8 December 2008

On the 10th of December 2008 the world will mark the 60th Anniversary of the adoption by the UN General Assembly of a historic document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The significance of this international act, which has become the starting point for the struggle to promote respect for the individuals freedom and dignity, can hardly be overestimated. For the first time in history, it has outlined the inalienable rights of the human being in modern society, such as the right to life, liberty and security of person, equality before the law, freedom of opinion and association, the right to receive information, take part in the government of his/her country and hold peaceful assemblies.

Trade unions appreciate highly the fact that the document declares the right of every worker to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests, as well as social rights, including the right to work, to free choice of employment, to protection against unemployment, to just and favourable working conditions, to a standard of living adequate for the well-being of himself and of his family, to rest and leisure, to education, to social protection, to equal pay for equal work, and to special care for motherhood and childhood.

In the past decades, the United Nations and the world community, including the international trade union movement, have further developed the UDHR provisions by adopting the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), the Programme of Action of the World Summit for Social Development (Copenhagen, 1995), the Millennium Development Goals, and other international instruments. The UDHR ideas underlie the Conventions adopted over the period by the International Labour Organisation, and its Decent Work Agenda that serve as a basis for GCTU affiliates in their struggles to protect workers interests.

However, the rights embodied in the Declaration are still, alarmingly, violated in various parts of the world. The right to life is being reduced to nil by military and ethnic conflicts, and by rampant crime. The right to work is being infringed by corporate economic restructuring, falling employment, the use of forced and child labour, the growing informal sector, and the anti-worker policies and practices of transnationals. The right to decent living standards is being jeopardised by the weakening social protection systems, dearer services, and constantly growing prices of essential goods across the globe. Workers are being victimised for attempts to form trade unions or participate in their work; and trade union leaders and activists are still being killed.

The issues of full observance of human rights, and trade union rights and freedoms have been brought to the frontline by the sweeping globalisation. Particularly acute and topical are they today, amidst the world financial and economic crisis. Therefore, while marking the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the GCTU appeals to all its affiliates not to overlook any case of infringement on labour rights and trade union freedoms in their respective country or industry. The world trade union movement must close its ranks to better protect human rights, particularly workers rights. The unions should combine their efforts to rebuff sharply any attempts to overcome crisis-born difficulties at the expense of workers rights as provided for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights documents.

General Confederation of Trade Unions