Worker rights are one of the least protected human rights

A new report has found that worker rights – including the right to form a trade union and the right to bargain collectively – are among the least protected human rights globally. 

The findings are published by the CIRIGHTS Data Project, largest human rights dataset in the world, which scores and ranks countries on 25 internationally recognised human rights.

It found that worker rights are “always violated to some extent” even among the top 5 human rights scoring countries: Canada, Sweden, New Zealand, Norway, and Portugal. 

The report has been published in the journal Human Rights Quarterly.

The CIRIGHTS Data Project is co-led by David Cingranelli, a professor of political science at Binghamton University in the US, who says: “Previous research shows that it is unlikely that governments protect the rights to an adequate minimum wage, occupational health and safety, or reasonable limitations on work hours (including voluntary overtime work) unless they allow workers to form independent trade unions and to bargain collectively.

“In other words, the right to unionise, bargain, and strike are the gateway rights. If they are protected, all other labour rights are likely to be protected as well. But globally, the gateway rights are in decline.”

Cignarelli says that while democratic and rich countries protect labour rights more than others do, economic inequality has increased almost everywhere.

“Economic globalisation has increased competition among nations, which has led governments to favour corporations over workers in conflicts between the two.”

The CIRIGHTS data project measures the extent of government protection of human rights with an Overall Human Rights Protection index which ranges from zero to 100.

The project builds on 2 previous human rights measurement initiatives to encompass every country in the world with data spanning from 1981 to 2021.

According to the authors: “Countries receive zero points for widespread violations of a right, 2 points for minor violations, and 4 points for no violations.”

Nearly two-thirds of the world’s countries score less than 65, with the lowest overall scores held by Iran, Syria, North Korea, China and Iraq.

Also among the least protected human rights are the right to protection from torture and children’s right to be protected from exploitation of child labour.

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