Colombia was the deadliest country for trade union leaders in 2022.
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. In 2022, trade unionists were murdered in thirteen countries this year in Bangladesh, Colombia, Ecuador, Eswatini, Guatemala, Haiti, Iraq, India, Italy, Lesotho, Myanmar, the Philippines and South Africa.
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.