Disgusting jobs - a shame for the world!

For many people, going to work is life threatening. According to UN figures, 6 people die every day due to accidents and illnesses related to work. Today, on International Work Environment Day, we pay attention to the ugly jobs. That they may exist is a shame for the world, writes Kristina Henschen, head of Union to Union.

We see it everywhere and the situation is getting worse. Poor conditions in workplaces around the world are increasing. Insecure employment is increasing and informality characterizes most jobs in poor countries today. This means that employees do not have an employment contract and thus no or few rights. Their work environment is often dangerous and harmful. Even though they work full time or more, they do not have a living wage.

Those who protest and try to organize themselves live dangerously. According to figures from the world trade union ITUC, around one hundred union activists are killed every year, and many more are harassed and discriminated against for their trade union work.

Poverty can be eradicated

The economic inequality is obvious. Today, eight men own wealth equal to the assets of half of the world's poor, 3,6 billion people, according to the latest figures from Oxfam. This inequality forms an ever-increasing precariat, a group of "working poor", and is a painful and shameful reality. This is one of the world's biggest obstacles to development!

But poverty is not natural, to quote the freedom fighter Nelson Mandela. It is created by man and can be eradicated through human actions.

Why then does this work go so slowly? Today, we even have the UN's new global agenda, Agenda 2030, with a special target for the importance of decent jobs, target 8. At the same time, fatal accidents continue to occur, every 15 seconds a person dies from poor working conditions. An additional 317 million are injured each year. There are no figures on how many are discriminated against.

Safe toilets - no nonsense

The lack of secure and private toilets can in these contexts sound like a trivial matter. But even here there is a special UN goal, goal 6. The fact that girls and women do not have access to toilets around the world is also about discrimination - and about the right to a good working environment.

A project that the Swedish union Seko supports, via Union to Union, is aimed, for example, at women who work as bus conductors in India. The traffic is life threatening and the roads are in poor condition. But the most dangerous thing for women is not the traffic accidents, it is the men. The lack of toilets means that every pee break at the roadside becomes a risk of abuse, being injured or even killed. By joining the union, women have been able to demand a safer working environment, and toilets for women have begun to be built along the roads.

Taboo around while at work

The toilet issue is also closely related to the discrimination around menstruation, also a question of a good working environment. Despite the fact that 800 million people menstruate every day, it is associated with shame, taboo and discrimination. Both menstrual protection, toilets and knowledge are often lacking, which leads to millions of people missing parts of their schooling and opportunities to participate fully in society and in working life.

In the textile sector in Cambodia, for example, it is therefore a priority issue to negotiate better access to toilets that are safe, hygienic and gender-segregated. But this struggle goes against the clock, in a model of global supply chain based on exploitation. In Cambodia's clothing industry, wages also relate to the pace of production and it is difficult to take the time to go to the toilet - even to change menstrual pads. And because wages are too low, they are not enough for real menstrual protection, women often use spills and other cloths from production. These are dirty and full of chemicals, the use of which often leads to severe infections.

That the question is linked to the lack of fair conditions is obvious. Of the fifty multinational companies surveyed by the World Trade Union, only six percent of the employees are employed by the companies. The rest belong to what can be described as a shadow labor force, often without good conditions, rights and living wages.

Trade union influence required

A bad work environment is often about a lack of knowledge. Too often it is also a matter of the trade unions in the workplace not being given enough influence. At the same time, we know from Swedish experience that it is a benefit for both employees and employers with collective bargaining that leads to agreements, with a system with, among other things, trade union safety representatives and good work environment work.

An example of how this profit can have an international impact is what has happened in Zambia at the steel plant Good Times Steel, which has received support from the Swedish union IF Metall via Union to Union. There has not been a single fatal workplace accident in the last two years. Previously, the figure was three to five deaths per year. The success lies in the fact that the employees formed a trade union and negotiated a collective agreement. The first union did when the agreement was signed was to focus on the work environment, such as ensuring that there is clean water for the employees to drink. Today, all the necessary protective equipment is also available. The challenge is to get workers to use it in the 30-degree heat, amplified by welding flames and melting furnaces. Therefore, the union holds training courses on workplace safety during working hours.

"Knowing that none of my classmates' children have lost a father in the last two years is great," said Humphrey Chisoko, union president at the factory.

And yes, of course it's amazing. For unsafe conditions with a poor working environment is not natural. They are created by man and can be eradicated through human actions.

Kristina Henschen

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