The Global Economy is not working for working people. The global economic crisis has cost tens of millions of jobs around the work, inequality is increasing with more and more wealth being held by fewer and fewer people and a whole generation of young people face a future of unemployment or underemployment. Despite this, business is still determined to drive profits at all cost and Governments are too timid to ensure labour rights at home or abroad.
The fact that a large proportion of the world’s workforce does not have the right to organise unions or bargain collectively was one of the key causes of the global economic crisis. The share of global wealth going to working people has been falling for many years, and as a result many working men and women lack the purchasing power which would help restore global economic growth to the levels which are needed to create more jobs and overcome marginalisation and social tensions.
The trade union movement worldwide is pressing governments to fulfil their responsibility to govern in the best interests of people, and not just for corporations and the financial sector. At the same time, employers and in particular the major multinational corporations have to treat their workforce fairly, respecting international standards which govern workers’ rights.
For this reason, the ITUC has decided, in cooperation with its national affiliates and the Global Union Federations, to launch intensified campaign action to hold multinationals to account for their actions and to make sure that they respect international labour standards for all their employees wherever they work. Some multinationals generally respect workers’ union rights across their international operations, while others are totally hostile to the idea that any of their employees could join a union and have collective bargaining rights.
There are also multinationals which respect union rights in some countries but not in others. Deutsche Telekom, with its subsidiary T-Mobile is one such case. T-Mobile employees in Germany have the right to join their union and to bargain collectively on their wages and working conditions. But in the USA, T-Mobile has for several years been conducting a campaign to stop its employees joining the union and bargaining for a better deal at work.
Deutsche Telekom employs more than 250,000 workers worldwide. 38,000 of these work for T-Mobile USA, which contribute around 24% of the total revenues of Deutsche Telekom. From the time that it started operations in the US, T-Mobile has had an anti-union policy, forbidding its employees even to talk about unions, and conducting surveillance of its own workforce, even in company car parks, to stop them talking to union representatives. The company uses specialised “union-busting” consultants and gives detailed instructions to its managers about how to ensure the workers don’t join a union, including misinformation about the union and stopping workers from passing on information from the union.
As a result, T-Mobile employees describe a climate of fear and uncertainty in the workplace, with no means to bargain collectively for decent wages and conditions, to stand up to heavy-handed treatment by managers or to avoid losing their job for even minor mistakes. There is nothing in US law that stops Deutsche Telekom simply recognising freedom of association and collective bargaining rights for its T-Mobile employees. The company can choose to end its union-avoidance strategy and to take a neutral position. It should be neither for nor against the union. It should allow its employees to decide for themselves, without interference, harassment or drawn-out legal procedures which some US employers use to deter union membership.
So the ITUC and Union Network International, along with national affiliates ver.di, Communication Workers of America, DGB Germany and AFL-CIO USA, are telling Deutsche Telekom “We Expect Better”. And, as the largest single shareholder in Deutsche Telekom with some 31% of the shares, the German government must play its part too by insisting that Deutsche Telekom respects the international labour standards that the German government itself upholds at home and abroad.
And until T-Mobile USA does do better for its own workforce, we will continue to build up international pressure to get the company to stop its union avoidance campaign and take a positive and constructive approach to the rights of its own employees.