers to
maintain anonymity about their occupation, is not
one we can successfully work within. At the same
time, we need to emphasise that sex work is work
and that sex workers are participating in an occu-
pation, and the support of the LHMWU has been
   We have strongly advocated for industrial rights
for all sex workers in Australia including migrant
                                                              ILO ad
sex workers. While Australia has some reciprocity
agreements with respect to work permits with
countries like the UK and the US, it has none with
countries like Thailand. So for Thai and Chinese
sex workers there are few legal options, some
                                                            pdf on disc
women either come on a tourist visa, or come
under contract, agreeing to pay back a specific
amount of money or for seeing a specific number
of clients, and once they enter the country, they
are working illegally. Part of the difficulty in enter-
ing Australia is a process I understand to be called
‘risk profiling’ whereby immigration tries to identi-
fy those at high risk for overstaying on the basis of
factors such as which country they are from,
whether they are single women travelling alone,
whether they have sufficient income or can prove
that they have a job in the country they left, to
which they will return. So sex workers from cer-

Page 23 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005                                                                                INTERNATIONAL union   rights
                                   REPORT ❐ ICLR IN COLOMBIA

                                   Colombia: labour
                                   rights in the oil sector
      Labour lawyers                   N 2005 the International Commission for              The ICLR participants were:
    from Mexico and
     Panama take an
                                   I   Labour Rights sent a mission of legal experts to
                                       Colombia to investigate the level of violations of
                                   trade union rights in one specific industrial sector:
                                                                                            ■ Ramon Alexis Pinzon Ortiz, labour lawyer,
                                                                                            ■ Medardo Bañuelos, Legal counsel to the inde-
                                   the oil industry.                                        pendent transport workers’ union Mexico.
     in-depth look at                 This latest report of the ICLR follows on from an
      labour rights in             ICLR jurists’ mission in 2004 that analysed the cri-     Introduction to the second mission
                                   sis of impunity that surrounds the investigation and     The present document is intended as an assess-
        Colombia’s oil             prosecution of trade union rights violations.            ment of the current position of oil workers in
                                                                                            Colombia so as to alert people to the situations.
               sector              About the ICLR                                           ICLR's intention is to achieve a general mobilisa-
                                   The International Commission for Labour Rights           tion of labour organisations, human rights organi-
                                   was formed in response to an urgent need to              sations, labour lawyers and international tribunals
                                   defend the fundamental rights of working people          for the protection of labour rights and human
                                   worldwide. The initiative for the Commission lies        rights in order to prevent these threats from being
                                   with the International Association of Democratic         carried out. These organisations must also be sup-
                                   Lawyers and the International Centre for Trade           plied with in-depth information in order to bring
                                   Union Rights in consultation with labour lawyers         pressure to bear upon the Colombian government
                                   and trade unionists worldwide.                           to bring the perpetrators of such actions to justice.
                                      The Commission brings together the world’s               The second mission was conducted in Bogota,
                                   leading labour law experts in order to undertake         the capital of Colombia, and in the cities of
                                   high profile actions to investigate labour rights        Saravena and Arauca (Department of Arauca) and
                                   abuses and fundamental breaches of ILO Con-              Barrancabermeja (North Santander), where most of
                                   ventions and the United Nations Charter world-           the oil industry’s activities in Colombia are concen-
                                   wide.                                                    trated. During the course of the mission, inter-
                                      This report draws together the key findings of        views were conducted with various trade union,
                                   two legal experts who visited Colombia on behalf         human rights, women’s and lawyers’ organisations,
                                   of the International Commission for Labour Rights.       as well as with representatives of the church, vic-
                                                                                            tims from among the population and some public
                                   The situation in Colombia                                authorities who, despite the fact that their replies
                                   Throughout the world a number of trade unionists         were, on occasion, surprisingly absurd, were polite
                                   are killed because they are trade unionists. It is an    in the way they spoke. The aim was to also inter-
                                   astonishing fact that over three quarters of those       view spokesmen for the multinationals for which
                                   individuals who have been murdered are Colom-            purpose appointments were requested with repre-
                                   bian. In 2002 the death toll was 184. In 2004 there      sentatives of BP, Exxon-Mobil, OXY, Repsol and
                                   were 99 murders. In both years these murders             Chevron-Texaco. Only this last-named company
                                   took place in addition to an onslaught of death          agreed, but on the date and at the time arranged
                                   threats, kidnappings, torture, arrests, armed            other activities with public authorities were under-
                                   attacks and attempted assassinations.                    taken making it impossible to attend.
