Wage Theft in Music City: HOTELS SHOULDN’T HURT!

HOTELS SHOULDN’T HURT! is the new battle cry for Workers’ Dignity’s newest campaign against wage theft and working conditions in Nashville’s booming hospitality industry. The member-led workers’ center for Nashville’s low-wage workers, with support from researchers at Vanderbilt University, released a report last week detailing the harsh conditions of labor for the city’s hospitality workers. The Music City has experienced a huge boost to its hospitality industry in the recent years thanks to Nashville’s rise to prominence as an “it” city. However economic benefits have not reached the lowest paid workers in the industry – housekeepers, custodians, and laundry employees.

The findings of the report are saddening, though not shocking. The hospitality industry has a long history of wage theft and abuse among its lowest paid workers. Nashville is no exception. The report finds that nearly 10% of all hospitality workers in Nashville make less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. 89% of workers worked more than 40 hours a week without receiving fair overtime compensation. As housing and living costs sky-rocket in Nashville, the average wage of a hotel housekeeper, $8.36 an hour, falls far below the national median income. Who are the housekeepers? Overwhelmingly women of color.

In addition to criminally low and stolen wages, the industry is providing little in way of quality safety standards to the lowest paid workers. 39% of employees received no on the job training in handling toxic chemicals. 21% of workers reported that their employees did not provide protective materials such as masks or gloves. 27% of employees reported being injured on the job and 51% of employees are not provided sick days (paid or unpaid). Workers report constantly becoming ill due to long exposure to toxic cleaning chemicals, malfunctioning elevators that lead them to run flights of stairs as they are not permitted in the elevators with hotel patrons, and severe burns that received no attention from hotel management.

Wage theft anywhere cannot be tolerated, but in a city where prices, and buildings, continue to go up, it is crucial that every worker has access to a fair wage and safe working environments. As Workers’ Dignity claims, Nashville is in the midst of a crisis. You may donate to Workers’ Dignity here and remind the Music City that HOTELS SHOULDN’T HURT!

 

(Photo Credit: Workers’ Dignity) (Video Credit: You Tube / Zach Blumey / Workers’ Dignity)

Women say NO! to the new labor laws in France and across Europe that attack women

Once more, labor laws and work conditions are under attack in Europe, this time in France. The labor code of France, a heavy book, probably needed some cleaning up as laws had piled up and sometimes were redundant. With the encouragement of the Medef (the union of employers), the current government has undertaken to reshuffle all the principles of labor protection. Using a rare executive order (Article 49-3 of the Constitution), the French President passed a bill that was once opposed by the same Francois Hollande, who then called it undemocratic. Since his action, a movement to remind the government of its democratic responsibility has grown, and demonstrations and strikes succeed each other daily.

The Medef has argued that to create jobs employers must be able to fire more easily with fewer constraints that guarantee employees’ rights. So the French government offered a new labor law that has the potential to erase the type of labor protection that is the basis of labor rights. The bill was largely inspired by other labor bills passed in other European Countries under the aegis of austerity measures. Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Greece, Spain have passed bills to feed the exploitative neoliberal system with precarious labor contracts, called zero hour contract in one place and one-euro jobs in the next. In Greece, despite all the critics, the Troika imposed its memoranda making firing very easy. The minimum wage is now at its lowest level (511Euros for those under 25) and the social security system, which was efficient and inexpensive, is now close to being totally destroyed. Additionally, the dismantling of labor rights is very handy in making migration another source of marketization.

In France, the opposition to the bill first came from the students, who are fairly well unionized in high schools and universities. They immediately organized, understanding that this law would create a transitional system to precariousness for the youth, either for intellectual work or blue-collar jobs. Soon after many unions joined, including the CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail), CGC (Confédération générale des cadres), and FO (Force Ouvrière). Meanwhile, Nuit Debout (Night Standing Up), a rather spontaneous movement, gathered in public squares in various French cities, including Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, and beyond.

Like other European labor bills, the French labor law is a double sentence for women. The bill ignores women’s rights while asserting its respect for the principle of equality. The bill’s language actually razes all means to attain this infamous gender equality. Flexibility supersedes gender equality. The law will limit the bargaining power of unions and fragment their negotiating power; it will aggravate the asymmetrical relationship between the employers associated with the financial oligarchy and the employees or the labor force in general. The obligations of employers toward their employees will be reduced tremendously. It will reduce the number of days off and possibilities for days off that made the leave of absence system a model for labor organizations.

