Right to collective bargaining

Working people mark May Day in Kenya
63%79%

Countries violating the right to collective bargaining increased from 63% of countries in 2014 to 79% of countries in 2022.

Right to collective bargaining

Erosion of collective bargaining

In 2022, serious restrictions to collective bargaining were recorded in 117 countries. The lack of good faith bargaining by employers illustrates the broken social contract. The Global Rights Index has recorded a sustained attack on collective bargaining, a fundamental right for all workers, in the nine editions of the index. Restrictions have been recorded in all regions and in both public and private sectors, reflecting a concerted attempt by employers, at times hand in hand with governments, to curtail the rights of workers.

Workers' rights violations

Middle East and North Africa

100%

100% of countries violated the right to collective bargaining.

Compared with 94% in 2021

Right to collective bargaining

On 9 December 2021, the president of Tunisia issued a circular (No. 20) to all ministries and government institutions that prohibits anyone from negotiating with the unions without the formal and prior authorisation of the head of government.

Right to collective bargaining

In 2021-2022, employers in Oman unilaterally changed the terms of the collective agreement or even stopped implementing its provisions for frivolous reasons.

Right to collective bargaining

In the past year, violations of the right to collective bargaining have increased in Morocco, including targeted dismissals of union representatives and employers’ refusal to engage in collective bargaining. These anti-union measures had a chilling effect on workers’ capacity to defend their rights collectively and negatively impacted collective bargaining, which, as a result, was virtually absent in most companies and sectors. Previous commitments between the government and representatives of trade union confederations have been suspended without implementation.

Right to collective bargaining

At Tel Aviv University, Israel, the management refused to hold negotiations with the Research and Project Workers Employees' Committee, despite it being recognised as representative. The committee had to seek remedy through the courts, which finally ruled in its favour in December 2021.

Right to collective bargaining

In September 2021, 2,000 workers from the Universal Group Co., an Egyptian manufacturer of home appliances, organised a protest, demanding the payment of their wages for July and August and other benefits that had been suspended for a long time. These workers represented five factories out of the nine in the group. The workers especially denounced management violation of the agreement signed in October 2019 with the Ministry of Manpower in which it committed to paying wages. At that time, the ministry had bailed the company and paid the 5,000 workers out of the emergency fund for a period of six months to encourage the company not to lay off workers, but the group proceeded to force the workers to resign.

Right to collective bargaining

In April 2021, the workers of the National Agency for Entrepreneurship Support and Development in Algeria launched a strike by a decision of the National General Assembly of the Trade Union of the Enterprise protesting the refusal of the management to engage in collective bargaining.

Africa

93%

93% of countries violated the right to collective bargaining.

Compared with 95% in 2021

Right to collective bargaining

The National Union of Metal and Allied Industries of Zimbabwe (NUMAIZ) protested workers’ rights violations at Chinese-owned Afrochine Smelting and the total lack of compliance with the laws and existing collective agreements. In the past year, Afrochine failed to pay wages in due time and proceeded to unilaterally terminate 33 workers without prior consultation with the union. Conciliation efforts at the National Employment Council of the ferroalloy industry – a social dialogue platform – failed as Afrochine representatives did not show up at a meeting on 22 September 2021.

Workers at Afrochine live in fear, with no job security, and are being humiliated and beaten up by supervisors on a daily basis. Any attempt at reporting abuses is punished by immediate dismissal.

Afrochine is a subsidiary of the world’s biggest stainless steel product manufacturer, Tsingshan Holding Group, which trades on the London Metals Exchange. Over 1,500 workers are employed at the ferrochrome plant, which is about 75 kilometres from Harare.

Right to collective bargaining

On 21 April 2021, the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) appeared in court opposite Rand Water after the company tried to ban a protected strike called by the union. SAMWU decided to embark on an indefinite protected strike after the employer unilaterally changed the workers’ conditions of service, in particular withdrawing incentive bonuses that workers had been receiving for the last seventeen years. The union had tried several times to meet with the management of Rand Water to convince them to reconsider their decision but to no avail.

Right to collective bargaining

Around 11,000 local government workers in Nairobi, Kenya, went on strike on 13 October 2021 over the non-implementation of a collective bargaining agreement going back to 2013. The workers’ grievances, for years, included lack of promotions, repeated delays in salary payments and failure to remit statutory deductions. Another grievance was lack of personal protective equipment, and more recently at least 11,000 county workers had been without medical cover since July 2021.

After two days, the Kenya County Government Workers’ Union (KCGWU) was told its members could return to work. The union hoped promises regarding the workers’ key demands would be kept, but the government had agreed to workers’ demands before and repeatedly reneged on them.

Problems resurfaced at the beginning of February 2022, and workers gave City Hall 21 days to pay them more than KSh560 million in pending salaries and remit statutory deductions or they would take industrial action.