                                      In 2004 the International Commission for Labour
                                   Rights sent a mission of legal experts to investigate    Findings
                                   the appalling levels of violence against trade union-    The mission recorded the climate of insecurity and
                                   ists and the apparent failure of the Colombian gov-      permanent hostility in which the workers, their
                                   ernment to investigation these crimes or to identi-      trade union officials and the populace in general
                                   fy or prosecute those responsible. The ICLR mis-         live, as well as the precarious health, hygiene and
                                   sion participants were:                                  security conditions endured by the workers.
                                   ■ Teodoro Sánchez de Bustamante, President of               Dozens of witness statements were gathered giv-
DANIEL BLACKBURN is Director       the Labour Lawyers Association, Argentina                ing account of the courage of the population at
 of the International Centre for   ■ Sarah Lucy Cooper, Bar Human Rights Com-               large and the workers and their union officials, in
             Trade Union Rights    mittee, UK                                               particular, in acting in defence of the rights of their
                                   ■ Efren Sandoval, Legal counsel for UNSITRAGUA,          class and of the community in general, notwith-
                                   Guatemala.                                               standing the serious state of violence in which
                                      That report is available to download in both          they live.
                                   English and Spanish from:                                   The ICLR report argues that the Colombian gov-
                                                          ernment works in compliance with private compa-
                                      In 2005 the ICLR sent a second jurists’ mission       nies to remove the achievements of working class
                                   to investigate trade union rights violations in one      and trade union struggle from these workplaces.
                                   specific sector of the economy: the oil industry.           The mission recorded what it termed ‘para-legal

INTERNATIONAL union         rights                                                                                     Page 24 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005
manoeuvres’ undertaken against workers, arguing          The state oil company
that employers backed up threats against workers         According to the ICLR jurists, the same problems
with actions ranging from dismissal through to the       are found in the main seat of the public oil compa-
closure of work centres, to accusations which            ny ECOPETROL in Barrancabermeja, Santander
might go as far as to rig false charges of criminal      Department. The jurists noted ‘waves of murders
acts.                                                    and arrests of union member workers and union
   In its analysis of the oil sector, the ICLR report    officials’, violation of collective agreements, and
concludes that preventing the formation of trade         found that the oil workers union USO was prevent-
unions in oil companies appears to be a mission of       ed from entering the installations.
the Colombian military.                                     The report examines USO’s history and records
   The most significant manifestation of these           the use of the criminal law in a military court
manoeuvres was found to be the engagement of             against USO during the 1970s when the region
workers through ‘Associated Work Co-operatives’,         came under military control. The jurists observed        The jurists’ key
the specific aim of which, the mission found, was        that during the 1990s’ proceedings against the USO
to disguise temporary contracts, leaving workers         turned into ‘an obvious strategy to de-legitimise        recommendations
without social security, without basic salary entitle-   trade unions’, and that as recently as 2004 the gov-     focus on
ments and without fixed working hours, while at          ernment had declared an USO strike to be ‘illegal’
the same time thwarting their rights to trade union      and had dismissed 248 workers, including mem-            international
membership and collective bargaining.                    bers of the union leadership. This action, the           pressure to bring
   ICLR interviewed workers and union leaders on         report notes, was criticised by the Freedom of
the question of alleged complicity between multi-        Association Committee of the ILO, which pointed          about change in
national companies and paramilitary groups.              out that the oil sector does not constitute an essen-
   The report also observed the negative impact of       tial service.
multinationals upon the environment and a failure           ICLR’s jurists also observed barbed-wire netting
to observe either international or local environ-        set with blades in and around ECOPETROL installa-
mental regulations.                                      tions, and noted that together with an ever
   The jurists recorded systematic violations of         stronger military presence, this creates strong psy-
human rights and describe ‘crimes against humani-        chological pressures for the workers. At the
ty’ against the population and particularly against      entrance to the company, workers have to cross a
the workers and their union officials in the             20-strong line of Colombian Police, and their move-
Department of Arauca.                                    ments are then monitored by 500 video cameras.