The notion of flexibility has been used as a mythical term for progress while it’s real meaning for working class and particularly for women is increased precarity. In France, women make 80% of the part time labor force. Women also perform 80% of unpaid domestic work. The employers union never discusses this reality. Flexibility means lowering additional pay for extra hours, reducing delay for notices, and easing the firing process. This assault on workers’ time is a double assault on women workers.

The bill will also weaken the occupational medical system that has provided strong medical protection for employees. The risk in feminized professions of lowering the standard of protection is more than real.

Across France, mobilization is high. Feminists have been in the forefront, sending petitions and organizing demonstrations. The movement is also picking up in Belgium, for the same reasons. To understand what is at stake today, we should reread Emile Zola on the disastrous condition of the working class during the industrial revolution and especially women’s conditions. The struggle continues.

 

(Photo Credit 1: 20minutes) (Photo Credit 2: France24)

From Kerala to Florida, women farm workers are organizing and winning!

Around the world, women farm workers are on the move, organizing and gaining ground for women workers everywhere. This past week, women farm workers in Kerala, in India, and Florida, in the United States, won major victories. In Kerala, tea plantation workers, all women, rejecting the direction of male dominated unions and political parties, went on strike and won! In Florida, undocumented women farm workers rejected the business-as-usual of sexual exploitation … and won! Women farm workers are turning the common sense of global food chains into global food networks and communities.

In July, the Great Place to Work Institute and People Matters rated Kanan Devan Hills Plantation, the largest tea estate in Munnar, in Kerala, as one of the best places to work in India. In early September, over 5000 plantation workers, almost all women, replied, “No!” They went on strike, demanding higher wages and bonuses. Their strike lasted nine days. During that time, the women told trade unions and political parties that [a] that male-dominated unions and parties did not represent the women’s interests sufficiently and [b] the women could negotiate for themselves.

The women allowed only four politicians to join the strike. They unconditionally welcomed 92-year-old VS Achuthanandan, a founding member of the Communist Party India (Marxist) and widely respected for his integrity. They also allowed women politicians PK Jayalakshmi, Bindhu Krishna, and Latika Subhash to join the strike, on the condition that they would stay in Munnar until the strike was resolved.

On Sunday night, the women won their bonus demands, and called off the strike. The wage demands are still being worked out.

For over 20 years, Ananthalakshmi has worked the fields: “Men hardly get tough chores like us. We even load the sacks to the trucks and are disproportionately paid”. The struggle in the Munnar hills of Kerala is for wages, bonuses, equality, women’s dignity and women’s power. By enthusiastically welcoming VS Achuthanandan, the women workers demonstrated that women’s power is principled, rigorous and courageous in its forms of inclusion.

The line of women’s power from the tea fields of Munnar to the tomatoland of Felda, Florida is long and direct. On Friday, five women vegetable packers won a $17 million sexual harassment case. The five women had worked for Moreno Farms, Inc. They said they felt terrified whenever their supervisors threatened to take them to the cooler and trailer. Their bosses groped, threatened, and raped them. When the women refused to submit, the bosses fired them. Three of the five women were raped. When they went to the local sheriff’s office to report the rapes, the sheriffs did … less than nothing. A local attorney, Victoria Mesa, stepped in and took the case, and she persuaded the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC, to represent the women.

Beatriz André, EEOC’s lead attorney in the case, said, “Having long been silenced by shame and fear, this trial offered these five women the opportunity to give voice publicly to their experiences and their desire for justice.” Robert E. Weisberg, regional attorney for the Miami office of the EEOC, added “I’m thrilled because this jury’s verdict sends a message to every other woman working in Florida’s fields. They do have rights, regardless of their immigration status.” For the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, this is a cautionary tale: “The women on Moreno Farms suffered unspeakable indignities that could have been prevented, had they been working on Fair Food Program farms.”

