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19 September, 2008


The United Nations labour agency today expressed concern at the recent sentencing of an activist in Myanmar to two years of hard labour, saying it raises questions about the honouring of an agreement between the Asian country and the agency.

The International Labour Office, the permanent secretariat of the International Labour Organization (ILO), called on the Government of Myanmar to urgently review the sentence of U Thet Way and immediately release the activist.

“The ILO governing body has been watching this case with interest and in March of this year expressed the expectation that he would retain his freedom,” the agency said in a press release issued from its headquarters in Geneva.

“This expectation was reconfirmed by the 97th Session of the International Labour Conference in June of this year. The case has been the subject of direct discussion with the Government at a senior level,” the ILO added.

U Thet Way has facilitated the lodging of complaints on behalf of victims of forced labour, including under-age recruitment into the army, and many of these complaints have been successfully resolved, according to the ILO.

The agency said this was in line with the Supplementary Understanding, an agreement in force between Myanmar’s Government and the ILO.

“The Supplementary Understanding provides full protection and retaliation for persons making or supporting complaints of forced labour, including under-age recruitment. The charge on which he was sentenced may formally be unrelated to his ILO-related activities; two further charges with direct links to the ILO were withdrawn before final sentencing.

“The sentence given is heavy and the maximum permissible under the law. The ILO cannot but consider that the sentence imposed is related to U Thet Way’s role in complaining on forced labour practices.”

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12 June, 2008


The United Nations is urging improved access to education as the right response to address the plight of the estimated 165 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 worldwide who are involved in child labour.

“Despite global progress in many areas, it is unacceptable that so many children must still work for their survival and that of their families,” Juan Somavia, Director-General of the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), said today on the occasion of the World Day Against Child Labour.

The ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) says that of some 218 million child labourers around the world, millions are either denied educational opportunities that would give them a better future or must balance work with education.

“For too many children, particularly children of poor families across the world, the right to education remains an abstract concept, far from the reality of daily life,” Mr. Somavia stated.

He noted that more than 70 million primary school-aged children are not enrolled in school. Many of these and other out-of-school children start working at an early age, often well below the minimum age of employment. And when a family has to make a choice between sending either a boy or girl to school, it is often the girl who loses out.

“Our challenge is to offer hope to the child labourers of the world by making their right a reality, ensuring that they have quality education and training which can lead them towards a future of decent work,” he said.

“This is essential to break the cycle of child labour and poverty. And it is a sound investment for individuals and society.”

To tackle child labour, ILO is urging governments to provide education for all children at least to the minimum age of employment, as well as education policies that reach out to child labourers and other excluded groups.

In addition, the agency is calling for properly resourced quality education and skills training, and education for all children and decent work for adults.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also sees education as the best weapon in the global fight against child labour and says recent data has provided hope. The number of children out of school has dropped from 115 million in 2002 to 93 million in 2006.

The agency says part of this success has come from new initiatives to bring down the cost of schooling, making it more accessible to more children, including the School Fee Abolition Initiative (SFAI) launched by UNICEF and the World Bank in 2005 to support countries in implementing school fee abolition policies.

The annual World Day is being marked in some 60 countries with events ranging from awareness-raising campaigns and artistic performances to competitions and photo exhibitions on child labour.

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23 January, 2008


The United Nations labour agency predicts that economic turbulence resulting from credit market turmoil and rising oil prices could lead to another 5 million people becoming unemployed this year.

That is just one of the key findings the International Labour Office (ILO) released today in its annual Global Employment Trends report, which analyses the impact of factors – ranging from population and economic growth to financial crises – on labour markets.

The report notes that the decrease in growth in developed economies owing to the credit market crisis and higher oil prices had so far been “compensated for in the rest of the world,” especially in Asia, which has witnessed strong economic and job growth.

However, an expected slowdown in growth during 2008 could increase the global unemployment rate to 6.1 per cent, resulting in an increase of at least 5 million unemployed worldwide, the report warns.