   The jurists noted that trade unionists, defence       Perhaps unsurprisingly, the report notes that trade
lawyers and human rights workers live and work in        union membership has declined rapidly during the
protected locations with reinforced doors and win-       militarised period.
   The climate of insecurity in Arauca is heightened     Conclusions and recommendations
by the fact that, in addition to the military units      Many of the jurists’ key recommendations focus
and paramilitary groups, a group of at least 120 US      upon the prospect for international pressure to
Marines, specialised in guerrilla warfare, is also       bring about change in Colombia. Such pressure
active in the Arauca oil region and, in conjunction      would be accomplished by a united and renewed
with Colombian solders, uses helicopters from            effort on the part of the international trade union
which they have machine-gunned and bombed                movement to influence multinational companies.
centres of habitation where, they say, there are         Taking as a given the place of multinational compa-
guerrillas.                                              nies in ‘the driver’s seat of the global economy’,
   In interviews with the ICLR, farmers complained       the ICLR jurists called upon unions worldwide to
that the Colombian army is committing violations         renew their efforts to protect labour rights in
against many sections of the communities. The            Colombia. The jurists also recommended disman-
farming communities are coming under military            tling the system of labour contracting through
rule and witnesses complained that the army is           Cooperativas de Trabajo Asociado (administrative
being billeted in farmers’ houses for weeks and          contracts that deny the contractor many of the typ-
even months at a time.                                   ical labour rights associated with employment con-
   The mission observed that the oil towns of            tracts – including trade union rights).
Saravena and Tame are entirely under military rule
with checkpoints, inspections and trenches every-        Future actions
where. The mission found that members of civilian        The full text of the ICLR’s second mission on
organisations had been summarily imprisoned,             labour rights in Colombia will be published shortly
including union leaders, while their offices had         on the ICLR website (
been raided.                                             and will be distributed worldwide by ICLR and its
                                                         associated organisations ICTUR and IADL. For
Multinational companies                                  more information about the work of ICLR, to regis-       International Commission for
The report examines a number of cases in which           ter for the ICLR mailing list or to become involved      Labour Rights
multinational oil companies have earned notoriety        in an ICLR mission, please contact ICLR Co-              225 Broadway, Suite 612
through some form or other of cooperation with           ordinator Ashwini Sukthankar at the new ICLR             New York, NY 10007, USA
the Colombian military. The mission noted that the       offices in New York.
links of one of the oil companies’ security contrac-                                                    
tors with the military had been exposed in a long                                                       
running legal case which arose out of the bombing
of a civilian settlement in the town of Santo
Domingo in Arauca in 1998.

Page 25 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005                                                                               INTERNATIONAL union      rights
                                                               junta’. According to ICFTU, the         union activities. In a new
                          Americas                             list is ‘the top of the iceberg’, but   development, the survey
                          A NEW report Labour’s platform       serves as a focus for putting           includes statistical charts that
                          for the Americas sets out a joint    pressure on companies. The              identify patterns of repression in
                          platform of policy strategies        ICFTU list is available at              different regions of the world.
                          agreed to by coalition of many of            The charts show that unionists
                          the leading regional trade union     ■ The Governing Body of the             are most likely to face death
                          organisations across the             ILO has strongly condemned              threats or murders in the
                          Americas, including ORIT and         threats that have been made             Americas, that the Asia-Pacific
                          the Caribbean Labour Congress.       against its Liaison Officer in          region has the highest number of
                          The platform is highly critical of   Burma. According to reports             trade unionists in prison, and
                          what is described as a ‘bankrupt’    from the BBC, the Burmese               that in the Middle East trade
                          and ‘fundamentalist’ form of         government has threatened to            unions are banned outright in
                          free-market capitalism, urging       leave the ILO, but has not yet          many countries. In Europe the
                          policy makers at the national and    announced a formal decision.            situation is described as less
                          international levels to take         The ILO has warned of ‘far              dramatic but the report notes
                          account of a more socially-          reaching and extremely serious          restrictions on trade union
                          inspired model of trade and          consequences’ if this threat is         organising rights and on the
                          development. The platform goes       carried out.                            right to strike, as well as
                          on to argue for the need for                                                 identifying countries in which
                          coherent economic policies that
                          recognise gender issues and          Europe                                  the authorities have attempted to
                                                                                                       take control of trade unions.