Moreno Farms closed in May, which means it’s unlikely that the women will see the 17 million dollars, but this is more than a symbolic victory. First, the women will receive special U visas for victims of crime who assist law enforcement in prosecuting cases. Second, the women won! Five undocumented Latinas won. This local victory is a cross-border, transnational victory, as has been noted in Mexico and beyond.

Tea and tomatoes are big global business. Over the past week, 5000 women farm workers on a tea plantation in Munnar and five women workers in a tomato processing plant in Felda have shown they are not too big to be cracked open by women’s power and mobilization for justice for workers, women, and women workers. The struggle continues!

 

(Photo Credit 1: Youth Ki Awaaz) (Photo Credit 2: Coalition of Immokalee Workers)

Tufts University, Sotheby’s, WeWork and the war on women workers

Former WeWork cleaners’ vigil at WeWork headquarters on Monday

In the United States, August 26 is Women’s Equality Day. On Aug. 26, 1920, the amendment guaranteeing the right to vote for women officially became part of the U.S. Constitution. That equality does not extend to the workplace. Ask the women who clean offices. They’ll tell you of rampant sexual violence, harassment, persecution, and dismissal for speaking up or trying to organize. This is part of the global condition of women workers in the shining not-so-new economy of global cities.

In Boston, Tufts University “employs” around 200 janitors. The workers officially work for DTZ. DTZ describes itself as “a global leader in commercial real estate services.” DTZ boasts “facilities management for Harvard, Stanford, Florida State universities and many more colleges and universities across North America, Australia and Asia.”

Tufts claims DTZ began plans for reorganizing its custodial staff a while ago. Tufts also claims the university “planned the layoffs because it found out it was paying more for cleaning services than other similar universities … The restructuring will save the university about $900,000.” Both stories could be true at the same time.

Tufts would not speak with the janitors because the janitors don’t work for Tufts. They work for DTZ. When the notices finally came, janitors, students, the Service Employees International Union and other supporters began a months’ long campaign, which resulted in a temporary stay of eviction. But then the school year ended, the students went off, and the workers remained.

In July, DTZ told all the workers they had to change their schedules. Paula Castillo, 67-years-old, has worked as a janitor at Tufts for 19 years. She describes the impact of changed hours and increased workloads, “The shift in our work plus the change of our schedules have had a large impact on us. I used to schedule my weekly hospital appointments around 4 p.m. after work, but now that my hours were changed, I can’t go at 4 … The problem is that I won’t be able to clean the 120 bathrooms, and four buildings with three to five floors that I’m assigned to. We won’t be able to finish all the work they’ve assigned us. What they want is to take out all the elders, and it’s difficult to find a job because of my age. I won’t be able to.”

This is not particular to Tufts or to DTZ. It’s the same-old and new norm, all at once. At Sotheby’s in London, four Latin American workers joined a protest asking for livable sick leave. The next day, they were fired, but they don’t work for Sotheby’s. They work for Servest, “one of the largest cleaning services companies in the UK with experience in every setting you can imagine … With us, you can also expect a completely flexible approach.” Servest also flexibly “maintains” Cambridge University.

In New York, WeWork “released” its sub-contracted cleaners this past Monday, and announced it would be hiring new workers in “an exciting transition.” The new hires will be called Community Service Associates, and they must now demonstrate an “ability to communicate in English.” There is no mention of the metrics for evaluating that ability. Carlos Angulo has worked as a cleaner at WeWork for two years: “If I talk to the toilet in English it’s not going to answer. The printer doesn’t ask me to talk to it in English.”

These work forces are overwhelmingly women of color, and more often than not immigrant and transnational women of color. From dismissals to changed schedules to reduced hours and work speedups, efficiency and paying-more-for-services-than-our-brothers always provides cover for the systemic assault on women’s dignity and well being: office cleaners, garment workers, home health care workers, domestic workers, restaurant workers, teachers, nurses, women farm workers, women.

 

 

(Photo Credit: SEIU 32BJ / Gothamist)

In Canada two Mexican women workers win a victory for women workers everywhere!

Since 1973, Canada has run the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, or TFWP. Initially designed to bring in `high-skilled’ and specialized workers, in 2002 it was revised in order to bring in “low-skilled” workers who now make up the overwhelming majority of TFWP workers. Eight years ago, two Mexican sisters took on the injustice of the TFWP and, last week, won a landmark victory for women workers everywhere.

