Colombia was the deadliest country for trade union leaders in 2022.
Conflict is at its highest since 1945. According to the UN, around two billion people are living in conflict zones. In the year leading up to the conflict in Ukraine, 84 million people were forced to leave their homes because of conflict, violence and human rights violations. Workers have been on the front lines standing up for human and labour rights as violent attacks are used to silence calls for peace, democracy and rights.
Violent attacks against and targeting of trade union leaders increased in 2022. Seventeen trade unions leaders were murdered this year in Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Iraq, the Philippines and South Africa. Even more trade unionists were attacked, harassed and threatened. In Colombia alone, another six murder attempts and 99 deaths threats were recorded this year.
Trade unionists are being murdered as they represent workers’ and their collective rights. Too often there is no justice for workers and their families as government and employers act with impunity. The increasing use of violent attacks on workers and the use of murder are being used to silence workers.
Colombia was the deadliest country for trade union leaders in 2022.
Workers were murdered in Eswatini, Lesotho and South Africa.
On 19 May 2021, Motselisi Manase, a woman factory worker, was fatally shot by police during protests over pay as violent clashes erupted between factory workers and police in Maseru, Lesotho. The strike started in mid-May 2021. Workers faced heavy repression from the police forces, who claimed that the strikers were “in contravention of Covid-19 regulations”. The police used water cannons and live rounds to disperse the strikers.
On 20 October 2021, Eswatini public sector and health workers marched to the Ministry of Justice to deliver a petition calling for a salary review, an end to the casualisation and privatisation of the public service and an end to attacks on trade unions. The protestors were met with tear gas and rubber bullets from police. Two buses ferrying public workers to the peaceful gathering were also stopped by the police and their passengers shot at with live bullets, and a student was killed by a stray bullet.
A bus driver was shot dead and another injured during clashes with police as drivers took part in a wage protest in the small town of Malkerns, Eswatini, on 13 October 2021. Further to the killing,transport workers joined in the wider protests in the country, calling for democratic reforms, and blocked several key roads across country. The following day, police shot and killed an individual at a roadblock in Mpaka town. On 20 October, security forces cracked down on protests in Mbabane and Manzini, killing one and injuring at least 80, including 30 by gunshot. The next day the government banned all protests and shut down the social media platform Facebook.
On 19 August 2021, Malibongwe Mdazo, a campaigner and organiser for the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), was assassinated in broad daylight at the office of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) in Rustenburg. He was shot as he was exiting with a group of NUMSA members from the CCMA offices, in full view of the public. The hitmen fired at least ten bullets.
NUMSA officials were participating in conciliation at the CCMA as part of the verification process for NUMSA members at Newrack, one of the contract companies at Impala Platinum Holdings (Implats), which outsources most of its workforce in Rustenburg. Another NUMSA member and a member of the public were also shot and injured in the shooting.
Mdazo was among those who led the recent strike where the union was challenging contractors at Implats to grant organisational rights to NUMSA. Implats was notorious for its union-bashing attitude, which even led to the unilateral dismissal of all NUMSA’s interim committees.
Workers were murdered in Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Haiti.
On 14 May 2021, Felipe Andrés Pérez Pérez, union leader of SINALTRAINAL Seccional Envigado, was murdered in Medellín as he was coming back from a protest held in the framework of the national strike.
On the morning of 26 November 2021, Clemito Rengifo Salazar, a grassroots worker of the Sindicato de Maestros de Nariño (SIMANA), was carrying out his duties as an educator at the San Francisco de Asís Madrigal Educational Institution, in Policarpa (department of Nariño), when unidentified men abducted him from the school, in the presence of his students. His lifeless body was found later in the afternoon hours.
A journalist was killed and five workers were injured in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on 23 February 2022 when police opened fire on peaceful demonstrators opposing the amount of the meagre wage increase announced by the government following weeks of protest. The cost of living has been steadily increasing in Haiti and violence has pervaded the country as gangs often wielded more power than the government.
On 7 May 2021, Cinthia del Carmen Pineda Estrada, 35 years old, was fatally shot in front of her house in the Chaparro Zacapa neighbourhood (Guatemala). Estrada was a primary school teacher and leader of the Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Educación de Guatemala (STEG). The Public Prosecutor's Office has not provided any information on the perpetrators or the causes of this crime.