                          provide decent jobs. The             MASS DEMONSTRATIONS have
                          platform calls for a study of the
                          social impacts of privatisation,
                                                               rocked Europe as unions
                                                               demand protection for social            ILO/Colombia
                          and urges debt cancellation on       welfare provision in retirement         A HIGH LEVEL Tripartite Visit to
                          the grounds that creditors share     and resist plans to restructure         Colombia has reported back
                          responsibility for the debt crisis   social spending.                        from its week long mission to
                          and that debt must not be            ■ Belgium: on 28 October FGTB           gather information on freedom
                          allowed to undermine the fight       and CSC called a general strike in      of association in Colombia. The
                          against poverty. The report,         protest against reforms affecting       Tripartite Visit was approved at
                          written and produced with the        pensions and social security            the 2005 ILO conference
                          assistance of the trade union/       provision. At least 80,000              following many years of lobbying
                          research unit network Global         marched through Brussels, and           by Colombian trade unions to
                          Policy Network, is available in      much of the country was                 secure a high level ILO mission.
                          four languages of which the          brought to a standstill as Belgium      The Tripartite Visit made several
                          English edition can be               experienced its second major            recommendations including
                          downloaded from         strike in a month.                      provision of resources to combat
                                                               ■ France: more than one million         the prevalent impunity; tripartite
                          Australia                            workers took to the streets in
                                                               October at 150 protests across
                                                                                                       dialogue on human rights; the
                                                                                                       rapid reactivation of existing
                          THE TRADE UNIONS’ campaign           France called by the five largest       tripartite institutions; and the
                          against the reform of industrial     trade union federations to              establishment of a permanent
                          relations laws moved to a new        protest at high unemployment            ILO presence within the country.
                          level on 16 November when            and economic reforms. The
                          more than 500,000 people took
                          to the streets for meetings and
                                                               French Prime Minister
                                                               acknowledged the “discontent”           India
                          protest rallies that were held       and “scepticism” of the                 UNIONS described as ‘beyond
                          across Australia. The Day of         protestors but refused to change        expectations’ massive support
                          Protest is believed to be the        recently introduced labour              for a nation-wide strike on 29
                          biggest ever such mobilisation in    contracts that made it easier for       September, called in opposition
                          the history of Australia, and saw    small companies to fire workers.        to government economic
                          some 200,000 gathered for a          ■ Italy: on 25 November                 policies, amendments to the
                          major rally in Melbourne. In         millions joined strike action           labour law, and against
                          Brussels, ICFTU General              called by the three major union         privatisation. Figures for
                          Secretary Guy Ryder echoed the       federations shutting down banks,        participation in the strike varied,
                          sentiments of trade unions           transport, air travel and               but BBC correspondents put the
                          around the world when he             government offices. The strike          figure at more than five million
                          described the reforms as “the        was called to protest against the       in western Maharashtra state
                          most serious violations of           government’s budget, which              alone. MK Pandhe, leader of the
                          internationally-recognised labour    outlined substantial spending           CITU federation, said it was the
                          standards anywhere in the            cuts.                                   biggest action by the working
                          industrialised world”.                                                       class ever launched in the era of
                                                               Global                                  globalisation.
