Workers were denied access to justice in 65% of countries in 2023.
Access to justice and the due process of law are basic principles of the rule of law. In their absence, people are not able to have their voice heard, nor assert their rights. In 97 countries out of 149, workers had no or a reduced access to justice, and the due process of law and justice was denied. Trade union leaders were often detained and prosecuted on trumped-up charges, and their trials were often fraught with a disregard for due process and a lack of impartiality.
84% of countries in Africa denied workers access to justice.Compared with 90% in 2022
In Zimbabwe, the 16 union leaders from the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union, including union president Obert Masaraure, who had been illegally arrested in January 2022, were granted bail by a Magistrate’s Court. Their case was still pending in court. Meanwhile, their salaries have been docked, and the Union Secretary for Education and Research, Gerald Tavengwa, also detained, was discharged from his teaching duties. This targeting of union leaders formed part of a broader state strategy to crush the independent trade union movement and to intimidate workers.
Masaraure was still facing criminal charges of “subverting a constitutional government” following a Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions ZCTU protest action in 2019. The courts continued to dismiss his applications for discharge despite the state’s failure to bring him to trial.
In Cameroon, labour dispute cases often remained pending in courts for years, even decades, leaving workers without proper access to redress.
Three years after their unfair dismissals, Luximun Badal and Shavindra Dinoo Sunassee, respectively president of the Union of Post Office Workers Branch No. 2 and ex-president of the Airports of Mauritius Limited Employees Union, still seek their reinstatement.
Badal had been dismissed by Mauritius Post Ltd. on 18 June 2020, for allegedly refusing a unilateral transfer following disputes over the negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement for the postal workers. The previous agreement had lapsed on 31 December 2017. Sunassee was dismissed a few days later by the Airports of Mauritius Ltd., after several attempts by management to unilaterally vary the terms of a collective bargaining agreement to which Sunassee was opposed.
79% of countries in the Middle East and North Africa denied workers access to justice.No change from 2022
In Iran, long-time labour rights defenders Haleh Safarzadeh and Alireza Saghafi were arrested on 11 March 2022 and immediately taken to Kachuei Prison in Karaj to serve one-year sentences dating from 2019. Safarzadeh, a teacher, and Saghafi, a writer and auto mechanic, work with the Center for Workers’ Rights, informing workers of their fundamental rights and defending victims of repression.
The two were first arrested, together with other workers’ rights advocates, on 26 April 2019, in the run-up to planned May Day celebrations across Iran. They were tried and convicted later that year on spurious charges of ‘propaganda against the system’.
Haleh Safarzadeh was finally given conditional release from prison on 10 August after serving five months in prison. However, Alireza Saghafi remained imprisoned, despite repeated requests for medical furlough to treat his serious health problems.
72% of countries in the Americas denied workers access to justice.Compared with 77% in 2022
In Colombia, the pervasive climate of repression, physical violence and intimidation against workers and trade unionists was compounded by the government’s failure to pursue the many historic cases of murders and other violent crimes. The labour justice system remained broken and only a handful of the hundreds of murder cases were resolved, usually many years later.
In Honduras, the pervasive climate of repression, physical violence and intimidation against workers and trade unionists was compounded by the government’s failure to pursue the many historic cases of murders and other violent crimes. The labour justice system remained broken and only a handful of the hundreds of murder cases were resolved, usually many years later.
In Guatemala, the pervasive climate of repression, physical violence and intimidation against workers and trade unionists was compounded by the government’s failure to pursue the many historic cases of murders and other violent crimes. The labour justice system remained broken and only a handful of the hundreds of murder cases were resolved, usually many years later.
70% of countries in Asia-Pacific denied workers access to justice.No change from 2022
In Myanmar, since the 2021 military coup, at least 402 workers, trade union members and leaders were subjected to arbitrary arrest and were unjustly incarcerated on trumped-up charges. Many public sector workers were subject to arrest as part of reprisals targeting those who took part in strike action, or who subsequently supported the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) – teachers, bank workers, transport workers, doctors and nurses. Thousands of teachers throughout the country were blacklisted and targeted for arrest, because the military feared they would join or support the CDM. All those opposing the military regime faced trials before the military courts and heavy prison sentences, including life imprisonment.
