By Claire West
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has published a new five year international development strategy, setting out how it plans to use members' money and grants from the government and other organisations to raise wages and improve rights for some of the world's poorest workers.
The document, Global justice, global solidarity, has four key priorities, to:
enable workers to build democratic and accountable unions, states and institutions;
secure equality and social justice through the union movement;
support vulnerable workers to help improve their working lives; and,
ensure international trade and investment promote decent work.
Launching the strategy, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Unions are tackling poverty pay and exploitation at work all over the world. Our new strategy takes the lessons unions have learnt in Britain - about vulnerable work, the need for a voice in the workplace, and equal rights for women - and shares them with unions in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
'Our plan as UK trade unionists is to assist workers in countries like Iraq and Zimbabwe and help them build democratic societies. We want to help reduce the spread and stigma of AIDS in sub-saharan Africa, and plan to use events like London Olympics to persuade major multinationals to make sure no worker involved in supplying goods for 2012 is badly treated.'
The strategy's foreword is written by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark who is now head of the UN Development Programme. She says:
'The TUC's vision of productive, sustainable, and decent work for all is central to the pursuit of human development. Development is about far more than just increasing GDP per head, it must also be about improving people's ability to shape their own lives.
'Through union organisations workers can have a more effective say, not only on wages and conditions, but also on the wide range of policies which have an impact on their lives. Free trade unions are an indispensable component of a democratic society.'
Global justice, global solidarity contains a number of case studies to illustrate the work that the TUC and its member unions are involved in around the world, including work with Nepalese domestic workers like Rohini Prasad Dahal. Rohini started work aged ten, and has worked for half a dozen different families in the last eight years. He says:
'One house owner treated me like a thief and if they went out, they would lock the doors and lock me out too. They would only give me leftover food to eat, dirty bedding to sleep on and old clothes to wear. I had no day off, and during the first five years, I received no pay from any employer.'
Rohini is probably the youngest union General Secretary in the world, and at just 18 years old, the union he heads, the Nepal Independent Domestic Workers' Union (NIDWU), is increasing its influence with support from the TUC as part of a global fight for rights at work for domestic workers. The union was only set up a few years ago, but already it has almost 1,000 members.