                          Burma/                               THE ICFTU has released its
                          Myanmar                              annual survey of violations of
                                                               trade union rights
                          ■ THE ICFTU has released a           ( Each year the
                          newly updated version of its list    report makes grim but vital             THE LATEST reports issued in
                          of foreign companies doing           reading. This year’s survey             the ICFTU series of World Trade
                          business with the regime,            records 700 violent attacks             Organisation trade policy
                          including 38 companies new to        against trade unionists, nearly         reviews make the following
                          the list of what the ICFTU calls     500 death threats and 145 people        basic findings:
                          the ‘business partners of the        murdered because of their trade         ■ Romania has ratified all eight

INTERNATIONAL union   rights                                                                                  Page 26 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005
of the ILO core conventions.            Labour Act and, although the          renewed campaign to change the
   Trade union rights are protected     minimum wage treats men and           laws on sympathy action. Due to
in law and practice, but the report     women equally in practice,            the legal position that holds
raises concerns around the right        women earn less than men. The         ‘secondary action’ to be ‘unlawful’
to strike, noting that strikes are      report also identifies societal       in the UK the TGWU was forced
illegal when a collective               discrimination against the small      to repudiate the industrial action
agreement is in force, even if the      Afro Bolivian minority and finds      taken by baggage handlers in
problem that has led to the strike      discrimination in employment and      support of their catering
is not covered by the agreement.        income against the 62 per cent of     colleagues (see IUR 12.3, p8). At
The report also notes that trade        people over 15 who identify           the Labour Party conference
unions have been lobbying the           themselves as indigenous.             delegates voted by 69 per cent to
government to establish a separate         Child labour is another problem    adopt a TGWU-backed resolution
system of labour courts, but that       examined by the ICFTU report,         calling for the sympathy strikes to
as yet labour disputes are dealt        which concludes that the Ministry     be made lawful, and for workers
with by a specialised branch of         of Labour ‘does not enforce the       participating in them to be
the regular court system.               law’ and that the government has      protected from dismissal.
   The report notes that legal          devoted ‘minimal’ resources to
protections against discrimination
are in place, but concludes that
                                        investigating child labour. Forced
                                        labour is a problem in terms of       USA/ATCA
both women and Roma minorities          trafficking of women and girls.       ON 25 OCTOBER Senator Dianne
continue to experience                  The report also identifies            Feinstein withdrew Bill S. 1874,
discrimination in terms of levels of    apprenticeship and agricultural       which would have substantially
employment and educational              servitude as being problematic        modified the application of the
levels. According to the                areas, along with the provisions of   Alien Tort Claims Act. The
government, only 27 percent of          the criminal law which permit         International Labor Rights Fund
Roma are in steady employment.          forced labour to be used as a         welcomed the move, but warned
   Child labour is identified as a      punishment for those                  that it expected the attempt to
substantial problem in Romania,         participating in a peaceful but       resurface in the future. The ILRF
and the report places the figures       technically ‘illegal’ strike.         has used the ATCA to file
at 3.9 million economically active                                            pioneering human rights cases in
children of a population of 5.6
million children in the country.        Social auditing                       the US courts for human rights
                                                                              violations committed overseas,
Although there is a minimum age         NEW RESEARCH from the Clean           including trade union cases in
of paid employment, it was              Clothes Campaign delivers a           Colombia.
lowered in 1991 from 16 to 15           damning verdict on the social            On 17 November ILRF filed a
years. There is no minimum age          auditing industry, concluding that    new ATCA claim against
for entry into unpaid employment.       staff of global auditing firms are    companies in the Bridgestone tires
Child labour in the formal sector is    ‘generally unskilled and              group pursuant to what the NGO
‘not widespread’, but the report        inexperienced’ and that audits are    claimed were serious labour rights
charges that child labour is            ‘often short, superficial and         problems at a rubber plantation in
‘prevalent’ in Romania in informal      sloppy’. CCC called for a worker-     Liberia.