In Ecuador, Sandro Arteaga Quiroz, secretary of the Union of Workers of the Provincial Government of Manabí, was killed on 24 January 2022 on a highway as he was exiting his truck. Quiroz, who at the time of the attack was with one of his sons, was shot at least twice in the head by unidentified gunmen, who then fled the scene. The leader had received death threats via telephone a day before and until hours before the murder. The National Police carried out ground and air operations in search of the assassins. No arrests have been made so far.
This year, thirteen trade unionists were victims of targeted assassinations in Colombia.
On 11 August 2021, Carlos Fredy Londoño Bautista, a member of the Asociación de Educadores del Meta Adem-Fecode affiliate, was murdered as he was about to start his working day in Fuente de Oro, Meta. On the morning of 11 August, Carlos Freddy went to the school where he worked, and on the way he was approached by assassins on a motorcycle. They shot him four times in front of some of his students.
Workers were murdered in Bangladesh, India, Myanmar and the Philippines.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Working people were murdered in Italy and Kazakhstan.
When the Kazakh people started organising peaceful protests for democracy and social justice in January 2022, the police and armed forces responded with extreme brutality, killing more than 160 people and arresting more than 8,000 people.
In Italy, thirty-seven-year old Adil Belakhdim was killed on 18 June 2021 in front of a Lidl distribution centre in Biandrate, northern Italy. He and 25 other logistics unionised workers were protesting at poor working conditions outside the entrance to a warehouse. A truck driver from a third-party supplier trying to leave the warehouse drove through a line of picketers blocking a gate. The vehicle struck Belakhdim and dragged him for several yards. Adil was killed, and two other protesters, also hit by the truck, suffered minor injuries.
Workers were murdered in Iraq.
Following a peaceful demonstration by the oil and gas workers in Dhi Qar, Iraq, on 14 February 2022, Ahmad Ali Al-Zaidi, a trade unionist and employee at an oil facility, was assassinated in retaliation for his activism during the demonstrations. Over the past year, strikes in oil and electricity sectors were systematically disrupted by security forces. Workers and trade union leaders have been repeatedly subjected to internal investigation procedures and disciplinary measures for their legitimate trade unions activities. In some cases, they have been transferred to other companies or other positions and threatened with legal penalties.
Countries which exposed workers to violent attacks increased from 29% of countries in 2014 to 34% of countries in 2022.
2022 was marked by a significant increase in the degree of violence applied to repress strikes and in the disproportionate use of lethal weapons to curb demonstrations. Often, police and army forces have used tear gas, batons, rubber bullets and even live ammunition against protesting workers, causing deaths and serious injuries.
Workers experienced violence in 43% of countries in Asia-Pacific.Compared with 35% in 2021
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.
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.
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.
Workers experienced violent attacks in 42% of countries in the Middle East and North Africa.Compared with 44% in 2021
On 14 February 2022, Muhammad Al-Saidi, a member of the General Federation of Trade Unions of Workers in Iraq and a member of the General Union of Workers in the Oil and Gas Sector, was severely beaten during a peaceful demonstration in Dhi Qar, and several workers were unlawfully detained. Over the past year, strikes in oil and electricity sectors were systematically disrupted by security forces. Workers and trade union leaders have been repeatedly subjected to internal investigation procedures and disciplinary measures for their legitimate trade union activities. In some cases, they have been transferred to other companies or other positions and threatened with legal penalties.
On 7 September 2021, between 1,000 and 2,000 of migrant workers from Nepal and India employed by Nasser S. Al Hajri Corporation W.L.L (NSH), Gulf Asia Contracting LLC, and the Bahrain Petroleum Company (BAPCO) staged a week-long protest in Bahrain over poor working and living conditions after one of them suffered sunstroke and had to be hospitalised. The companies called the police and their own security personnel to retaliate against the strikers. Security personnel began to intimidate and harass the workers. Some workers were severely beaten, sustaining acute injuries, including bloody bruising. Public access to the workers’ camp, based in an isolated area in Sitra, had been denied since the protest began.
In May 2021, Algerian security forces cracked down on a sit-in organised by the National Committee for the Defense of the Rights of the Unemployed to demand jobs and employment assistance measures. Police used excessive force against protesting unemployed workers to disperse them, inuring some workers.
Workers experienced violent attacks in 36% of countries in the Americas.Compared with 40% in 2021
On 16 June 2021, Edgar Alejandro Talento and Jaime Col Ical, members of the company union at Fritolay Guatemala, were attacked by unknown assailants. Jaime escaped unscathed, but Edgar was severely injured and taken to the hospital.