In August 2007, two sisters, now known as O.P.T. and M.P.T., left Mexico to work in Canada under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. They were employed by Presteve Foods Ltd, in Ontario, owned at the time by Jose Pratás. At the time Pratás was 74. O.P.T. is now 36 years old, and her sister is 30.

According to both sisters, Pratás immediately started making explicit sexual advances towards O.P.T. and then demanded sex. Whenever O.P.T offered resistance, Pratás would threaten to send her back to Mexico. This was no idle threat. Under the TFWP, “temporary workers” are attached to their employers. In the Spring of 2008, O.P.T. fled Presteve, moved to Windsor for a bit, and then returned to Mexico.

In the Spring of 2009, the CAW-Canada union, now called Unifor, filed a brief with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, on behalf of 39 Thai and Mexican women workers employed at Presteve. Then things moved both quickly and slowly. Pratás was charged with 23 criminal charges of sexual assault and five counts of common assault, all involving women “temporary foreign workers”. In March 2010, Pratás pleaded guilty to one count of assault, and received a conditional sentence and some probation.

Ultimately, of the original 39 claimants, only O.P.T. and M.P.T. were left to challenge the power of Presteve Foods, Jose Pratás and the entire Temporary Food Works Program.

Last Wednesday, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario handed down its decision and awarded O.P.T. a record $165,000 as compensation for “injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect”. The Tribunal also awarded M.P.T. $55,000. Pratás and Presteve Foods, now owned by Pratás’s son, must pay the two sisters $220,000 for having created a “sexually poisoned work environment”.

After the hearing, O.P.T. said, “I want to tell all women that are in a similar situation, that they should not be silent and that there is justice and they should not just accept mistreatment or humiliation. We must not stay silent. [As a migrant] one feels that she or he has to stay there [in the workplace] and there is nowhere to go or no one to talk to. Under the temporary foreign worker program, the boss has all the power – over your money, house, status, everything. They have you tied to their will. It has been 8 years to obtain justice but 8 years and justice is finally here today.

If we don’t do what they say, they have the power to deport. We are obligated to work. Not as people, but as slaves. We endure wage theft, verbal abuse, physical abuse, and our bodies are injured because of the stress of the work. They push and push us. How can you say that we are free when in practice we have no right to leave?

“But how can we leave, if we cannot work for another employer. They harm us, and then they send us home. There is racism underlying their treatment of us. How is this allowed in Canada? That happened to me eight years ago, and the system is still the same. Treat us with dignity. Not as animals. But as human beings who merit respect.

Even when we have been humiliated and mistreated, we have to hang on to our dignity. That is all we have.”

Canada created a system in which workers were tied, handcuffed, to their employers, in which workers were forced into almost complete dependence on employers. Employers then sought women workers, whom, by law, they are allowed to pay less for the same work as male workers in the program. Women in the caregivers’ program suffer the same violence.

O.P.T’s and M.P.T.’s victory is a victory for women workers across Canada and around the world, as they struggle with the violence of `national economic growth.’ We have to hang on to our dignity. That is all we have.

 

(Photo Credit: thestar.com)

From Connecticut to Oregon, women fight for domestic workers’ rights and power

 

Domestic workers celebrate in the Connecticut Senate gallery after passage of a bill recognizing domestic workers as employees.

Across the United States, women are organizing for domestic workers’ rights and power. According to the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, in the next week, the Illinois Domestic Workers Bill of Rights will hit the Illinois State Senate; the Connecticut Domestic Workers’ Bill will go to the Connecticut House of Representatives; and the Oregon Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights will arrive on the floor of the Oregon State House of Representatives. From sea to shining sea, domestic workers – maids, nannies, and home health care providers – are on the move and winning previously thought impossible battles. Women, overwhelming women of color and largely immigrant women, are transforming a subterranean network into an Overground Railroad of emancipation and enfranchisement. Connecticut, Illinois, and Oregon are stations on that system.

