Asia-Pacific

4.22

Systematic violations of rights

Worse than last year

The Asia-Pacific region is the second worst region in the world for workers’ rights. There was an increase in its average rating from 4.17 to 4.22, falling between systematic violations of rights and no guarantee of rights.

2022 was marked by the use of extreme police brutality to repress strike actions, notably in Bangladesh and India, where striking workers were killed, and in Pakistan, where violence was used against workers. In Hong Kong the authorities all but silenced trade unions and pro-democracy organisations. Egregious human rights abuses continued unabated in Myanmar. In the Philippines, trade unionists and workers lived in fear of violent attacks and arbitrary arrests.

In China, the Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Turkic Muslim peoples were the target of unrelenting persecution and mass detention by the authorities who, among other human rights abuses, coerced them into forced labour to supply the garment industry. Members of these persecuted communities were exposed to the most severe violations of civil liberties, denied a collective voice and arbitrarily detained.

At a glance

91%

91% of countries impeded the registration of unions.

No change from 2021
87%

87% of countries violated the right to strike.

No change from 2021
87%

87% of countries excluded workers from the right to establish and join a trade union.

No change from 2021
83%

83% of countries violated the right to collective bargaining.

Compared with 91% in 2021
83%

83% of countries arrested and detained workers.

No change from 2021
70%

70% of countries in Asia-Pacific denied workers access to justice.

Compared with 74% in 2021
61%

61% of countries in Asia-Pacific restricted free speech and assembly.

No change from 2021
43%

Workers experienced violence in 43% of countries in Asia-Pacific.

Compared with 35% in 2021

Workers were murdered in Bangladesh, India, Myanmar and the Philippines.

Workers' rights violations

Right to trade union activities

91%

91% of countries impeded the registration of unions.

No change from 2021

Right to trade union activities

On 2 November 2021, persons claiming to be members of the Quezon City Police Department went to the national office of Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO) in Manila to supposedly investigate a labour dispute involving its affiliate, the Federation and Cooperation of Cola, Beverage, and Allied Industry Unions (FCCU). The FCCU is engaged in a labour dispute at Coca-Cola Philippines over deadlocked wage bargaining and a national campaign for the reinstatement of unfairly terminated union leaders.

The individuals had no legal documents officially identifying and authorising them or stating the purpose of their visit. They repeatedly asked for information regarding SENTRO’s office, the other unions present there, and their activities. The so-called police officers also went to the premises of the Trade Union Confederation of the Philippines (TUCP) compound in Quezon City. They inquired about the NAGKAISA Labour Coalition, of which SENTRO is a part.

Right to trade union activities

Since 2021, the Hong Kong authorities have increased pressure on independent unions to either fall in line or disband, while the Registrar of Trade Unions has methodically summoned independent trade unions on frivolous motives and has opened de-registration proceedings.

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) announced in September 2021 that it was preparing to disband after 31 years of leading the democratic trade union movement in the region. In the month’s leading up to the decision, the HKCTU and its member organisations had faced unprecedented attacks, intimidation and allegations of offences under the 2020 National Security Law. The personal safety of union leaders had also been threatened. On 3 October 2021, members backed a resolution to cease operations by a vote of 57 to eight, with two abstentions, at an extraordinary general meeting.

In 2022, the Hong Kong independent trade union movement and pro-democracy movement were all but silenced as many unions were forced to disband or arbitrarily deregistered, including the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists (GUHKST); the Hospital Authority Employees’ Alliance (HAEA); the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (HKPTU); the Union of New Civil Servants (UNCS); Medicine Inspires; the Hong Kong Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Union; Hong Kong Educators’ Alliance; the Frontline Doctors’ Union; the Hong Kong Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Union; the Financial Technology Professional Services Personnel Union; and the Hong Kong Teaching and Research Support Staff Union and Next Media Trade Union (NMTU).

Right to trade union activities

After the 1 February coup in Myanmar, the Tatmadaw, the Burmese military, declared sixteen labour organisations illegal on 2 March 2021. All industrial zones in Yangon were placed under martial law, making it very difficult for workers to organise. Union leaders then reported a mass exodus of factory workers from the industrial zones to their hometown rural villages. The military asked factory owners to disclose the names and addresses of trade union leaders to arrest them, and soldiers were sent door to door in the worker dormitories and hostels in a bid to find them. The houses of union leaders were raided and money and other private property were confiscated.