Asia Pacific

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.

Americas

76%

76% of countries violated the right to collective bargaining.

Compared with 72% in 2021

Right to collective bargaining

In May 2021, Santander Brazil enforced a 55 per cent pay cut on 40 bank union leaders and workers after they made a legal challenge to be paid for overtime hours. Brazil contributes to the biggest slice of profits for Spanish multinational Santander, but instead of paying these workers what they were due, the Brazilian arm of the bank demoted them and hacked their pay by more than half. Facing this arbitrary cut, the bank workers went to court and were able to secure a judgement that restored their pay grade and salaries. However, Santander Brazil has failed to comply with the order despite incurring daily fines due to non-compliance.

Right to collective bargaining

In Uruguay, medical staff unions the Sindicato Médico del Uruguay (SMU), the Federación Médica del Interior (FEMI) and the Sindicato Anestésico Quirúrgico (SAQ) requested a tripartite meeting with employers’ representatives (IAMAC) and the ministry of labour in April 2021 to demand the implementation of the collective agreement that had been concluded only five months before, in December 2020. IAMAC (private sector medical companies in Montevideo and the interior), had reneged on their commitment to pay salary supplements to medical workers. Despite the unions’ efforts, employers persistently refused to comply with their obligations under the collective agreement.

Right to collective bargaining

In 2021, AB InBev Peru implemented personnel restructuring processes without consulting the union organisations. In the restructuring process, the company dismissed three union general secretaries: Luis Samán, José Gayoso, and José Leiva as well as fifteen workers at the northern plant in Motupe, Peru, all of whom are members of the Backus National Union on strike.

Right to collective bargaining

Between April and May 2021, administrative health workers of the Tesai Foundation, a conglomerate of hospitals in the Itaipu region (Paraguay), went on strike for failure by the company to comply with the collective agreement. The workers, supported by their union, the Union of Civil Construction and Service Workers (Siconaps), were demanding the payment of benefits, the right to paid leave and maternity leave, the provision of safety equipment to all personnel, and medical and other guarantees provided for in the Collective Contract of Working Conditions in force. Tesai ignored the demands and continued to violate the agreement.

Right to collective bargaining

Failure to comply with collective agreements remained a common occurrence in Canada. For example, the Ontario Labour Relations Board received 355 unfair labour practice complaints, the principal charges against employers being “illegal discharge of or discrimination against employees for union activity, illegal changes in wages and working conditions and failure to bargain in good faith.”

Europe

54%

54% of countries violated the right to collective bargaining.

No change from 2021

Right to collective bargaining

On 18 March 2022, P&O Ferries, owned by DP World, summarily sacked 800 staff with plans to replace them with cheaper agency workers paid below the minimum wage. This decision came as a shock, as there were no prior consultations with the unions and no prior notice to the workers. News of the mass dismissals was given by the management via a Zoom communication, leaving astounded crews to be forcibly removed from ships by hired security guards.

Unions and politicians alike denounced this scandal, and rallies and solidarity campaigns have been organised all over the United Kingdom and in many other countries.

Right to collective bargaining

In 2021, the Union of Construction and Services of Comisiones Obreras of Cádiz in Spain denounced the repeated breaches of the collective agreement committed by the company ITELYMP, the company in charge of cleaning the facilities of the University of Cádiz. The last breach concerned provisions on leave which the company had unilaterally reduced by two days. Despite the union’s request, the company did not modify its position.

Additionally, ITELYMP elaborated an equality plan without consulting the union representatives.

Right to collective bargaining

Commerce unions and workers in Poland took to the streets on 4 November 2021 to demand better trade union representation, decent pay, work-free Sundays and measures to address chronic understaffing and high workloads. Retail workers in Poland make up 14 per cent of the workforce, yet only three per cent are covered by a collective agreement. Low levels of collective bargaining in the commerce sector have led to poor wages and conditions, including inadequate occupational health and safety measures.

Affiliates of Poland’s national trade union centre, NSZZ Solidarnosc, reported serious violations of trade union rights in many retail companies, including dismissal of trade union leaders and members, discrimination against trade union representatives and members, marginalisation of the role of trade unions, disregard for trade union rights, limited and obstructed access to workers and a lack of genuine dialogue and consultation.

Much of the retail sector in the country is dominated by multinationals, but there is not a single collective agreement with the multinationals. The major retailers operating in Poland include Amazon, Auchan, Carrefour, Castorama, H&M, Jysk, Lidl and Metro.

Right to collective bargaining

In the Netherlands, employers frequently negotiated with yellow unions or the companies’ works council to adopt pay cuts. There is no legislation in the country ensuring that only independent trade unions are allowed to conclude collective agreements or that trade unions take precedence over works councils. As a result, where unions decide on a collective action in the context of a negotiation, employers can undermine unions’ position by simply concluding an agreement with yellow unions or works councils.