In so doing, women are re-writing history. While every labor victory rewrites history, these particular struggles involve not only State and Civil, or uncivil, Society disrespect and marginalization. They involve the words and texts of law. In Connecticut, for example, domestic workers’ struggle for dignity, rights, power, and better working conditions is aimed at re-writing the State definition of “employer.” Under Connecticut law, “employee” is defined as “any person employed by an employer but shall not include any individual employed by such individual’s parents, spouse or child; or in the domestic service of any person.” The Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights eliminates the last clause: “or in the domestic service of any person.”

On Friday night, the Connecticut Senate passed the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. Domestic workers – such as Natalicia Tracy, Iame Manucci, Maria Lima and Nina Siqueira – danced and shouted from the gallery, as the final vote was tallied. But they understand that this is the next step. Not only must the House of Representatives pass the Bill, but domestic workers must then militate further to be included in the State’s minimum wage law. That protection is not guaranteed under the Bill of Rights.

In Illinois and Oregon, it’s the same. Domestic workers are pushing to do much more thatn “come out of the shadows.” They have never been “shadow workers”. They have always been women workers on the move, and now the move has risen and expanded to the next stage.

The exclusion of domestic workers from labor law emerges from the explicitly racist foundations of slavery and Jim Crow. Domestic workers writing and promulgating Domestic Worker Bills of Rights participate in an ongoing Black and Brown Workers’ Liberation Movement. Within and beyond #BlackWomensLivesMatter and #SayHerName, domestic workers are pushing and expanding the terrain of emancipatory struggle. A luta continua! The struggle continues!

 

(Photo credit: Mark Pazniokas / Connecticut Mirror)

The Philippines factory fire was a planned massacre of women workers

A new collection of specters haunts the earth today: 72 workers killed yesterday in a slipper factory fire in the Valenzuela district of Manila. There was no accident. That fire and those workers burning to death are part of the brutal architecture of industrial production. Every report covers up more than it reveals, and the workers, charred beyond recognition, wait for nothing now.

The fire “started” when sparks set off an explosion. The slaughter of the innocents began long before the spark. The windows were covered, sealed tight, by metal gratings. Even now, the local mayor isn’t sure the building had any fire escapes.

Dionesio Candido, whose daughter, granddaughter, sister-in-law and niece were among the missing, said iron grilles reinforced with fencing wire covered windows on the second floor that `could prevent even cats from escaping’.”

Those workers – daughters, granddaughters, sisters-in-law, nieces – were deemed less valuable than cats, and far less valuable than the chemicals, the machinery, and the slippers in the building.

None of this is new. The State can “investigate quickly”, if it likes, and the trade unions can protest “working conditions”, but the factories and sweatshops go up, the bars and grills cover the windows, and doors are locked from the outside, the flammable materials are next to the welding machines, and no one does anything … until the fire explodes.

From the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911 New York, to the Kader Toy Factory in 1993 Bangkok, to the Zhili Handicraft Factory in 1993 Shenzen, to the Tazreen Fashions Factory in 2012 Dhaka, and now to the Kentex Manufacturing Corporation in 2015 Manila, the architecture is the same, as are the smoke, stench, exploitation, workers and bosses. The factory wasn’t a factory; it was a slaughterhouse. When the flames burst and the women workers’ bodies exploded, there was no accident. There was an indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people, a massacre, and it was always part of the plan.

 

(Photo Credit: Reuters / Ezra Acayan)

In Paris, a victory for migrant workers and for labor rights!

 

In Paris, this week 18 women and men, 14 of them undocumented immigrants, won an eight months battle for labor rights and human dignity. They are known as the workers of the “57” named after the address of the Afro Salon “New York fashion” 57 boulevard de Strasbourg in the heart of Paris.

They escaped their countries for various reasons. They are from Guinea, Ivory Coast, Guinea or China. Fatou left Ivory Coast because her life was threatened, she says that she wants to work and to pay her taxes to be part of the society. Alphonse from Burkina Faso had a visa to Turkey and then went to Greece where there was no work, and then came to Paris. He says that he had a lot of illusions, and then he saw how the bosses were merciless. His dream is to be finally happy. They each have a story rooted in intolerance and exploitation. They landed in Paris. Not all of them speak French. They all needed to work.

