Saturday, October 29, 2016

Servitude and slavery

A U.N. report singles out the plight of migrant, women and domestic workers many of whom lack formal employment. In fact, worldwide, most workers are now without formal employment arrangements. Women, because they make up the majority of the world's agricultural and domestic workers, are especially burdened by the lack of labor protections. According to the report, an estimated 60.7 percent of the world's workers "labor in the informal economy, where employment relationships are not legally regulated or socially protected." In some countries this workforce rises to 90 percent. The report also notes that while such employment has always existed, the rise of global supply chains has "exponentially expanded its growth." As a result, some 1.5 billion people or 46 percent of the world's workers, now experience what the report calls "precarious employment." More than 70 percent of people in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa work this way. This workforce includes self-employed, contract and part-time workers, and day laborers -- and often those working in special economic zones where, as the report describes, "worker protections are sharply reduced or eliminated in order to attract foreign investment."

The world's growing migrant population, "have become a major low-wage workforce that is excluded from opportunities to bargain collectively for improved wages and working conditions," notes Roger-Mark De Souza, director of population, environmental security and resilience at the Wilson Center. He explains that these workers are now woven into the fabric of world economics -- sending to their home countries an estimated $580 billion in 2014.

Oxfam America regional director Minor Sinclair points out that the economy's structure is changing "in a way that disadvantages even more workers," Sinclair explains. Whether through layers of subcontractors that ultimately employ factory workers in Bangladesh, U.S. meat processing workers or college graduates working the "gig economy," the report reflects the fact that "increasingly, people don't have employers that are responsible for workers' rights," says Sinclair. And this makes it "harder for workers to advocate for (these rights) and protections." The impacts of this situation are, of course, most acute at the low-wage end of the employment spectrum, a workforce that often includes immigrant workers. In the United States, as elsewhere, farmworkers and food processing workers are especially vulnerable and lacking in protected labor rights, as are domestic workers.

The report says that in the United States, immigrant workers "who attempt to exercise their rights are often blacklisted by employers, who use the threat of denied future work opportunities to silence workers." Sinclair also says the impact and rise of right-to-work laws across the United States, which are now in place in 26 states. "Basic labor rights, the right to unionize and right to strike, are severely compromised by right-to-work laws," he says. The report describes what's happened to workers in states in the U.S. South where these laws are in place -- and how corporations have taken advantage of the lack of unionization.

But there was a small victory in the UK

Uber loses the right to classify UK drivers as self-employed. The Uber ruling could force a rethink of the gig economy business model, where companies use apps and the internet to match customers with workers. The firms do not employ the workers, but take commission from their earnings, and many have become huge global enterprises. Uber now operates around the world, with the company valued at more than £50bn. Uber argued that it was a technology firm not a transport business and that its drivers were independent self-employed contractors who could choose where and when they worked. The judges were scathing about Uber’s arguments, however, accusing the firm of “resorting in its documentation to fictions, twisted language and even brand new terminology”


Landmark employment tribunal ruling states firm must also pay drivers national living wage and holiday pay with huge implications for gig economy. Experts said other firms with large self-employed workforces could now face scrutiny of their working practices and the UK’s biggest union, Unite, announced it was setting up a new unit to pursue cases of bogus self-employment. Research by Citizens Advice has suggested that as many as 460,000 people could be falsely classified as self-employed, costing up to £314m a year in lost tax and employer national insurance contributions.

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