The forecast for this year differs from 2007, considered by ILO to be a “watershed year” in that it saw a stabilization of global labour markets with more people in work, some 45 million new jobs and only a small increase in the number of those unemployed, to a total of nearly 190 million worldwide.

“This year’s global jobs picture is one of contrasts and uncertainty,” said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. “While global growth is annually producing millions of new jobs, unemployment remains unacceptably high and may go to levels not seen before this year.”

He added that although more people are currently employed than ever before, more jobs does not necessarily mean decent jobs. “Too many people, if not unemployed, remain among the ranks of the working poor, the vulnerable or the discouraged.”

According to the ILO, an estimated 487 million workers – or 16.4 per cent of the total – still do not earn enough to surpass the $1 a day poverty line, and 1.3 billion workers (or 43.5 per cent) still live below $2 a day.

“What is apparent is that economic progress doesn’t automatically translate into new and decent jobs,” said Mr. Somavia, emphasizing that “labour market policies must be at the centre of macroeconomic policies to ensure that economic growth is inclusive and that development involves good, decent work.”

Decent work, as defined by the ILO, provides for opportunity and income; rights, voice and recognition; family stability; personal development; and fairness and gender equality.

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11 September, 2007


People-smuggling boats from Somalia have once again taken to the Gulf of Aden in the perilous annual exodus to Yemen, despite bad weather conditions, amid reports of new deadly atrocities committed by smugglers against the migrants, the United Nations refugee agency said today.

“Twelve died on the high seas under horrific circumstances. At least five of them were beaten and stabbed by smugglers and thrown overboard, while another six died of asphyxiation and dehydration in the hold of a boat. One person drowned after disembarking in deep waters,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.

In the past week, 324 Somalis and Ethiopians have landed in Yemen as the new people-smuggling season gets underway with the anticipated arrival of better weather, in an annual ritual which sees tens of thousands of migrants risking their lives in rickety vessels at the hands of often unscrupulous and brutal traffickers.

“New arrivals on 3 September told UNHCR staff that passengers on their vessel were beaten with clubs and stabbed throughout the voyage. Several survivors were treated for their injuries at a UNHCR-sponsored medical clinic in Yemen,” Mr. Redmond said.

Since January 2006 some 30,000 people braved the voyage, and nearly 400 were killed or died as smugglers murdered some migrants and others perished when their boats capsized.

Last week, UNHCR officials reported that thousands of Ethiopians and Somalis had already gathered in the northern Somali port of Bossaso in anticipation of the new exodus and they said they feared that the new people-smuggling season would be as bad and deadly as the last.

When the latest boat approached shore near Arqa on Saturday, Yemeni forces reportedly opened fire, barely missing the 90 passengers on board, Mr. Redmond said. Smugglers ask between $60 and $100 for the journey.

Somali refugees registered at the UNHCR’s reception centre said they left their country due to conflict, arbitrary killings, the threat of detention, drought and lack of work. Somalis account for half of the migrant flow and most have fled conflict in southern and central parts of the country, including Mogadishu, the capital. There are nearly 90,000 registered refugees in Yemen, almost all of them Somalis.

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23 May, 2007


The United Nations International Labour Organization today awarded its first annual ILO Decent Work Prize to the former South African President Nelson Mandela and to an academic expert on Latin American economics.

Mr. Mandela, who is also a Nobel Peace Laureate, “is awarded an exceptional prize for his extraordinary lifetime contribution to knowledge, understanding and advocacy on the central concerns of the ILO,” the organization said in a press release.

“With this prize, the jury and the ILO wished to recognize and honour his sustained efforts that helped to make decent work a central objective in the policy agenda in South Africa and worldwide, furthering the vision of work which is free from discrimination and oppression, and of social justice and dialogue as the essential base for progress.”