In China, independent labour advocates Wang Jianbing and Huang Xueqin were taken away by unidentified public security officers at Guangzhou airport on 19 September 2021. Since their arrest, their location has remained unknown. Wang had been organising pneumoconiosis workers, as well as family members of the victims of this occupational disease, which affects the lungs.
Shortly after their arrest, public security searched their apartment and summoned around 40 persons related to Wang and Huang for details of Wang’s activist networks, and worker gatherings. His parents in Tianshui, Gansu province, were threatened by public security not to speak about their son’s situation. His family were later informed that Wang was charged with inciting subversion of state power and was detained at Guangzhou No. 1 Detention Center. The lawyer hired by Wang’s family was not given access to Wang until 1st April 2022, through a virtual meeting with his client. According to the lawyer, Wang has been put in solitary confinement for five months and was transferred to the above detention centre only in March 2022. He suffers from poor health, mental torment and depression as a result of months of solitary confinement.
In Malaysia, Sabri bin Umar, a migrant worker, was whipped while in detention at the Tawau prison on 23 June 2022, despite there being an appeal pending at the High Court regarding his conviction. Sabri bin Umar was accused of not having a valid entry and work permit and was later charged under Immigration Act no. 1959/63. However, easily accessible evidence shows that Bin Umar had been a documented migrant worker for the past seven years, and that he was employed by Fu Yee Corporation Sdn Bhd in Tawau, Sabah at the time. His work permit had also been renewed by the Immigration Department in 2022 and was valid for a year.
During the trial, Bin Umar did not have access to representation, and the prosecution presented false evidence leading to his unfair conviction. On 19 April 2022, Bin Umar was sentenced by the Session Court to an 11-month imprisonment and five whippings.
The Immigration Act was amended and, as of August 2002, the sentence of whipping was introduced for use against undocumented migrants. According to the Prisons Department records, 47,914 foreigners were found to have violated the Immigration Act from 2002 to 2008. Of these, 34,923 were whipped.
31% of countries in Europe denied workers access to justice.Compared with 32% in 2022
In Serbia, workers’ access to courts and judicial recourse was severely impeded by the imposition of high legal fees and other expenses. Moreover, workers suffered from undue delays in the adjudication of labour disputes and had to resort to international mechanisms, such as the European Court of Human Rights, to seek justice.
Erzhan Elshibayev, a worker activist in Kazakhstan has been in prison for over two years. He was one of the organisers of the 2019 rallies in the town of Zhanaozen, a town located in the richest oil-bearing region of the country, to demand higher wages for local workers and the creation of jobs for the unemployed.
In October 2019, Elshibayev was sentenced to five years in prison on trumped-up charges. Allegedly, several years before, the activist assaulted an unknown person, inflicting bodily harm. Those charges were denounced by the international community as a form of persecution for his activism.
In North Macedonia, the demonstrations organised by the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Macedonia (KSS) in the spring of 2021 were unduly disrupted by police forces. KSS filed a report with the internal control of the Ministry of Internal Affairs containing evidence and recordings, but it was made clear to the union that no investigation into the matter would be initiated.
Five years following the 10 November 2018 attack on Dimitri Sinyavsky, the chair of the Karaganda Regional Branch of the Sectorial Union of Fuel and Energy Workers, there continues to be no progress in the investigation. An absence of effective investigations and judgements against parties guilty of violent attacks on trade unionists has reinforced the climate of insecurity for victims and impunity for perpetrators, which has been extremely damaging to the exercise of freedom of association rights in Kazakhstan.
In Belarus, following the illegitimate election in 2020, the Lukashenko regime intensified its repression of independent trade unions. In April 2022, the authorities launched a full-scale attack on all independent unions and arrested leaders and activists. More than 30 unionists were detained or had their freedom of movement restricted. On 27 December 2022, the chairman of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP), Aliaksandr Yarashuk, was found guilty of “actions that grossly violate public order” and of “calling for measures aimed at harming national security”. After a show trial, he was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment. Yarashuk had been in custody since 19 April 2022 and had had no access to his family, colleagues or lawyers during his detention.