Right to trade union activities

In 2022, the Cambodian authorities continued to prevent union registration for arbitrary reasons or for extremely minor technical errors. In one case, a union submitted its application to the Ministry of Labour on 25 December 2020 and included all ten types of documents required by law. In February 2021, local union leaders were called by the ministry for the first time to correct spelling mistakes on the cover letter and in the profile of union leaders. Over two months later, on 7 May 2021, local union leaders were called a second time to correct the size of the photos of the union leaders from (3x4) to (4x6) and resubmit them once again. As of 2022, the union was still not registered, after having expended considerable time and resources to submit the application.

Right to trade union activities

The Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021, and the country plunged immediately into instability and poverty. It is estimated that 90 per cent of the working population lost their jobs. One of the first measures taken by the Taliban regime was to curtail women’s rights, including access to employment and education.

As the Taliban started cracking down on democratic voices and organisations, killing activists and raiding their houses, the leadership of the National Union of Afghanistan Workers and Employees (NUAWE) were forced to go into exile and found refuge in France with the support of the ITUC, the Confédération française démocratique du travail (CFDT) and the French government. Carrying out trade union activities has become extremely dangerous for trade unionists remaining in the country, as they are under constant surveillance and face threats to their lives.

Right to strikeProsecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

87%

87% of countries violated the right to strike.

No change from 2021

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

In 2022, Sawit Kaewvarn, president of the State Railway Union of Thailand (SRUT), and twelve other national and local union leaders remained wrongfully imprisoned. The SRUT workers had been ruthlessly pursued by the State Railway of Thailand through the legal system for carrying out a national rail safety campaign following a fatal train derailment in October 2009 at Khao Tao Station. The Thai authorities pursued a vendetta against the workers. Since November 2018, the monthly salaries of seven SRUT leaders have been deducted to pay fines of 24 million baht (US$726,116) to SRT based on the decision of the Supreme Labour Court in 2017. The thirteen trade unionists were currently serving a three-year prison sentence.

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

Forty-four employees of a pasta-making company in the Philippines, Soft Touch Development Corp., were arrested on 15 December 2021 for going on strike. They were charged with illegal assembly, disobedience to a person in authority and “alarm and scandal”. They were released from jail after 36 hours, pending further investigation. The firm maintained that the employees were prohibited from forming a trade union because their employer was the manpower agency that hired them. The strike was called after workers learned they would be laid off on 24 December. It was brutally repressed by the police, who used water cannons and truncheons on the strikers, dragging them into a police van.

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

Around 150 unemployed teachers were detained while over a dozen received minor injuries as police baton-charged them twice during a protest near Punjab’s chief minister’s residence in Patiala, India, on 8 June 2021, in a repeat of incidents earlier in the year.

Despite multiple assurances, the government had failed to provide them jobs in government schools. The five unions involved were frustrated at delays in meeting with the government officials and dealing with their demands. The teachers clashed with police as they were marching towards the chief minister’s residence. Those detained were later released without charge.

Right to strikeDismissals for participating in strike action

87%

87% of countries violated the right to strike.

No change from 2021

Dismissals for participating in strike action

In April 2021, the Korea Democratic Pharmaceutical Union (KDPU) announced that a lawsuit was being filed against Zuellig Pharma Specialty Solutions Korea for unfair dismissal.

The company had announced that it would implement an early retirement programme to lay off staff after some financial losses. It soon emerged that the staff members concerned were all members of the company workers’ union who had gone on strike on 30 October 2020 over a pay dispute.

Dismissals for participating in strike action

Around 1,400 striking workers of the National Health Mission (NHM) in India, including staff nurses, medical officers, homeopathy Ayurveda doctors and ministerial staff, were sacked by the Punjab government on 10 May 2021 for refusing to end their week-long strike. About 3,000 NHM workers walked out on strike to demand higher wages and permanent jobs. The sacked workers, who were fired through the Disaster Management Act, were from seven districts in Punjab.

Right to establish and join a trade unionWorkers excluded from labour protections

87%

87% of countries excluded workers from the right to establish and join a trade union.

No change from 2021

Workers excluded from labour protections

In the garment sector, which represents an overwhelming share of Bangladesh’s export economy, over 500,000 workers employed in export processing zones (EPZs) were not allowed to form or join unions, which left them without real power to bargain for better working conditions. The situation worsened with the implementation of the 2019 Export Processing Zones Labour Act (ELA) which states that the workers can only be a part of a workers’ welfare association (WWA), where the workers may not be given the full scope of collective bargaining. It is strictly prohibited for the workers to organise any protest within the EPZ, and any protests are often met with violent retaliation from the EPZ authorities.

