European Committee of Social Rights
In 15 decisions published last month, the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) determined that 14 European States are in violation of their obligations to ensure women’s rights to equal pay and equal opportunities in the workplace. [ECSR] In August 2016, University Women of Europe (UWE), an international nongovernmental organization, submitted the separate complaints against each of the 15 States that have accepted the ECSR’s complaints procedure: Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, and Sweden. See ECSR, UWE Decisions: Factsheet (2020). The ECSR found that each of the States – except Sweden – had violated one or more of its obligations under the European Social Charter with regard to guaranteeing and promoting the right to equal pay for equal work regardless of gender. The ECSR noted that the pay gap persists largely because of imbalances between men and women in the kinds of jobs and positions they hold. The Committee identified steps for States to take, including ensuring pay transparency, providing effective remedies for pay disparities, and ending retaliatory dismissals.
The decisions mark the first time the ECSR has decided complaints concerning the same human rights issue in all 15 States simultaneously. The Committee noted that the decisions should guide the actions of all States parties to the European Social Charter or Revised European Social Charter, including the 28 States that have not accepted the ECSR complaint procedure. Read more
Press briefing by Baskut Tuncak, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances
Credit: UN Web TV
In a new report, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances has laid out 15 principles to guide States and businesses in preventing and remedying workers’ exposure to toxics. [OHCHR Press Release] In September 2019, the Special Rapporteur, Baskut Tuncak, presented the principles to the UN Human Rights Council, which adopted a resolution calling on States and non-State actors to implement them. See UN Human Rights Council, Resolution 42/21, Protection of the rights of workers exposed to hazardous substances and wastes, UN Doc. A/HRC/RES/42/21, 8 October 2019. The principles center workers’ human rights, and emphasize that both States and employers must act to prevent workers’ exposure to toxic substances, that these obligations extend beyond national borders, and that workers’ access to information and to effective remedies are critically important. See Report of the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, UN Doc. A/HRC/42/41, 17 July 2019. The report, which is the culmination of 25 years of work under the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, is grounded in and builds on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, International Labour Organization conventions, and multilateral agreements on toxic wastes. See id. at paras. 8, 12.
108th (Centenary) Session of the International Labour Conference
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The International Labour Conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted an “unprecedented Convention and accompanying Recommendation” during its June 2019 meeting, setting new global obligations and outlining measures for ILO Member States to take in addressing violence and harassment in the context of work. [ILO Press Release: Conference] The Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019, a legally binding instrument, covers violence and harassment, including on the basis of gender, in all sectors of the economy and all work-related activities, and expressly indicates that such violence or harassment may amount to human rights violations. [ILO Press Release: Conference] It requires States to implement legislation, training, monitoring, and avenues of redress and support in order to prevent and remedy these practices; it also calls on States to address the particular needs of vulnerable groups and those impacted by domestic violence. See Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019, arts. 6-11. The Convention represents the first new legally binding instrument adopted by the Labour Conference since 2011, when it adopted the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189). [ILO Press Release: Convention] The Convention will enter into force one year after two ILO Member States ratify it, and will come into force for States parties one year after their ratification. See Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019, art. 14.
Crossing the river from Venezuela to Colombia
Credit: Policía Nacional de los colombianos via Wikimedia Commons
On May 7, 2019, the International Labour Organization (ILO) announced the launch of a new plan including a series of urgent interventions aimed at addressing the security, economic, and social integration needs of Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. See ILO, Appeal: Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Latin America and the Caribbean. Under this proposed plan – developed together with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the Organization of American States (OAS) – the ILO has committed $2 million USD of its voluntary funds to support projects in the three countries that have received the majority of displaced people from Venezuela: Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru. [ILO Press Release] The ILO intervention is part of a broader appeal within the framework of the Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan (RMRP), a multilateral plan to coordinate a regional response to the unprecedented and growing “largest displacement of population in the modern history of Latin America and the Caribbean.” [ILO Press Release] Venezuela’s years-long economic and political crisis, which worsened in recent months following reactions by national and foreign authorities to Juan Guaidó’s attempt to claim the presidency from Nicolás Maduro, has resulted in an estimated 3.7 million people leaving the country and about seven million people in Venezuela in need humanitarian assistance. [UN News: Humanitarian Crisis]
Launch of the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work
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In a new report, the International Labor Organization (ILO) proposes a “human-centred agenda for the future of work,” advocating bold action to reduce inequalities and uncertainties in employment by increasing education, training, and support programs; solidifying workers’ rights and protections; and, expanding investment in decent and sustainable work. See ILO, Work for a Brighter Future (2019). The report urges governments to seize opportunities presented by technology, the green economy, and demographic changes. Its key recommendations include instituting: a “universal labour guarantee” that includes a right to an adequate living wage regardless of employment situation; lifelong social protection; lifelong educational and training opportunities; gender equality initiatives; and new private investment incentives to benefit historically excluded or under protected workers. The report was prepared by ILO’s Global Commission on the Future of Work and released on January 22, marking the beginning of ILO’s centenary year. [ILO Press Release] The report will be presented and debated at the Centenary International Labor Conference in June 2019. See ILO, Work for a Brighter Future. at 55.
