safespace anonymous email and web forumsBestu oskir from Iceland — the Switzerland of data! That’s where you’ll find safeSpace, an anonymized communication tool created by volunteers from the New Unionism Network. It’s an online facility where workers can discuss issues without fear of being identified, and where they can meet securely with union organizers and/or colleagues from other countries. safeSpace also provides email addresses which have been stripped of any identifying information — a handy tool for whistleblowers and those who want to bring attention to crap they are witnessing. Unlike anything we’ve done before this is a user-pays service, but there wasn’t any way we could get the project off the ground otherwise. We’re sticking to our non-profit roots by offering free accounts to union organizers in a series of ultra-repressive regimes; initially Algeria, the Central African Republic, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Mali, North Korea, Paraguay and Somalia.

The safeSpace system is still in Beta, and we’ve got a few details to iron out, so we’re offering folks a 50% discount until the end of 2017. Financial members of the New Unionism Network will continue to get a discount after that. If you’d like to know more about the project check out the FAQ here.

FWUMThis article proposes the creation of a new international sustainability standard certifying that wages and working conditions are set through ongoing processes of good faith collective bargaining. Businesses and unions that comply with the standard will be entitled to apply the ‘Fair Work: Union Made’ label to their products and services. The authors argue that while such a voluntary standard cannot substitute for robust collective and individual labour law, it is likely to be an effective means of promoting collective industrial relations.

If you are interested in being part of a small team to take this idea further, please contact (more…)

There is a growing realisation in the health and safety industry that the game has changed. It used to be about back strain and blood-on-the-factory-floor. Today, we need to be looking for empty boxes of prozac and beta blockers as well. In fact in most developed countries stress has now replaced back injury as the primary cause of workplace absence. The ILO acknowledged that in March this year when, for the first time, they included “mental and behavioural disorders” among the list of diseases caused by work.(1) This year, the theme of their World Day for Health and Safety at Work was “new and emerging risks”.(2)

The ILO is not alone in having found a clear link between the way we work and the rise of depression, fatigue, anxiety, cardiovascular disease, burnout and hypertension. If it’s not quite a consensus, that’s mainly because the fallout from admitting it openly could be so enormous. With this would come questions of duty and responsibility, and then of liability.

The new and emerging stressors are called “psychosocial hazards”(3). To address them, progressive unions are starting to look hard at workplace culture. As many are finding, this is rapidly becoming the key challenge for 21st century union reps. (more…)

We have a winner in our Best Labor Book of 2009 poll.

By a huge majority it’s “Unhealthy Work: Causes, Consequences, Cures“, edited by Peter L. Schnall, Marnie Dobson, and Ellen Rosskam. Why did this book gain a full 49% of the vote? We will have a full review in the next newsletter, but in the meantime here’s a couple of quotes that might help you see where the authors are coming from:

‘The ways in which work is organized… can be as toxic or benign to the health of workers over time as the chemicals they breathe in the workplace air.’

(quoting Erich Fromm, 50 years ago): “…economy must become the servant for the development of man. Capital must serve labour; things must serve life.”

As work has changed, so have work-related health risks. There are not many unions or OHS reps who could claim to have kept up with this change. Reading this book can change all that, and help us rethink our model of safety culture for a globalized world. It’s that good.

You can download Chapter One for free here, and you can (and probably should!) order a hard copy here.

ACFTUChina faces unprecedented challenges as it industrialises, leading to the largest rural-urban migration in the history of the world.

One aspect of this dramatic shift has been the battle to lift energy production. Part of the challenge for unions has been to improve health and safety “at the coal face”.

Dave Feickert‘s excellent paper below will tell you more about China’s problems in the mining sector. Dave recently reported that Chinese and New Zealand unions have jointly run the first union-led mine safety programme in the country. The programme compared records for the industry in several countries and also looked at environmental issues, worker compensation and accident rehabilitation. A copy of the proceedings, including presentations and a meetings’ summary in English and Chinese, can be downloaded here.