Workers excluded from labour protections

In Japan, the law still excluded firefighters and prison staff from the right to establish and join trade unions.

Workers excluded from labour protections

In 2021, Goundar Shipping, a major Fijian ferry company, sacked three Filipino seafarers after they said they wanted to take leave to speak to union representatives about their rights and how they could get home. They were among a group of more than 20 Filipino seafarers brought to Fiji to operate and maintain its fleet of passenger and cargo ferries. They were given promises of decent wages and conditions. When they arrived, the company informed the seafarers that they would be paid 60-70 per cent less than what they were promised.

With many of the seafarers unable to afford return tickets, they agreed to stay on with the company and were given fresh promises of repatriation following an additional year of work. The company then said that flights and quarantine costs were too expensive due to Covid and refused to honour its obligations to get the seafarers home. The seafarers had lodged official complaints with the Fijian authorities in September 2020, December 2020 and January 2021 to no avail.

Working in harsh conditions and isolated for months on ships, migrant seafarers are among the most vulnerable categories of workers and often do not have access to unions.

Right to establish and join a trade unionUnion Busting

87%

87% of countries excluded workers from the right to establish and join a trade union.

No change from 2021

Union-busting

In 2021, Hyundai helped set up a car manufacturing plant in southwest Korea so that it could produce cars cheaply and, crucially, without unions. The new car plant, opening in late 2021, is operated by Gwangju Global Motors (GGM), a newly established company founded by the city of Gwangju, which has a majority share of 21 per cent, while Hyundai has a 19 per cent stake. The aim was primarily to avoid unionised labour. Most of the workers at Hyundai itself are unionised and have successfully taken industrial action to achieve higher wages. Average annual pay at Hyundai is 88 million won. At the new plant, dubbed the "half-wage factory", the average annual pay is 35 million won, which is below the national average of 42.34 million won for company employees.

Union-busting

In May 2021, management at the Fairmont Sanur hotel in Bali, Indonesia, part of the Accor chain, individually contacted workers who had been dismissed in July 2020 to offer them their jobs back, but only on condition that they denied their union membership.

In April 2020 the workers had agreed to a massive 70 per cent pay cut to keep the hotel going during the pandemic. Despite this, management still tried to force 68 workers to sign “voluntary” resignation letters at the end of July 2020. All of them were members of the recently formed Serikat Pekerja Mandiri (SPM) union. The workers refused and two days later received termination letters declaring them redundant.

The letter the workers had to sign to get their jobs back stated: “It is true that I work as a Fairmont Hotel employee, hereby declare voluntarily and knowingly without any coercion from any party that I have never joined the membership of Serikat Pekerja Mandiri (SPM). Thus, I made this statement letter in truth.”

Of the workers contacted, only four agreed to sign, while 38 continued to fight for reinstatement on the grounds of unfair dismissal.

Union-busting

In August 2021, the Kerala Bank Thiruvananthapuram district branch in India brought in new by-laws limiting the union activities of its staff. Under the new rules the unions may not intervene in any decisions relating to transfers. Shortly after that announcement, two women leaders of the Bank Employees Federation of India (BEFI) were transferred outside their district. Both women were members of the BEFI women’s subcommittee, and both worked in the same unit. They were transferred to two different places, with immediate effect. According to BEFI, they were transferred for taking union leave to take part in the union’s General Council convention.

Union-busting

The NagaWorld Hotel and Casino complex in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, has consistently denied their workers the right to union representation. For more than two decades, management has refused to fully recognise the Union of Khmer Employees of Naga World (LRSU).

Union-busting

On 24 September 2021, a meeting was planned to take place in the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF) office in Chattogram to form a regional committee of the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC). However, a phone call from the police to IBC’s senior vice president Salauddin Shapon put a stop to it. Another meeting was planned to be held in a different area the following day. But again, the police contacted the vice president to say the meeting could not take place there either.

In a third attempt, the IBC decided to hold the meeting at the office of another affiliate, the Bangladesh Textile and Garment Workers League (BTGWL). When IBC leaders arrived, police officers, including some in plain clothes, blocked the gate and did not allow anyone to enter.

