ILO Discusses in Brazil How to End Slave Work for 1.3 Million

    The International Labor Organization (ILO) calculates that there are 12.3 million people in the world who perform forced labor. In Latin America the number of workers subjected to these conditions amounts to around 1.3 million, equivalent to 10.7% of the global total.

    This information is part of the document, "Decent Labor in the Americas: A Hemispheric Agenda for 2006-2015," released Tuesday, May 2.

    To combat the practice of forced labor and encourage the creation of quality jobs, the ILO suggests that governments take legal measures to make punishments more severe and to enforce them.

    The ILO report also states that special programs are needed for the rural sector, where forced labor is most intense. and that national and regional campaigns are in order to make employers and workers more conscious of the fact that this kind of work needs to be totally eliminated.

    According to the ILO, if government officials, employers, and employees get on the bandwagon, it will be possible to reduce the number of workers subjected to forced labor by 20-35% within 10 years.

    The agenda announced yesterday by the director-general of the ILO, Juan Somavia, acknowledges that Brazil is a model of this type of policy.

    An important change introduced in the country, according to the ILO, was the fact that forced labor, besides being considered a crime, is now also treated as a human rights violation.

    End of Child Labor

    The countries of the Americas will have 15 years to eliminate child labor. Within a period of ten years, they should extinguish the worst forms of child labor, reduce the number of workers subjected to slave labor by 20-30%, and diminish the indices of gender and race segregation in the labor market by 50%.

    These are the goals defined in the Hemispheric Agenda that will be voted this week by the 35 countries that are participating in the 16th Meeting of American Country Members of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Brasí­lia.

    At the end of last year, at the 4th Summit of the Americas, the countries pledged to create decent jobs. The ILO agenda is an attempt to find ways to turn this commitment into reality.

    It is estimated that Latin America has 5.7 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 who work for a living. According to the ILO, to reduce this number would require an investment of US$ 106 billion in the region.

    "Very little when compared with the benefits," the document asserts. The benefits from the greater future productivity of the working children who would receive better education and health are calculated to be worth US$ 341 billion.

    The ILO also figures that there are around 12.3 million workers subjected to slave working conditions around the world and that 1.2 million of them (10.7%) are to be found in Latin America.

    In most of the countries of the Americas, the descendants of indigenous and African ancestors represent the poorest segments of the population, the least educated, and those who hold the least stable and poorest-paying jobs. As a result they tend to be victims of marginality, social exclusion, and discrimination.

    If the document is approved, the member countries will also be expected to increase by 10% the number of workers covered by collective bargaining. The countries will also be expected to improve the quality of such agreements by extending the coverage to include, for example, productivity and conflict-resolution clauses.

    Labor union protection under the law should also include legal procedures and effective administrative and judicial appeals in cases of violations of rights.

    The document refers to labor union freedom and greater coverage in collective bargaining as "fundamental rights." The purpose of labor union policies is "to insist on the fundamental role of rights as the arm available to social actors to regulate salaries and other working conditions, stimulate productivity, and avoid the generation of conflicts." the agenda proclaims.

    Respect for labor union freedom should be the starting point of official policy. Therefore, countries should create registries of labor unions and collective bargaining.

    Other means of ensuring labor rights are to improve the management of labor policies, strengthen and develop organizations to encourage social dialogue, and establish solid labor oversight authorities that will discover 50% more infractions that are unearthed at present, as well as expanding workers’ social protection, including health, retirement, and unemployment benefits, by 20% and taking steps to strengthen social dialogue and open spaces for institutional social dialogue on a voluntary basis.

    Beginning this year the 35 countries are expected to put programs in effect to promote decent employment.

    Agência Brasil

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