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Professor Emeritus on Economics and Latin American Studies of the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, United States, also received the prize in recognition of his “major scholarly contributions to the analysis of socio-economic relationships and policy instruments for the advancement of decent work.”

The press release cited his work in particular on social security and pension reform, which the jury stated had had a notable impact on reform processes across Latin America for many years.

The prizes – which were created by the ILO’s International Institute for Labour Studies – will be awarded formally at the closing plenary session of the ILO International Labour Conference on 15 June in Geneva.

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14 June, 2006


Violence at work, ranging from bullying and mobbing, to threats by psychologically unstable co-workers, sexual harassment and homicide, is increasing worldwide and has reached epidemic levels in some countries, according to a new publication by the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO).

In addition, the global cost of workplace violence is enormous and costs untold millions of dollars in losses in other countries due to causes including absenteeism and sick leave, according to the latest edition of ILO’s Violence at Work.

“Bullying, harassment, mobbing and allied behaviours can be just as damaging as outright physical violence. Today, the instability of many types of jobs places huge pressures on workplaces, and we’re seeing more of these forms of violence,” according to the authors of the study.

The publication, which is written by Vittorio Di Martino, an international expert on stress and workplace violence, and Duncan Chappell, past president of the New South Wales Mental Health Review, Australia, also addresses the growing concern of terrorism, which the authors describe as “one of the new faces of workplace violence.”

The study notes that professions once regarded as sheltered from workplace violence such as teaching, social services, library services and health care are being exposed to increasing acts of violence, in both developed and developing countries.

Drawing on statistics from all over the world, the ILO highlights various trends, noting for example that in Germany, a 2002 study estimated that more than 800,000 workers were victims of mobbing, where a group of workers targets an individual for psychological harassment. In Spain, an estimated 22 per cent of officials in public administration were victims of mobbing.

In developing countries, the most vulnerable workers include women, migrants and children, according to the report. In Malaysia, 11,851 rape and molestation cases at the workplace were reported between 1997 and May 2001. Widespread sexual harassment and abuse were major concerns in South Africa, Ukraine, Kuwait and Hong Kong, China, among other countries, the report said.

On a more positive note, the study cited improvements in England, Wales and the United States. For example in England and Wales, the estimated 849,000 incidents of workplace violence in 2002-2003 represented a decline from 1.3 million such incidents cited in a previous survey.

In terms of tackling the issue of workplace violence, the study goes on to highlight a number of “best practice” examples from local and national governments, enterprises and trade unions from around the world that have successfully implemented “zero tolerance” polices and violence-prevention training programmes.

The ILO has adopted a number of fundamental Conventions on worker protection and dignity at work.

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18 May, 2006


With underground coal mining posing one of the highest workplace risk activities in the world, as shown by a recent spate of accidents from China to the United States, the United Nations labour agency is set to endorse a new code of practice to improve the safety and health of miners.

The code, adopted by experts representing workers, employers and governments at a meeting at the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Geneva headquarters, covers the whole gamut of mine activities from banning hazardous processes or substances to enhanced inspections to health problems arising from excessive vibration and noise.

“If a safety net, which includes a number of critical checks and balances, is not in place to assess and control the hazards, accidents and occupational diseases can and do occur,” ILO said in a statement, while acknowledging that significant improvements have been achieved as a result of new technologies, capital investment and training.

The new Code, adopted by 23 government, employer and worker experts over the weekend, is to be submitted to the ILO Governing Body in November for endorsement and will replace an existing code adopted in 1986.

It comprises a methodology for identifying hazards and preventing and minimising risks that include mine explosions, fires and the collapse of mine roofs; crushing of miners between machinery or machinery and the coal face; shock, burns and electrocution; inundations of dangerous gases; and premature or improper detonation of explosives.

Other areas covered comprise disabling and deadly lung diseases caused by mine dust; noise-induced hearing loss; exposure to harmful chemicals and agents used in mines; excessive temperatures; vibration.

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