Right to collective bargaining

83%

83% of countries violated the right to collective bargaining.

Compared with 91% in 2021

Right to collective bargaining

In New Zealand, the H&M clothing chain suspended fourteen workers on 24 April 2021, during the negotiation of a new collective agreement on pay, in an anti-union move punishing them for trying to achieve the living wage. In 2019 already, unionised workers at H&M were locked out after wearing stickers in stores calling for fair pay.

Right to collective bargaining

In New Zealand, on 22 April 2021, NZ Bus notified Wellington bus drivers that they would be locked out from their jobs unless the drivers agreed to cut their pay and conditions of employment and accept an inferior employment agreement. The announcement of the lockout came after months of bitter negotiations over a new collective agreement. NZ Bus had refused an offer by the Wellington Regional Council to fund a living wage adjustment, because they wanted to reduce conditions of employment. This infringement of labour rights was strongly denounced by both the president of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU) and the transport minister, who urged the company to withdraw the notice.

Right to collective bargaining

On 28 May 2021, the Swire Coca-Cola Hong Kong Beverages Employees’ General Union (SCBEGU) launched strike action in response to severe wage cuts. Management had ignored the union and the collective bargaining process entirely to cut wages and to change its pay structure. The SCBEGU was among the very few private sector unions that has exercised collective bargaining rights for over decades.

Right to collective bargaining

In June 2021, the minister for local government announced that some councils were struggling financially. Her solution was to undermine the conditions agreed in their collective agreements and unilaterally impose fixed-term contracts on council workers with lesser salaries and benefits. The Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) strongly denounced this unilateral move.

Right to collective bargaining

On 26 October 2021, the Australian stevedoring company Patrick Terminals applied to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to terminate its existing enterprise agreement with the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).

If successful, the stevedores would lose the pay and conditions they had negotiated for years and go back to minimum industry standards unless a new deal was negotiated within six months. Over 1,000 dock workers were covered by the agreement.

The MUA and Patrick had begun negotiations for a new agreement about two years earlier. The MUA agreed to forgo its original claim for annual six per cent pay increases over four years and accepted Patrick’s 2.5 per cent increases, well below the current consumer price index rise of 3.8 per cent. Patrick blamed the MUA for unreasonable demands, notably the request that they consult the union over a proportion of new hires. The MUA pointed out that similar agreements had been reached with other major port operators. On their side, the workers were opposed to Patrick’s use of casual labour, its current rostering regime and its recruitment plans.

Right to collective bargaining

By mid-October 2021 management at the Fremantle Container Terminal in Western Australia, owned by QUBE Holdings, was still refusing to re-enter negotiations with the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) over a lengthy dispute, despite being called on to do so by Western Australia premier Mark McGowan, several ministers and the Fair Work Commission.

Over 120 members of the MUA had been on strike since 30 July for an improved enterprise agreement. At the heart of the dispute was the roster system. QUBE workers were not on fixed rosters and were only told their schedule at 4 p.m. on the day before. The union asked that, as a minimum, shifts be allocated by 2 p.m. on the previous day, but management consistently refused and rejected all 42 of the union’s claims. QUBE further imposed a lockout and assigned its own management and supervisory staff to do stevedoring work to try and keep the terminal operating, despite serious safety concerns.

At the end of October, after the dispute had dragged on for eleven weeks, the MUA was forced to suspend industrial action, further to a threat from the federal Liberal-National government that it would ask the Fair Work Commission to terminate all industrial action at QUBE and impose compulsory arbitration.

Right to civil liberties

83%

83% of countries arrested and detained workers.

No change from 2021

Right to civil liberties

Police arrested 31 people, including the general secretary of the Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU), on 8 July 2021 for taking part in a protest held near Sri Lanka’s parliament against the proposed National Defence University (NDU) bill. The bill, first presented in 2018 under the previous government, has been widely denounced as a move intended to curb freedom of thought and expression in universities. Arrested workers were held for several days until a campaign for their release, supported by global trade unions, led to their being freed.

Right to civil liberties

On 11 October 2021, garment workers assembled outside Denim Clothing Company, a supplier for global fashion brands in Karachi, Pakistan, to protest against the factory’s inhumane working conditions, routine intimidation, lack of social security, arbitrary dismissals since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and refusal to pay the minimum wage.

