Trade union rights in Iraq

21st Session of the Administrative Council of the International Centre for Trade Union Rights.
see full report here:
On Saturday 11 June 2005, ICTUR hosted its annual Administrative Council discussions in Geneva, Switzerland. The high profile annual event brings together trade unions, lawyers, academics and human rights organisations to make recommendations on strategies and action for ICTUR’s work on trade union rights in the the year ahead.


The meeting was chaired by Professor Keith Ewing, Vice President of ICTUR.
Labour rights in the oil sector in Colombia
In the first of two key discussions, Jorge Gamboa of the Colombian oil workers’ union USO, opened by drawing parallels between the role of oil in the economies of Iraq and Colombia and the situation facing workers and their trade unions. “The struggle must be worldwide” he insisted, adding that, “Colombian unions must defend trade union rights in Iraq”.
The USO leader went on to describe how local and indigenous people have been moved away from oil areas in Colombia, and how the military are preventing them from returning. This militarisation of the oil areas, Gamboa explained, also prevents union organisers from getting near to the workers.
Lawyer and ICTUR project coordinator Miguel Puerto described plans for a second mission (see details of the first mission here) by legal experts from the International Commission for Labour Rights that would examine labour rights violations in the Colombian oil sector. The situation was extremely serious, he said, describing the oil region of Arauca as “a laboratory for war”. As part of its response, ICTUR was conducting the planning and organisational work for the ICLR mission and would be producing and promoting the report on ICLR’s behalf.
Responding to the presentations, Christine Parker of LO-Norway described the work of ICTUR as “essential”, adding that the Workers Group of ILO was now operating “as a whole” and recommending to campaigners that they should make every effort to ensure that their publications reach employers and governments. Jim Catterson of the international oil workers’ union ICEM wished the ICLR mission every success. Nora Wintour of international public sector workers’ union PSI recommended that those working around the situation in Colombia should have regard to ILO Convention 169 on indigenous and tribal populations. She added that campaigners “should do more to highlight violations of that convention”.
Trade union rights in Iraq
In a second discussion, the international representatives of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq gave presentations on the evolving and difficult situation for trade unions in their country.
Abdullah Muhsin of the IFTU explained that his union had suffered severe attacks against its leaders and organisers: three founding members of the federation have been shot dead and international secretary Hadi Saleh was tortured and killed. The IFTU representative set out his federation’s opposition to privatisation of public services, calling for the economy not to be opened up to the market just as it emerged from the war, but added that the IFTU “is not opposed to the market or to investment”. Muhsin described Iraq as a country under occupation, but deplored resistance in the form of suicide bomb attacks that killed large groups of ordinary Iraqi workers.
ICTUR Vice President Fathi El-Fadl outlined ICTUR’s project to create an independent legal resource centre in Iraq. The unions would “supply the needs” and ICTUR would “supply the expertise” and would work with all trade unions to provide technical capacity to defend and promote trade union rights. (Read about the Trade Union Rights Centre).
Both the FWCUI and the IFTU welcomed and approved the ICTUR proposal and agreed to work with the project in Iraq. Abdullah Muhsin described the labour code as “key”, noting that Iraqi workers had been deprived of their basic rights for decades. Aso Jabbar called for work to secure trade union rights in the public sector, and added that all unions should have freedom to organise. Discussing the security concerns for all organisers in the current situation, the Council welcomed the intervention of Freddy Pulacio of USO, who said “my experience is at your disposal”.
ICTUR’s activities
The Council approved the report of Daniel Blackburn, Director of ICTUR (copies on request), and the proposals for future activities, including the publication of a series of world maps on core labour standards in English, French and Spanish editions. Donor unions, the international PSI and the French CGT, were thanked for their contributions to that project. Dan Gallin, representing the International Federation of Workers Education Associations, expressed his support for the maps, and hoped that IFWEA and ICTUR would have opportunities to work on more joint projects in future.
Alison Tate of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (deputising for ICTUR President Sharan Burrow), noted that ICTUR’s British Committee had produced a booklet about trade union experiences organising migrant workers. The same issues, she said, were a major challenge worldwide, and added that organisations should be sharing these experiences.
The Council expressed strong support for the journal International Union Rights. It was noted that IUR remains ICTUR’s key source of income and that more substantial contributions are required from trade unions if ICTUR is to meet its full potential. The Council expressed regret at the financial limitations of ICTUR, and agreed that the level of work produced was remarkable in the circumstances.
In closing, Jamshid Ettehadieh, ICTUR correspondent on Iran, called for the Council to adopt a statement welcoming the establishment of the Tehran Public Bus Transportation Company syndicate in Iran as the first large and over ground trade union launched since the 1980s. The Council adopted the statement unanimously.
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