The ILO report’s release came the day after the United Nations Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights published new Guiding Principles on Human Rights Impact Assessments of Economic Reforms to assist stakeholders in assessing the impact of economic policies and ensuring that these are anchored in human rights standards. [OHCHR] According to the Independent Expert, “The thrust of the Guiding Principles is that States cannot shy away from their human rights obligations in economic policy making at all times, even in times of economic crisis.” [OHCHR] Both publications reflect broader efforts at the international level to advance labor rights and the progressive realization of economic, social and cultural rights in a comprehensive manner that is centered in human rights. Read more
Credit:Sandro Weltin via Council of Europe
The European Committee on Social Rights (ECSR) has, for the first time, addressed the collective bargaining rights of self-employed workers, holding that a pre-2017 Irish ban on collective bargaining by freelance journalists, voice-over actors, and session musicians violated the European Social Charter. See ECSR, Irish Congress of Trade Unions v. Ireland, Complaint No.123/2016, Merits, 12 December 2018, para. 35. In view of a subsequent amendment to the Irish law at issue, the ECSR also concluded that the current situation does not constitute a violation. Nevertheless, the ECSR took the opportunity to clarify the status of workers like these artists and writers, and to confirm that the self-employed cannot be categorically excluded from collective bargaining.
Palais des Nations, Geneva
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In the month of July, various universal and regional bodies will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports, country visits, and the review of individual complaints. Three United Nations treaty bodies will meet in July to engage with States regarding their treaty obligations related to civil and political rights, the rights of women, and the prevention of torture. Further, civil society can register this month to participate in the sessions of two treaty bodies that will meet in August to engage with States regarding their obligations related to racial discrimination and the rights of persons with disabilities, respectively. The UN Human Rights Council and several of its working groups will be in session to review communications, thematic reports, and country-specific reports; select individuals to serve as special procedure mandate holders; and convene several panel discussions on the human rights of women, internally displaced persons, and on technical cooperation in the promotion and protection of human rights related to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will hold its annual session. Two UN special procedures will conduct country visits focusing on human rights and transnational corporations, and on the human rights situation in the Republic of Korea.
Regionally, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) may hear one case related to the prohibition of collective expulsion of aliens, and the European Committee of Social Rights and Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will be in session.
The UN treaty body sessions, the public hearings of the European Court, and the hearings of the Inter-American Court, may be watched via UN Web TV, the European Court’s website, and the Inter-American Court’s website or Vimeo, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
Palace of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland
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On May 21, 2018, Qatar acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which will both come into force for the State in August. [HRW: Treaties] Qatar’s accession to these conventions included both formal reservations on articles to which Qatar will not consider itself bound by as well as statements by Qatar indicating how the government will interpret certain provisions, in accordance with Islamic Sharia law, the national constitution, and other national laws. Civil society has expressed concern at these reservations and statements, particularly as they relate to limitations on women’s rights and migrant workers’ rights. [HRW: Treaties] Including these most recent accessions, Qatar is now a party to nine United Nations conventions, obliging the State to guarantee the rights to equal protection and non-discrimination, among other rights. See OHCHR, Ratification Status for Qatar. Read more
Dalia Leinarte, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) recently published a general recommendation on the adoption of a gender-based approach on the prevention of and response to climate change and environmental disasters. See Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, General Recommendation No. 37: Gender-related dimensions of disaster-risk reduction in the context of climate change, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/GC/37, 9 February 2018. The General Recommendation provides guidance to States on fully implementing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in the context of climate change and disasters; under the Convention, States parties have both general obligations to ensure gender equality as well as specific obligations to guarantee rights that may be negatively affected by climate change and natural disasters. See id. at para. 10. The General Recommendation warns that pre-existing gender inequalities are aggravated following a disaster and women become more susceptible to gender-based violence, but States parties must still guarantee the rights enumerated in the Convention. See id. at paras. 3, 10. The General Recommendation is one of several recent developments on international standards at the intersection of human rights and the environment; notably the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations related to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment recently called for the recognition of the right to a healthy environment at the universal level, and published guidance on children’s rights and the environment. [OHCHR Press Release] Read more
Council of Europe
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On January 24, the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) published its 2017 conclusions regarding 33 States’ implementation of the European Social Charter’s provisions related to health, social security, and social protection, and found 175 instances of non-conformity out of 486 situations examined. [ECSR Press Release] Additionally, the ECSR was unable to adequately assess the situation in 83 cases due to lack of information. [ECSR Press Release] The ECSR emphasized the need for States to implement measures to improve workplace safety, maternal and infant mortality, social security benefits, and policies addressing poverty and social exclusion. See ECSR, European Social Charter Social Rights Monitoring 2017: Health, Social Security and Social Protection (2018), 1. The ECSR noted positive developments regarding the framework and adoption of measures with respect to health and safety at work as well as the extension of social security benefits with regards to healthcare and disability. See id. Three States (Greece, Iceland, and Luxembourg) failed to submit their reports on time for review by the ECSR; conclusions on those States will be issued at a later date in 2018. See id.