Many hair salons directed at migrant clients have settled in this district of Paris. Over time, a traffic involving the owners and managers targeted vulnerable and isolated migrants who needed work and dreamed about a safer more stable life. The managers recruited the workers of the 57 in the streets, enticing them with conditions of work and wages, which they never delivered. Instead, the workers had to work six days a week from 9AM to 11PM without interruption. The conditions were awful and harmful. The products they were asked to use contain carcinogenic agents, and they were used in rooms without ventilation increasing their toxicity. Their wages were extremely low from 300 to 400 Euros and irregularly paid.

Initially they had no work contracts. They first went on strike when they had not been paid in two months. Their bosses threatened to denounce them to the police, but they stood up for themselves. They reach out to the Union “CGT” for support after the managers and owners conveniently declared bankruptcy and disappeared, but not before shouting at them real threats against their lives. Their disappearance meant no possibility to regularize their immigration status.

As the general secretary of CGT Paris declared, this is modern slavery. They may not be physically shackled but the chains are now administrative and used by employers who exploit them. These chains are still heavy and violent. Still the techniques of slavery remained. The workers were separated according to language so they would not be able to communicate between each other.

But the workers responded with an extreme sense of solidarity. They endured threats. They disrupted the status quo with the authorities that allowed this worker trafficking to exist. Their courage and determination attracted attention. A group of film-makers made a little film to alert public opinion. Then, council members of the district and the deputy mayor of Paris multiplied the injunctions to the Minister of the Interior to obtain state protection, as required by law, for the workers. The union CGT pressed charges for human trafficking. Under French law, if an undocumented immigrant files an official complaint, the latter should receive a temporary residence permit. Regardless, the authorities were slow to move. While the workers were not going to be deported, their rights to work and to dignity were not restored. Artists mobilized and show their solidarity. Paris counselors of the leftist majority and the Mayor of Paris voted a text of support for the workers declaring that the non-protection of these employees will implicitly show support for these practices that imply exploitation of workers.

Finally, this week the Minister of the Interior regularized the 18 workers, providing then adequate documentation and the support of the state after eight months of hard struggle. Moreover, this victory is a good sign for many, especially those workers in this area who experience harsh conditions of life and work with abusive employers.

We should note that labor rights and laws to support them are being constantly questioned as human rights are again being defined according to origins and class. Their defense is crucial. At a time of merciless neoliberal control with climate and social destabilization, migration takes another dimension as asylum seekers are incarcerated or kept in unsafe situations threatening their lives. Cities like Paris should be involved in the protection of the most vulnerable residents and workers. Nothing is possible without strong solidarity between national, documented and undocumented humanity.

 

(Photo Credit: http://www.collectifdescineastespourlessanspapiers.com)

Women are the unexplained unexplained of the global wage gap

Last week, the International Labour Organization published Global Wage Report 2014/5. The largely report confirms what many already know and live. First and last, wages matter: “Wages are a major source of household income in both developed economies and emerging and developing economies.” Second, wages in so-called developed economies have been fairly flat, while wages in so-called emerging and developing economies are moving at a better pace. In fact, global wage growth, such as it is, has been driven almost exclusively by the emerging and developing economies. For example, if China is taken out of the mix, the global wage growth is cut in half. But the real growth, globally and regionally and locally, is in inequality. There’s big money in the production of every widening wage gaps. And here’s where women come in:

“In almost all countries studied there are wage gaps between men and women as well as between national and migrant workers…These wage gaps can be divided into an `explained’ part, which is accounted for by observed human capital and labour market characteristics, and an `unexplained’ part, which captures wage discrimination and includes characteristics (e.g. having children) that should in principle have no effect on wages. The report shows that if this unexplained wage penalty was eliminated, the mean gender wage gap would actually reverse in Brazil, Lithuania, the Russian Federation, Slovenia and Sweden, where the labour market characteristics of the disadvantaged groups should result in higher wages. It would also nearly disappear in about half the countries in the sample of developed economies.”

There’s a gender wage gap, and it’s growing; a motherhood wage gap, and it’s growing; an immigrant wage gap, and it’s growing and for the immigrant mother worker’s wages, there’s a special place. The new world order has a new triple burden for women, a trifecta of gaps that women carry not on their shoulders but in their bodies. The ILO calls these burdens unexplained gender wage penalties. Women are being punished and fined for being women, and the penalty fines are getting steeper by the day.