Right to collective bargaining

In the Netherlands, FNV has been trying for over fifteen years to reach a collective agreement in the meat processing industry, especially on access of union officials to the workplace. For decades, trade union officials who have attempted to hand out flyers on parking lots were met with intimidation and attacks by employers who even declared that they would only allow access of their premises to trade union officials when they are legally forced to do so. The meat sector has a high percentage of migrant workers who are particularly vulnerable to abuse and precarity.

Right to collective bargaining

On 8 February 2022, a strike in Lithuanian enterprise AB "Achema" was organised to protest the employer’s continued refusal to engage in collective bargaining. For several years the union had been trying to engage in a constructive dialogue with the company’s management and had taken all possible measures to reach a settlement. Unfortunately, the employer never engaged in social dialogue. Additional tensions emerged when the employer unilaterally adopted a new remuneration system.

Achema is a producer of nitrogen fertilizers and chemical products in Lithuania and the Baltic states. Currently, there is no collective bargaining within the company, and the state labour inspectorate is investigating possible violations of the workers’ rest and working-time arrangements.

Right to collective bargaining

Management at the biopharmaceutical company AbbVie in Carrigtwohill, Ireland, consistently refused to engage with representatives of the workers’ union, the Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU), for collective bargaining purposes.

This refusal persisted despite two recommendations by the Labour Court in 2017 and 2020 to engage with SIPTU representatives on behalf of their members “in relation to all matters associated with terms and conditions of employment including pay”.

SIPTU representatives wrote to management on a number of occasions in relation to its failure to fully implement the two Labour Court recommendations and engage in collective bargaining with the union. Management still refused to respond to or engage with their union either directly or indirectly.

Finally, at the beginning of August 2021, SIPTU members at the AbbVie plant commenced industrial action in the form of an overtime ban in the manufacturing process. Two weeks later no progress had been made, and the union announced they were considering escalating their action.

Right to collective bargaining

In Greece, violation of collective agreements were common, especially in the banking sector. Companies often refused to apply existing collective labour agreements. This behaviour was further compounded by the adoption of Law 4808/2021 of 19 June 2021, which provides that in case of challenge of a collective agreement before the courts, the collective agreement is suspended until a final court decision is issued. The law bears the risk of suspending the implementation of collective agreements for long periods of time, pending review by the judiciary, and thus depriving workers of the benefit of the negotiated provisions.

Right to collective bargaining

On 8 February 2021, the Finnish forest industry company United Paper Mills (UPM) suddenly announced it would no longer negotiate terms of employment. Instead, conditions would be determined without any collective agreement, meaning in practice that they would be unilaterally dictated by the employer.

This decision was preceded in October 2020 by an announcement by the forest industry employers' association, the Finnish Forest Industries Federation, that it would no longer participate in collective bargaining. National level collective agreements would end, and all collective agreements would be done at company level.

Appeals from the trade unions representing the workers, the Finnish Paper Workers’ Union Paperiliitto, the Finnish Industrial Union Teollisuusliitto, and Trade Union Pro, to negotiate a company level agreement with them were refused.

On 31 August 2021, UPM announced it would define the terms of work on the basis of “labour law, UPM practices and personal employment contracts”. According to a calculation UPM presented to their employees, pay would drop by one third from January 2022 onwards. Many benefits agreed in the collective agreement would also disappear.

Right to collective bargaining

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, a restructuring plan for seven coal mines owned by the state-owned Elektroprivreda BiH (EPBiH) power company, employing about 7,000 workers, was agreed between EPBiH and the unions in May 2021.

On 22 November 2021, however, the EPBiH imposed new working regulations that violated the collective bargaining agreement, slashing the miners' basic wage to 570 Bosnian marka (US$328) from 850 marka (US$489).

Thousands of miners halted work on 23 November and protested outside the seat of government in Sarajevo. They called for the minimum wage to be set at 1,000 Bosnian marka (US$575) while also demanding the payment of pension insurance, the resignation of the mines’ CEOs and the resignation of the head of EPBiH. Protests continued for a week until the government stepped in to mediate.

Right to collective bargaining

In June 2021, the president of the Union of State, Local Governments and Public Service Employees of Armenia addressed a letter to the mayor of Yerevan, offering to start negotiations on a sectoral collective agreement for the city employees, as provided by the labour code. However, this proposal was bluntly rejected by the city administration. Earlier in the year, the leader of the Yerevan City Hall workers’ union was unlawfully dismissed.

Working people mark May Day in Kenya, one of the 117 countries that violated the right to collective bargaining.Robert Bonet / Nurphoto Via AFP

Nine-year trends: Right to collective bargaining

Companies violating the right to collective bargaining

National Agency for Entrepreneurship

Algeria