In February 2022, as Quironsalud workers, a subsidiary of the German multinational Fresenius in Colombia, organised in a trade union and requested the opening of collective bargaining negotiations, Julian Parra and Claudia López, two of their elected leaders, received death threats. Claudia reported the details of these threats to local police, while Julian was forced to flee the country. International calls for Fresenius to publicly denounce these threats remained unheeded.
Members of the Asociación Nacional de Enfermeras y Enfermeros Auxiliares de Honduras (ANEEAH) took to the streets to protest the murder the day before of their colleague, nursing student Keyla Martínez, which had occurred while she was in the custody of the National Police. In response to the protests, police officers violently beat up the workers, including union member Agustín Sánchez, who was left with serious injuries to his left shoulder.
In Honduras, during the month of October 2021, union leader Darlin Oviedo, president of the garment workers' union Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Compañía Jasper (SITRAJASPER), and the union's general secretary, Selvin Peña, were constantly followed by unidentified men. Oviedo was even chased by a heavily armed motorbike driver who threatened to shoot him, but fortunately the union leader was able to weave his way through traffic and escape. The threats began when workers demonstrated to demand that the garment factory reinstate workers seeking work after COVID-19 restrictions were eased.
On 10 February 2022, for the second day in a row, police fired tear gas and beat protestors with batons outside the SONAPI Free Trade Zone in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Striking workers were calling on Prime Minster Ariel Henry to increase the minimum wage in the garment industry from 500 gourdes a day (US$4.80) to 1,500 gourdes.
On 30 August 2021, members of the Sindicato de Trabajadores General Portuario, SINTRAGENPORT, of the Empresa Portuaria Nacional Santo Tomás de Castilla received death threats by unidentified individuals who called them. Members threatened were all members of the Board of Directors: Victor Oliva, general secretary; Marcos Eliú Castellanos Nufio, deputy general secretary; Edwin Martínez, secretary of finance; Rafael Aquino, secretary of inter-union relations; Arturo Arzú, secretary of social prevention; José Eduardo Saldaña, secretary of sports; and Melvin Larios, secretary of the consultative council. The union had denounced anomalies and acts of corruption in procurements.
On 31 March 2022, Carlos Mancilla and his family members received anonymous phone calls warning that they were being watched and mentioning each person in the family by name. The callers sent a photo of Mancilla’s house and said that they had followed his daughter but held back from killing her.
Mancilla is general secretary of the trade union centre CUS-G, president of Guatemala’s Tripartite Commission on Labor Relations and Freedom of Association, and a titular member of the ITUC General Council. These events took place in the context of increasing insecurity and attacks on the union movement in Guatemala and in addition to an explosion of unresolved labour disputes and a campaign to discredit and stigmatise workers’ representatives.
On 12 August 2021, union leaders of the National Union of Food Workers in Colombia, SINTRAIMAGRA and SINALTRAINAL, were threatened in Bugalagrande, Valle. On entering the headquarters of the Bugalagrande branch of SINTRAIMAGRA, the secretary found an envelope with a leaflet headed Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia and below with the logo of Las Águilas Negras, Bloque Occidental de Colombia, and a USB in which the following trade unionists were designated as “military targets”: Edwin Mejía, Francisco Vásquez, Fernando Castaño, Carlos Soto, Juan Camilo Jaramillo, Andrés Rubio, Onofre Esquivel, Wilson Riaño, Luis Herbert Peñaloza, Frank Acevedo, Gustavo Bedoya and Martin Agudelo.
On 29 April 2021, during demonstrations in the municipality of Copacabana, Antioquia (Colombia), a teacher and activist of the Antioquia Teachers' Association (Adida) was recording a police procedure with his mobile phone camera. At that moment, he was assaulted by members of the national police, who took his mobile phone and beat him. Subsequently, when he went to the police headquarters to claim his mobile phone, he was arbitrarily detained.
In Colombia, on 25 November 2021, on the eve of the elections for the designation of the leadership of the union Guincheros, Maquinistas y Grúas Móviles, the head of the union, Roberto Coria, who was seeking re-election, was the victim of an attempt on his life at the door of his home, where he was shot and sustained injuries. Days earlier there had been a similar attempt on his life, which was foiled because the assailant's weapon misfired. The attempts on Coria’s life were linked to the union elections, and it is believed that the attacks were perpetrated by a yellow union supported by the employers.
Workers experienced violence in 31% of countries in Africa.Compared with 33% in 2021
On 12 January 2022, Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) members engaged in a protest action at the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) building, where the National Joint Negotiating Council (NJNC) meeting was taking place between the government and trade unions. The demonstrators were demanding the restoration of their salaries to 2018 levels – levels prior to the government’s implementation of austerity measures. As the teachers gathered at the venue, police arrived with guns and batons. The teachers were threatened, assaulted and made to lie on their stomachs. Sixteen leaders of ARTUZ were arrested, including the ARTUZ president, Obert Masaraure.
Since 22 November 2021, five thousand workers at Clover, which is South Africa’s largest dairy company and is owned by Israeli company Milco, have been on strike in response to job losses, pay cuts and health and safety concerns. Clover’s response was to hire a private police company armed with military vehicles and machine guns to intimidate the workers and break the strike. Workers faced threats, petrol bomb attacks and rubber bullets. On the nights of 7 and 8 January 2022, the cars of two striking workers were petrol bombed. On the night of 9 January, five carloads of men visited two striking workers and demanded that they end the strike. On the same night, another three striking workers received threatening phone calls demanding that they end the strike.
On 17 May 2021, striking civil servants led by Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) leader Ayuba Wabba were attacked by a mob mobilised by Governor El-Rufai while peacefully exercising their rights to protest. On 18 May 2021, the state government announced its decision to immediately dismiss all civil servants who took part in what is referred to as an unlawful strike.
On 26 April 2021, police officers attending a worker protest at the Thetsane industrial area in Maseru, Lesotho, shot at protesters with rubber bullets, leaving three hospitalised. The victims were part of a group of protesters who had gathered at the factories to demand a salary increase. Hundreds of factory workers had downed tools and organised a picket, which was eventually brutally dispersed by armed police officers.
On 20 May 2021, the police went to the home of Barry Abdoulaye, president of the Telecoms Union (FESATEL) in Guinea, at 2:45 a.m. and asked to enter. The doorman standing guard refused. The police told him to enter himself to look for a member of Mr Abdoulaye's family to talk to the police. After the doorman refused again, the police finally left the premises. This incident occurred as FESATEL expressed its opposition to the Guinean government's plan to impose a tax on all mobile phone calls in the country, which would have negative repercussions on investments of mobile phone companies and eventually on employment.
After participating in a picket in front of the Omar Bongo University in Gabon, Professor Mathurin Ovono Ebe, president of the Omar Bongo University section of the National Union of Teachers and Researchers (SNEC), was abducted by armed men at around 7 p.m. as he was returning home. The trade unionist was brutalised and threatened by unknown men. He filed a complaint with the police.
In May 2021 Sipho Shiba, a bus conductor based in Manzini, Eswatini, was assaulted by three police officers while taking part in a protest by public transport workers. A video clip was posted on social media showing the police officers hurling insults at the conductor and assaulting him, kicking him and using their fists. Mr Shiba was left with injuries to his ear and his left arm. On 2 June, the Royal Eswatini Police Service decided to suspend the three officers, pending disciplinary proceedings against them.
Workers experienced violent attacks in 26% of countries in Europe.Compared with 12% in 2021
In the early days of January 2022, workers at Farplas automotive factory in Kocaeli province, Turkey, demanded a wage increase. Finding insufficient the pay rise offer made on 19 January, the workers halted work at the factory in protest, and the employer started negotiating with the United Metalworkers' Union, promising that no workers would be dismissed in this process. While production resumed the next day, the employer summarily dismissed nearly 150 workers, both members and non-members of the union, referring to their one-day strike as justification for their dismissal. In protest, the dismissed workers of Farplas decided to strike inside the factory. Police stormed the Farplas factory, dispersing the workers with pepper gas. Two people fainted during the intervention. One worker had his leg broken.
CGT activists were violently attacked in Paris and in Lyon, France, during a rally May Day 2021. Individuals damaged vehicles, made racist and homophobic insults, made remarks castigating the CGT's "communism", and called the CGT "collabos". The CGT counted no less than 21 injured, including four hospitalised in Paris. An investigation was opened for "deliberate violence and damage in a meeting" by the Paris public prosecutor's office.
In Belarus, on 5 March 2021, officers of the District Department of Interior in the City of Minsk disrupted the founding conference of the students’ free trade unions. Breaking into the facility in plain clothes with masked faces and no insignia, they resorted to violence, apprehending several participants of the meeting who were later on sentenced to 15 days of detention for “defying a legitimate instruction of an officer”. To justify this violent interference, the authorities claimed that the event was held by an illegal organisation. Yet the Free Trade Union of Belarus, which had organised the conference, is an officially registered and a functioning organisation.