Two vans arrived on the scene, and three men in plain clothes started ruthlessly beating up the workers with sticks. Several workers sustained severe injuries, including a dislocated elbow. Police forced protesting workers into the vans and held them at the police station for six hours, where they received further beatings from police. They were released only after they were forced to sign a document stating they would not protest against the company again.

Right to civil liberties

On 15 April 2021, around 40 military officers were deployed to arrest the director of the Solidarity Trade Union of Myanmar (STUM), Daw Myo Aye. She was charged under section 505A of the penal code for participating in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), leading protests, and encouraging civilians and civil servants to join the CDM. She faced up to three years in prison. Daw Myo Aye was denied bail and remained under detention, with limited access to medical facilities, despite having severe health problems.

Earlier in 2021, arrest warrants for 34 other prominent trade union leaders had been issued and executed. Most of them were summarily prosecuted and sentenced to jail.

Right to civil liberties

The president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), Yang Kyeung-soo, was arrested on 2 September 2021 in a predawn raid of his Seoul office. Hundreds of policemen encircled the building as officers pried open the door.

The KCTU had organised a rally in downtown Seoul on 3 July, calling on the government to address inequality deepened by the pandemic. The government did not permit the rally, citing super-spreader concerns. It later issued a warrant for Yang’s arrest for allegedly violating the Criminal Act provisions against general obstruction of traffic, the Assembly and Demonstration Act and the Act on Infectious Disease Control and Prevention. The allegations were contested by the KCTU: about 8,000 union members attended the rally, carefully following government guidelines for social distancing. After the event, only three attendees tested positive for Covid, with little evidence to tie their infections to the rally.

His detention seemed more designed to disrupt the KCTU’s preparations for a national strike on 20 October to call on all its 1.1 million members to demand improvements to workers' rights. Yang is the 13th KTCU president in a row to be jailed since the federation was unbanned in 1997.

Right to civil liberties

Sixty-seven workers and activists were detained by Tamil Nadu police during a protest on 18 December 2021 by electronics workers. They were detained for more than 24 hours. Twenty-two activists, including leaders of the Indian Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), were put behind bars for extending support to the workers. The CITU leaders were granted bail and released on 23 December.

The protest – by around 3,000 women workers employed by Bharat FIH, a subsidiary of FIH Mobile and Foxconn Technology Group, which manufactures mobile phones – began on 17 December. It was triggered by an incident two days earlier in which 159 workers had fallen ill due to food poisoning at their hostel. The workers, all hired through contractors, had long complained of overcrowding and poor food.

Right to civil liberties

Lee Cheuk Yan, the general secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), together with seven others, was sentenced on 12 December 2021 to 14 months in prison for “inciting, organising and participating” in a candlelight vigil on 4 June 2020. The annual event, to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, was organised by the now-disbanded Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, of which Lee Cheuk-yan was the chair. The sentence will run concurrently with the 20-month prison sentence Lee Cheuk-yan was already serving for organising and participating in pro-democracy rallies in 2019.

Right to civil liberties

In Hong Kong, five members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists (GUHKST), including the union chair and vice chair, Li Wenling and Yang Yiyi, were arrested on 22 July 2021. Their phones, computers and trade union leaflets were taken away by the police, and the union’s bank account and assets were frozen. According to the police, they had “conspired to publish, distribute, exhibit or copy seditious publications”. Both Li and Yang were prosecuted, remanded and denied bail. The other three members were granted bail. In the hearing on 30 August, the judge remanded all five union officers in custody pending their next hearing on 24 October 2021.

The “seditious” publications were three illustrated e-books for children with speech problems published by the union in 2020 and explaining Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movements of 2019 and 2020. Sedition is a crime under a colonial-era law and carries up to two years in jail. Since the democracy protests, police and prosecutors have begun regularly using the sedition law, along with the National Security Law, to clamp down on political speech and views.

Right to civil liberties

In 2018, Jasic Technology, China, dismissed workers for trying to organise their own trade union, and more than 40 workers were arrested and accused of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order”. Since then, many labour activists and supporters have been prosecuted and imprisoned on spurious charges, and the exact whereabouts of other workers implicated in the protests at the Jasic factory remain unknown. The authorities have used criminal prosecutions, harassment and surveillance to instil fear and prevent those affected and their families from speaking out. After their prosecution and sentencing two years ago, the following activists remained unreachable, their whereabouts unknown, and no further information on their trial could be accessed: Fu Changguo, staff member of the Dagongzhe Workers’ Centre, and worker activists Zheng Shiyou and Liang Xiaogang.

Many others have been summarily prosecuted and sentenced to jail time while the government continued to exert tremendous pressure and intimidation on the activists and their families.

Right to civil liberties

On 25 February 2022 “Mengzhu,” a well-known Chinese food-delivery worker activist, was detained by Beijing police in a raid on his apartment. Mengzhu, whose real name is Chen Guojiang, was charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, a catch-all category often used against activists in China. Chen was leader of the Delivery Riders’ Alliance, which he founded in 2019. Reaching about 15,000 delivery workers through social media, the alliance developed into a union-like organisation for food delivery workers in Beijing and had connections with delivery workers in other cities.

Shortly before his arrest, Chen had published a video about a bonus scam by Ele.me, owned by Alibaba, China’s biggest e-commerce company. It was watched by millions and provoked great public criticism against Ele.me. Media reports of Chen’s detention were blocked or deleted. Chinese internet activists broadcast an open letter by Chen’s father seeking assistance with legal fees and donated more than 120,000 yuan (US$18,350).

In April 2022, Chen’s WeChat channel, where the open letter had been posted, was permanently banned. Online discussion of Chen’s case was also censored and shut down by the police. Lawyers and students in contact with Chen’s family were investigated and harassed.

Right to civil liberties

The workers at NagaWorld hotel and casino complex in Cambodia had been on strike since 18 December 2021 in protest at the unfair dismissal of 365 workers. Over 1,000 workers joined the strike, which took the form of peaceful sit-ins outside the company premises. The LRSU union made every effort to negotiate a solution, but management refused to talk and even failed to attend a mediation session convened by the Ministry of Labour.

On 31 December 2021, police raided the LRSU’s office, confiscating union documents, computers and mobile phones. Nine people were arrested. A further seventeen arrests were made on 3 January 2022 followed by three more on 4 January, including the arrest of the LRSU president, Sithar Chhim, who was forcibly dragged from the picket line and into a police car.

By February 2022, eight of those arrested remained in detention, namely the union chair, Sithar Chhim; union secretary Chhim Sokhorn; union advisor Sok Narith, and union activists Ry Sovandy, Sun Sreypich, Hai Sopheap, Klaing Soben, Touch Sereymeas. They were denied pre-trial release and said they did not have enough water and were not allowed to contact their families. They were charged with incitement, which carries a sentence of up to five years in prison. In March 2022, they were finally released from jail on bail.

Right to civil liberties

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU), was arrested at his home in July 2020 after claiming that the demarcation of the border between Cambodia and Vietnam had stripped several farmers of their land. He was charged with “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest”. On 18 August 2021, Rong Chhun, the president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU), was sentenced to two years in prison, the maximum sentence for this offence, as well as a fine of two million riels (US$490).

Rong Chhun and Sar Kanika and Ton Nimol, two other labour fellow labour rights advocates, were freed on appeal on 11 November 2021. The Phnom Penh Appeals Court dropped the remainder of the sentences against them, but they all remained on probation and faced restrictions related to travel and other activities for three years.

Right to civil liberties

On 6 August 2021, the Bangladeshi Industrial Police filed a criminal case against Babul Akter, general secretary of Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF), and 24 union leaders and members in relation to incidents at Crossline Factory (Pvt) Ltd and Crossline Knit Fabrics Ltd. The factory management also filed a criminal case against its workers. These criminal complaints were filed after the factory workers formed two unions in their respective factories and filed registration applications with the Department of Labour in March 2021.

Right to civil liberties

In February 2021, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) brought criminal cartel charges against the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and against the CFMEU-ACT secretary, Jason O’Mara.

On 17 August 2021, the commonwealth director of public prosecutions rejected the charges.

This was the third recent criminal prosecution that the ACCC had brought against the CFMEU, using the Consumer and Competition Act to attack the right of trade unions to collectively bargain. In 2012 and 2013, the ACCC had alleged that the CFMEU-ACT had tried to induce local steel fixers and scaffolders to set a minimum price to afford a wage rise. This, according to the ACCC, amounted to cartel behaviour. For the CFMEU, the ACCC has engaged in the blatant victimisation of trade union leader Jason O'Mara, who went through three years of trial by media and attack on his character.

Right to justice

70%

70% of countries in Asia-Pacific denied workers access to justice.

Compared with 74% in 2021

Right to justice

In the Philippines, Rosanilla Consad, union secretary of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) for Region XIII and assistant vice principal of San Vicente National High School, was arrested on a fabricated charge of attempted homicide in April 2021. Subjected to interrogation without her legal counsel, she was presented in a press conference as a “high ranking” official of the New People's Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Right to justice

Dodo Bheel, a worker at Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) in Pakistan, was detained by security guards of the company for 14 days for interrogation over the theft of scrap from a company store. Bheel died of his injuries. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Bheel had been tortured by the guards. The workers and their relatives held sit-ins and demonstrations after his death, demanding an immediate and impartial inquiry. Their protest was violently suppressed by the police, who moved into action with their batons and tear gas and tried to arrest some of the 150 protesters.

Right to justice

In Malaysia, five local leaders of the National Union of Transport Equipment and Allied Industries Workers (NUTEAIW) were still out of work six years after HICOM Automotive manufacturer dismissed 32 NUTEAIW members for attending a union briefing after working hours, outside of company premises, in February 2016. The briefing was about a deadlock in the collective bargaining, and the company accused the workers of “tarnishing the image” of the company.

After mediation meetings at the industrial relations department, 27 union members were reinstated. However, the company refused to reinstate the remaining five local union leaders. The five workers won termination compensation in court but failed to gain reinstatement. NUTEAIW exhausted all domestic legal avenues and decided in July 2021 to file a complaint with the ILO.

HICOM has a notorious record of union-busting in Malaysia. In 2013, HICOM and its sister company Isuzu HICOM dismissed 18 NUTEAIW members for exercising their trade union rights.

Right to free speech and assembly

61%

61% of countries in Asia-Pacific restricted free speech and assembly.

No change from 2021

Right to free speech and assembly

On 27 May 2021 the government of Sri Lanka issued a decree making it almost impossible for 12,000 village government officers to strike, and it stripped hundreds of thousands of other public sector workers of their basic rights. The decree was a response to a threatened strike by the government officers who were demanding COVID-19 vaccinations. The decree claimed that the government services and departments under the strike ban were “essential” in the “face of the COVID-19 pandemic.” The union representing village workers had to immediately call off the impending industrial action.

Right to free speech and assembly

The Fijian police denied the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) a permit to march and hold a rally in Suva on 1st May 2021. No reason was given in writing, but the FTUC was told verbally that there was concern about the COVID-19 pandemic. No restrictions were being applied to other gatherings, such as sports and recreational activities, however.

This was the sixth year in a row that a permit to march was denied to the FTUC. Despite the government’s repeated assurances to the ILO and the UN Human Rights Council of its full respect for workers’ and human rights, including the right to peaceful assembly, it seemingly had no intention of honouring its commitments.

Right to free speech and assembly

Bangladeshi police repeatedly banned union meetings and then physically stopped participants from joining a meeting where a regional committee of the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC) was to be formed.

The IBC is the coordinating body of Bangladeshi affiliates of the global union IndustriALL. On 24 September 2021, a meeting was planned to take place in the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF) office in Chattogram to form a regional committee. However, a phone call from the police to IBC’s senior vice president, Salauddin Shapon, put a stop to that.

Another meeting was planned in a different area the following day. But again, the police contacted the vice president to say the meeting could not take place there either.

In a third attempt, the IBC decided to hold the meeting at the office of another affiliate, the Bangladesh Textile & Garment Workers League (BTGWL). When IBC leaders arrived, police officers, including some in plain clothes, blocked the gate and did not allow anyone to enter.

Right to free speech and assembly

Since August 2021 when they took power in Afghanistan, the Taliban have severely restricted the rights to peaceful assembly and to freedom of expression. In Herat, Taliban fighters lashed protesters and fired weapons indiscriminately to disperse the crowd, killing two men and wounding at least eight more. The Taliban subsequently banned protests that did not have prior approval from the Justice Ministry in Kabul.

Violent attacks on workers

43%

Workers experienced violence in 43% of countries in Asia-Pacific.

Compared with 35% in 2021

Violent attacks on workers

Police used tear gas and batons to disperse a peaceful demonstration of government doctors in Islamabad, Pakistan, on 4 October 2021. About 20 doctors were detained until after the protest was dispersed. Several of the doctors were injured. The Young Doctors’ Association (YDA) had called on members from around the country to mobilise outside the Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC) in Islamabad against new regulations imposed on medical practices and to call on the government to improve the standard of education.