and unpaid employment. In 2004          centred approach to monitoring
there were no cases of anyone
being charged or convicted under
                                        and argue that the non-specialist
                                        retail sector (including              USA
the child labour laws. Forced           supermarkets) ‘are developing less    ■ THE CHANGE TO WIN
labour is identified as a serious       stringent models which are overly     Federation held its founding
problem in terms of trafficking of      dependent on weak social              convention in St. Louis on 27
persons and Romania is both a           auditing’. Download from              September. The convention,
point of origin and a transit                  attended by 460 delegates and 200
country for trafficked women and        publications/quick_fix.htm            observers marked the point at
girls from across the former Soviet                                           which the seven unions that had
■ Bolivia has ratified all eight of     Solidarity action                     left the AFL-CIO formally
                                                                              established an alternative trade
the ILO core conventions.               ■ THE INTERNATIONAL                   union grouping. An agreement
   The report finds numerous            Transport Workers’ Federation in      reached between the two
restrictions on trade union rights,     London has welcomed a Court of        federations in November has set
including the requirement of prior      Appeal decision to overturn an        out a framework for their affiliates
government authorisation to form        order of the Commercial Court         to continue cooperating together
a trade union, the restriction to       which granted an injunction           in local and state bodies.
one union per enterprise and the        against the union in the ongoing      ■ FOUR PROPOSALS put to ballot
denial of the right to organise for     case arising from a dispute           by California governor Arnold
civil servants and peasant farmers.     between the Finnish seamen’s          Schwarzenegger were defeated
Strikes in the public sector are        union and Viking Line ferries. The    following a state-wide union-
banned, and other workers are           ‘flags of convenience’ case raises    backed mobilisation and
subject to strict conditions to call    important issues around European      awareness raising campaign. The
a legal strike. Failure to meet the     law and trade union rights that       ballot included measures that
conditions for calling a legal strike   have now been referred to the         would have paralysed the unions
can be punished by prison terms         European Court of Justice. A          by required members to give
of up to five years with forced         transcript of the judgement (dated    approval in writing every year for
labour. The ICFTU report also           3 November) is available on the       their union to use part of their
finds that there are no measures to     ITF website, www.itfglobal.           individual contributions for
protect unions from interference        ■ Following widespread support        political activities.
by employers.                           for workers in dispute at Gate
   Discriminatory provisions are        Gourmet’s Heathrow airport
built into elements of the General      factory, the TGWU launched a

Page 27 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005                                                                            INTERNATIONAL union   rights

                                  available in the mid-1990s. All   a trade union rights issue we      news shows on their
   the Eric                       these programmes are free of
                                                                    could do so using video. For
                                                                    example, LabourStart was
                                                                                                       websites. Working TV, based
                                                                                                       in Vancouver, has a decade of
                                     It used to be that you         recently asked by Russian oil      experience creating digital
 Lee column                       couldn’t put Internet video
                                  up on your website because
                                                                    workers to put pressure on a
                                                                    company which was union-
                                                                                                       video for the trade union
                                  these files were huge, and        busting in Siberia. The               Until very recently, there
Fast Forward: Unions need         web hosting companies were        company had forced a trade         was probably no easy to way
                                  charging by the megabyte.         union leader and his family        to know all this. If you were
to use online video to            Websites we set up as             out of their apartment.            Canadian, you might have
campaign for workers’             recently as a couple of years     Wouldn’t video footage, with       known about Working TV,
rights                            ago would have limits of 10       sound, have been worth a           which is shown on some local
                                  megabytes – barely enough to      thousand words – or more?          cable television stations as
I’VE just had a quick look at     put up a three minute video          The Campaign for Labor          well as online. Members of
some of the best websites that    in the Real Player format. But    Rights is trying to build          the Machinists union may
focus on union rights – the       web hosting costs have            support for garment workers        have known that their union
Campaign for Labor Rights         plummeted, and a standard         in Nicaragua – and shows one       had an ‘IAM News’ show on
based in Washington, ICTUR        web hosting package in            digital photo, but no more         the website. But if you didn’t
in London, and the                Britain today offers 6,000        than that. Their website tells     belong to those particular
International Confederation of    megabytes – that’s 600 times      us about a police presence         unions, you might never have
Free Trade Unions in Brussels.    what was available before.        surrounding a factory – but        known what was possible.