So, what is to be done? For the ILO, the way forward is fairly straightforward. Raise the minimum wage. Promote job creation. Promote equal pay for work of equal value: “provide for the right to equal remuneration for work of equal value and effective access to justice to claim this right…Equal pay between men and women needs to be promoted through strong policies to promote gender equality, including combating gender-based stereotypes about women’s roles and aspirations, strengthening policies on maternity and paternity as well as parental leave, and advocacy for better sharing of family responsibilities.”

In 2002, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld responded to a question concerning Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and Iraq’s ostensible support for terrorist organizations: “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Twelve years later, there are explained parts of wage gaps, and there are unexplained parts of wage gaps, and then there are the unexplained unexplained parts of wage gaps, and those are the ones who live at the juncture of the explained and the unexplained, the ones we do know: women. Rumsfeld’s gone, but the war continues, the global war on women.

 

(Image credit: Ilo.org)

Chambermaids in Paris reject precariousness

 

The dirty secret of the European “developed economies” adjustment to the rules of the neoliberal market is being increasingly questioned. The neoliberal ideological tool of work flexibility has reached the welfare states to dismantle the social protection laws and produce social vulnerability. The cost of labor is now presented as the reason for unemployment and public deficit while the number of billionaires has doubled since the beginning of the financial crisis.

After the revelations of the precarious condition of over 7 million German workers who live with about 400 Euros (about $ 500) in a country with growing inequalities and poor protection of women workers with regards to pregnancy and child care, here comes the “Zero hour contracts” of the United Kingdom. Le Monde recently published an investigation of these contracts.

“Zero hour” already signals hopelessness for working people, especially women. The contracts keep workers underemployed, without work or benefits. The workers are summarily summoned to work when their labor is needed. Between jobs, they receive no pay. The materialistic order has reached a new height of mechanistic denial of life for the women and men whose lives are dictated by a “zero hour contract (ZHC).”

Every day, workers stare at their cell phones, waiting for a text message tol tell them if they’ll work or not, if they’ll make money or not.

In Great Britain, companies receive about 1900 Euros ($2200) for a new employment contract. Thus, in order to receive this precious subsidy, some companies don’t call their ZHC workers and make room for new workers with the same dreadful contract. “We, the contracted workers, we are like the cookies that we pack at the factory; we move on a conveyer belt and then we fall in a box to leave room for the next one.” declared one of these workers. For instance Mac Donald UK has enrolled 90% of its work force under ZHC.

Of course, the wage/hour is lower than full time wages, and, without benefits, workers’ precariousness is higher as is as their state of stress. In the northern suburbs of Liverpool where there is a high ZHC employment rate, 45% of children live in poverty. These destabilizing conditions keep people in fear and contribute to heightened an anti immigrant sentiment.

In France, chambermaids, mostly women of color, of five stars hotels in Paris have been fighting to stop this kind of contracted work and to demand full employment contracts. They have been demonstrating in the streets of Paris and are still demonstrating, although their colleagues from the Luxury Hyatt of Place Vendome and Madeleine have obtained a serious raise ($ 350/month) with full time work guarantees.

Other luxury hotels, such as the Park Hyatt, continue to contract chambermaid work. Under these conditions, the pace of work is intense, the wages are meager, and overtime work is never paid. They have minimum health coverage compared to average French workers.

These hotel workers have received the support of the Mairie (City Hall) de Paris. Recently, at the forum “Feminist Struggles and Reflections to Advance Society”, the deputy mayor of Paris, Helene Bidard declared that it is urgent to fight along with these workers because they symbolize the situation of the women constantly facing precarious work. They dared bring to light these shady practices that take advantage of the most vulnerable populations, women and in particular immigrant women. She further announced that the City of Paris is negotiating strong measures with the Ministry of Tourism to remove stars from hotels that contract chambermaid work.

The current neoliberal frenzy that bestows to labor cost numbers a justificatory power that mistreats populations increasing inequalities needs to come to an end. We need to raise the spatula like the Burkinabe women.

 

(Photo credit: Rue 89/ Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff)