Countries which exposed workers to violent attacks increased from 29% of countries in 2014 to 30% of countries in 2023.
Workers were exposed to violence in 44 countries in 2023. In many countries, strikes and social protests were repressed with disproportionate force by the state armed forces and the police. Endemic violence in the Americas continued to affect workers and their representatives, while in Africa trade union leaders were the victims of targeted physical attacks and threats. Increasingly, trade unionists are being murdered as they represent workers and their collective rights. Too often there is no justice for workers or their families, as government and employers continue to act with impunity. In 2023, trade unionists were murdered in eight countries: Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Eswatini, Guatemala, Peru and Sierra Leone.
Workers experienced violent attacks in 53% of countries in the Middle East and North Africa.Compared with 42% in 2022
In Lebanon, trade unions recorded several instances of beatings, intimidation, and harassment of trade union members to force them to withdraw from their representative organisations or to drop complaints. In other cases, employers resorted to docking pay and arbitrary dismissals.
Workers experienced violence in 48% of countries in Asia-PacificCompared with 43% in 2022
Alipio “Ador” Juat, a workers’ rights advocate and an organiser of the workers’ union Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), and Elizabeth “Loi” Magbanua, also a full-time organiser for KMU, disappeared in Manila, the Philippines, on 3 May 2022. They had a meeting in Barangay Punturin, Valenzuela, with other labour organisers. They left after the meeting ended at around 7pm and have not been seen since.
Loi and Ador had recently helped organise a campaign for the immediate payment of 10,000 Philippine Pesos (US$182) unemployment assistance for displaced workers and had been building a network to fight demolition threats in the Parola Compound in Tondo, Manila.
Two more prominent organisers of labourers went missing on 3 July. Elgene “Leleng” Mungcal and Ma. Elena “Cha” Cortez Pampoza had both been subject to red tagging, which refers to harassment and persecution because of suspected communist tendencies, death threats and surveillance because of an individual’s activism.
Family members of Ador and Loi filed a petition for a writ which was granted on 22 August by the Supreme Court. The two were believed to be victims of extrajudicial arrest and detention, and the military were thought to be behind their disappearance.
In September, the Court of Appeal ruled that some military officers and other officials were “accountable for the enforced disappearance and continued disappearance of Elizabeth ‘Loi’ Magbanua and Alipio ‘Ador’ Juat”.
Dyan Gumanao and Armand Dayoha were abducted on 10 January 2023 at a port in Cebu, the Philippines, and were detained by state security forces in a resort before they were rescued on 16 January 2023.
Gumanao and Dayoha were forced into an SUV and blindfolded by suspected elements of state security forces. According to the victims’ accounts, while they were being detained, they underwent interrogation and questioning about their political activities.
On 15 January, Dyan Gumanao was able to send information on where they were being held. On 16 January, family members and colleagues of the couple were able to rescue them.
Dayoha, 27, is an instructor at the University of the Philippines Cebu and organiser for the Alliance of Health Workers, while Gumanao, 28, is the project coordinator of the Community Empowerment Resource Network and regional coordinator of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers.
Weeks before the incident, both had confided to their families and colleagues that they were under surveillance and had been harassed by people they believed were state agents.
In India, Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) officers baton-charged contract workers employed by the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) on 22 August 2022. The CISF was trying to disperse a demonstration at the gates of the power station in Ramagundam, Peddapalli district, in Telangana. The workers were protesting to demand that management negotiate a new work agreement. More than 20 protestors were injured and sent to hospital.
The NTPC workers had organised a meeting under the direction of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) to protest the management’s negligence over implementing the wage agreement, which had been pending for the past four years. Workers tried to make their way to the gate after the meeting to protest.
On 18 January 2023, the offices of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and the Korean Health and Medical Workers’ Union’s (KHMU) were targeted by the Korean intelligence agency (NIS).
On the morning of the 18 January, the NIS and the National Police Agency (NPA) raided nearly a dozen of the KCTU offices over alleged espionage activities linked to North Korea. The NIS said it had obtained a search-and-seizure warrant from the court for the labour union on charges of violation of the National Security Act.
Along with the KCTU headquarters in central Seoul and the Korean Health and Medical Workers’ Union office on Yeouido, the authorities simultaneously raided the KIA Motor workers’ union office in Gwangju, as well as the houses of four union members suspected of allegedly breaching the law.
The KCTU officials attempted to block the officers from entering, demanding the raid be carried out in the presence of a lawyer, but the investigators pushed ahead and launched the raid, which lasted about 10 hours.
On the same day, around 20 investigators from the NIS and the NPA searched the premises of the KHMU, while more than 200 police officers filled the entrance to the KHMU building.
Raids continued on 19 January as police targeted construction unions affiliated to the KCTU and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU).
This is not the first act of repression by the Korean government against the union movement. In 2021, the president of the KCTU was arrested and in December 2022, the authorities tried to raid union offices to break a strike by truck drivers.
Between June and August 2022, there were repeated incidents of police attacks on former and current workers demonstrating outside the NagaWorld Hotel and Casino, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, resulting in injuries.
Former employees had been protesting outside the casino since NagaWorld laid off 1,329 workers in April 2021. The company had used the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to restructure and had targeted union members in its layoffs. The strike began because of this in December 2021. As protests continued, the local authorities arrested dozens of union activists, and police officers forcibly removed strikers from the site.
At least 10 protesters were injured on 27 June 2022 when police violently broke up a group of former and current casino workers. In another incident on 22 July, laid-off worker Pov Reaksmey was struck, and fell to the road, while she and other protesters tried to walk up to NagaWorld.
There were more violent clashes, notably on 11 August when strikers from the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld Hotel and Casino, who were trying to access the area in front of the casino, were attacked as they tried to move past metal barricades. Around 80 police and mixed security forces then began violently hitting, kicking and shoving the mostly women union members to stop them from passing the barricades. At least 17 women were injured during the clash. One woman was reportedly hit in the face by a uniformed officer, which left her momentarily unconscious and bleeding from a gash on her nose.
One of the protestors, Yang Sophorn, later received a letter from the Ministry of Labour warning her that she would be punished if she continued her “illegal activities”.
In November 2022, police in Zhengzhou, China beat workers protesting over working conditions and pay at Foxconn, the biggest factory for iPhones, as the country’s Covid-19 cases hit a new daily high. In video footage, police were shown kicking and hitting a protester with clubs after he grabbed a metal pole that had been used to strike him.
Thousands of employees had walked away from Foxconn following complaints about unsafe working conditions and amid severe frustration over Covid restrictions in various areas across China.
At least 16 textile workers from Regent Textile Mills, in Bangladesh were injured on 4 April 2022 when they were baton-charged by police. Several hundred workers from the factory, which closed on 16 March, gathered in front of its gates to collect salary arrears. The workers were not allowed to enter the factory and consequently ended up blocking the road. When the police tried to remove them, heavy-handedly, a clash ensued and the police resorted to a baton charge, leaving four workers requiring hospital treatment.
Further protests were held in June and July outside the factory, with workers continuing to demand their unpaid arrears for the past 10 months. Despite repeated promises to pay the outstanding salaries, Regent Textiles have failed to keep their word.
Workers experienced violent attacks in 32% of countries in the Americas.Compared with 36% in 2022
In Colombia, Oliver Orobio Díaz, chair of the National Union of Branch Workers, Services of the Transport and Logistics Industry of Colombia (SNTT), Buenaventura branch, and employed at the Buenaventura Container Terminal (TCBUEN) has been victim of death threats since 2016.
On 18 April 2022, he was the victim of an attempted abduction. While he was driving through the Colinas de Comfamar neighbourhood, he was approached by two men on a motorcycle, who, without saying a word, tried to open the front door of his vehicle, telling him to head towards the interior of Barrio la Fortaleza. This forced him to speed up his vehicle, and he was able to escape. The next day, a threatening pamphlet appeared at the door of his residence. Due to these acts of violence, the union leader was forced to leave the country in exile.
Workers experienced violence in 21% of countries in Africa.Compared with 31% in 2022
On 10 November 2022, Eswatini’s armed forces opened fire on a group of transport workers protesting the arrest and detention of five colleagues, leaving several injured. According to reports, three people were hospitalised with gunshot wounds.
In Zimbabwe, Robert Muwawa was abducted on 22 June 2022 after leading a strike at Strauss Logistics. The drivers at Strauss Logistics had embarked on industrial action over “victimisation in the transport industry,” according to the Zimbabwe Truck Drivers Union (ZTDU) which represents haulage truck drivers.
Muwawa, who was Strauss Logistics Workers’ Committee Secretary, went missing on 22 June after receiving threatening calls from the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) in Southerton.
It was reported that Muwawa was later found “and picked up by good Samaritans”. He had been brutalised and was left traumatised, but he was alive. While held captive he had been tortured and threatened with death.
Despite intimidation and harassment by the police and the army to stop the protest, textile and garment workers in Eswatini continued their strike for a living wage of at least SLZ 15 per hour or SLZ 2,983 (US$183) per month.
On 28 April 2022 a car belonging to Sibonelo Tsabedze, the Nhlangano Organiser of the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA), was burned by unknown people after Tsabedze had led the protest in Nhlangano earlier in the week. Another ATUSWA leader was later targeted. Wander Mkhonza, ATUSWA Secretary General had his home at Thunzini petrol-bombed on the morning of 4 May 2022.
Security forces were going as far as visiting workers’ homes and demanding that the workers go back to work or face eviction from their places of residence. Teargas was fired into some of the residences.
Workers experienced violent attacks in 15% of countries in Europe.Compared with 26% in 2022
Private school teachers gathered in Ankara, Turkey, on 30 August 2022 to protest low wages and poor working conditions. The demonstration was organised by the Private Sector Teachers’ Union, which has nearly 4,000 members in 60 provinces of the country.
The teachers attempted to march to the Ministry of National Education. Police surrounded and blocked them, and used pepper spray on the teachers when they insisted on marching. Seven people, including two lawyers, were detained during the incidents.