All three sites have a lot in     You can put a lot of Internet     wouldn’t it be better to show         All that changed in
common. They give trade           video into 6,000 megabtyes.       this?                              November 2005 with the
unionists and the general            And finally, hundreds of          I think one of the reasons      launch of LabourStart TV.
public information about          millions of people have come      why unions don’t do this is        LabourStart TV, located at
trade union rights and they all   online who were not online a      that making internet video is, is
inspire us to become more         decade ago. For many of           seen as being costly and           basically a video version of
active. They are all incredibly   them, our websites are not        difficult. It is neither.          the original LabourStart
useful websites and they meet     appearing in their native            In Britain, where electronic    website. It’s not a television
the needs of our movement         languages. It may be far easier   gear is notoriously expensive,     channel. It’s a portal site with
for an online presence – if       for them to understand a          you can now get high-quality       links to a large number of
this were 1995.                   video in English or French        digital camcorders for less        videos produced by and for
   Back in 1995, the web          than to read a text in those      than £200. These cameras are       unions.
consisted of text-based sites,    languages. And many of them       very user-friendly, and the           During the week of its
sometimes with photos. The        are low-literacy users, people    transfer of video from a digital   launch, over 500,000
few million people who were       who are not at ease reading       camcorder to a PC for editing      Australian workers poured
then online were happy to         long texts in any language.       is usually a process of            out into the streets in the
spend hours reading texts.           For all those reasons, the     connecting a cable                 biggest demonstrations the
Remember that the Internet        big websites now all offer        (computers these days come         country has ever seen. But for
was designed by and for           sound and moving images.          with high-speed ports that         the first few hours, there was
scientists and engineers, and     They do so because (as we         allow the connection of            no video coverage on any
the World Wide Web was            have known for more than a        digital camcorders).               Australian union site.
created by a British nuclear      hundred years), sound and            The digital video editing       However, LabourStart TV was
physicist. These were the         moving images are very            software now available – in        able to locate 16 short videos
kinds of people who read          effective ways to                 Britain, for less than £50 – is    and put them all up in a single
books on quantum mechanics        communicate.                      designed to be used by             place, allowing Australians –
for pleasure.                                                       families making home movies        and the world – to see a
   I believe that text is still   Why video?                        of their kids. In other words,     labour movement getting up
important. But a few things       We in the labour movement         you don’t have to be a rocket      on its feet.
have changed since 1995.          have long known about the         scientist to make a video and         Back in 1995, we might
Broadband has become              power of moving images –          to put it online.                  have known about that mass
hugely popular in the             maybe going back to the great        Some unions have made           protest by reading some text
industrialised countries. In      early years of Soviet cinema      use – and sometimes                on a website. Maybe there
places like Korea, the vast       (think Battleship Potemkin)       extensive use – of Internet        would have been a photo too.
majority of people have high-     and right up to the powerful      video. The South Korean            But times have changed.
speed connections to the net.     films of Ken Loach today. In      unions for a long time have        Broadband internet, the
This allows people to watch       the real world, we all watch      documented their often-            availability of cheap digital
Internet video without any        television, go to the cinema,     militant struggles with            camcorders and digital video
real time lag.                    buy and rent DVDs and             employers and the police,          editing software, and low-cost
   Also, the software one         videos. But when it comes to      producing extraordinary            webspace has changed
needs to see and hear more        our websites, we in the           footage (workers have been         everything.
than just text has gotten a lot   labour movement continue          specifically trained to use           I’d like the international
better in the last decade. The    working as if nothing has         digital video cameras, and         trade union movement to fast
current versions of               changed in the last 10 years.     they turn out in force at          forward a decade, and to use
programmes like Real Player,         I’d like to imagine a          demonstrations). The               the cheap and user-friendly
QuickTime and Windows             different way of doing things.    Canadian Auto Workers and          technology of internet video –
Media Player bear little          Imagine if every time we          the Machinists union in the        right now.
resemblance to what was           wanted to focus attention on      USA both have regular video

INTERNATIONAL union   rights                                                                               Page 28 Volume 12 Issue 4 2005
■ Trade union rights
■ ICLR North Carolina
■ Trade union TV
■ Four new maps

■ ICTUR web site:

                               pic right: courtesy
                              DMSC-TAAH project
                        midnight rally to celebrate
                        International Workers’ Day

                        main pic: International Sex
                             Workers’ Conference

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