In a similar incident in Lahore on 29 August 2021, at least 12 members of the YDA suffered injuries when police resorted to baton charges and pepper spray to disperse a demonstration.

Violent attacks on workers

On 31 May 2021, staff from universities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan, were violently attacked by heavily armed police as they marched to the Peshawar provincial assembly. The march was organised by the Federation of All Pakistan Academic Staff Association (FAPASA) to demand the reversal of government reforms forcing universities to generate their own finances. The police fired tear gas and used batons, leaving many protesters injured, with at least sixteen requiring hospital treatment. Twenty-four protesters, including the Peshawar University Teachers’ Association (PUTA) president, were arrested.

Violent attacks on workers

On 11 April 2021, unemployed teachers and health workers, who were protesting jointly under an Unemployed Sanjha Morcha banner in Patiala, India, were baton-charged by the police after they tried to cross the police line in order to reach the chief minister’s residence.

Murders

Workers were murdered in Bangladesh, India, Myanmar and the Philippines.

Murders

By mid -September 2021, at least 27 trade unionists had been killed taking part in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) protests against military rule in Myanmar. Twenty-one-year-old Zaw Zaw Htwe, a garment worker from Suntime JCK Company Limited and a member of Solidarity Trade Union (STUM) of Myanmar, was shot in the head by the security forces on 14 March during the protest in Shwe Pyi Thar. Chan Myae Kyaw, a dump truck driver at SinoHydro copper mine and a member of the Mining Workers’ Federation of Myanmar (MWFM), was shot multiple times and killed by soldiers on 27 March in a demonstration in Monywa. On 28-29 March, the military ambushed protesters in South Dagon Industrial Zone, killing Nay Lin Zaw, a union leader at AD Furniture (Wood Processing) and a member of Myanmar Industry Craft Service-Trade Unions Federation (MICS-TUsF).

Murders

At least eight people, including four farmers, were killed on 3 October 2021 when violence broke out in India’s Uttar Pradesh state. Two farmers were killed after a convoy of cars of the Home Ministry ran over a group of striking farmers. They were staging a demonstration on the road to protest against farm laws. In subsequent violence, two other farmers were killed by the police. Indian farmers had been protesting for over a year against the adoption of farm laws that will benefit corporations at the cost of millions of farmers. Police response became increasingly violent. In August 2021, in the northern Haryana state, one farmer was killed and ten others injured in police action during a protest against the farm laws.

Murders

Many garment workers were injured on 13 June 2021 following a police crackdown on strikes at Lenny Fashions and Lenny Apparels in the Dhaka export processing zone (DEPZ), Ashulia, Dhaka, Bangladesh. The workers were demanding their wages after the closure of the factory. Garment worker Jesmin Begum, thirty-two years old, suffered fatal injuries after she hit an iron pole while running away from the site of the protest as police violently dispersed the demonstrators. Many workers were injured when police fired rubber bullets, threw tear-gas shells, used water cannons and baton-charged protesting workers. Over 6,000 workers lost their jobs when Lenny Fashion and Lenny Apparels, a subsidiary of the Hong Kong-based Must Garment, closed on 20 January 2021. Management said it would pay unpaid wages by May, but the company never fulfilled its commitment.

Murders

At least five people were killed and dozens injured on 17 April 2021 after police opened fire on a crowd of workers protesting to demand unpaid wages and a pay rise at the SS Power Plant, a construction site of the coal-fired plant in the south-eastern city of Chittogram, Bangladesh. The workers were protesting over unpaid wages, unscheduled cuts in their working hours and for a Ramadan holiday and reduced hours during the religious festival.

Murders

In the Philippines, thirty-five-year old trade union leader Dandy Miguel, chairman of the PAMANTIK-Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), was killed on 28 March 2021 in Calamba while on his way home on his motorcycle. Dandy Miguel was also president of Lakas ng Nagkakaisang Manggagawa ng Fuji Electric and a member of the National Council of KMU. Dandy Miguel was shot eight times by unknown assassins. Not long before he was murdered, Dandy had lodged a complaint with the Commission of Human Rights about the extrajudicial killings of nine labour and NGO activists on 7 March, also called Bloody Sunday, in Calabarzon. The Bloody Sunday killings happened after President Duterte openly called on security forces to gun down communists if they carried guns.

In Hong Kong, the authorities all but silenced trade unions and civil society organisations by forcing them to disband after a campaign of repression.Isaac Lawrence / AFP

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