Saturday, December 1, 2018
Statement by the GCTU on the 70th Anniversary of 
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
10 December 2018 marks 70 years since the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For the first time in history, this unique international legal instrument recorded a set of fundamental rights of every inhabitant of the Earth - political, civil, social, cultural and economic ones. Among them are the right to life, liberty, personal integrity, equality of all before the law, the right to freedom of speech, belief and information, and the right to hold peaceful assemblies and build associations.
The scale of the impact of the Declaration on the subsequent development of the world community can hardly be overestimated. The mere fact that it is published in 501 languages testifies to its universal nature. The basic rights it laid down are universally recognized in all UN member states. Its principles underlie the constitutions of many democratic countries that emerged during the period of its existence. Finally, it triggered the development and adoption of more than 60 international instruments that now form a single global standard in the field of human rights.
World trade unions appreciate particularly the fact that the Declaration includes the social rights that are of special value to workers, i.e. the rights to work and recreation, free choice of employment, protection from unemployment, just and safe working surroundings, housing, education, healthcare, and social security, in other words all that is needed to support decent living standards for human beings. It is also important that the Declaration mentions the right of employees “to build trade unions for the protection of their interests”.
Today’s world is increasingly aware that political human rights cannot be secured without the social and labour rights being guaranteed. It is encouraging that this understanding has been finding direct reflection in the activities of the UN which for the past few decades has literally turned round to face global social challenges. Suffice it to mention the documents adopted by the numerous summits on various aspects of social development, including the Millennium Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved by the United Nations.
However, there is still a long way to go before the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are globally implemented in full. In the present-day world where corporate monopoly capital bosses the show, workers’ rights and interests have been pushed away to the periphery of economic development. While the global GDP has more than tripled over the past 20 years, more than a billion people are still languishing in desperate poverty. Even in the prosperous Europe, one worker in six falls into the “working poor” category, while more than 70 per cent of the world's population lacks adequate social protection.
According to the 2018 Global Rights Index, prepared by the International Trade Union Confederation, workers’ democratic space continues shrinking. The number of countries practicing unlawful arrests and detentions of workers increased from 44 in 2017 to 59 in 2018. Freedom of expression is limited in 54 countries. In 65 per cent of the 142 surveyed countries labour legislation does not apply to many categories of workers; in 87 per cent of countries the right to strike is restricted; in 81 per cent of countries several categories of workers are denied the right to collective bargaining, and in 54 countries freedom of speech and assembly is banned or restricted. The number of countries where workers are physically abused and bullied has increased from 59 to 65.
The situation in the countries where the GCTU has affiliates is also a far cry from satisfactory. The last congress of our Confederation noted that most of them were experiencing a protracted period of slowdown in economic growth. The regrettable result of this development is the widespread increase in inflation and unemployment rates, a decrease in the purchasing power of wages and social benefits, and a drop in the standards of living. All this creates a favourable climate for attacks on the rights of employees and trade unions, and aggravates labour relations.
On the eve of the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the GCTU reaffirms its commitment to human rights activism, and calls on its affiliates to do their best to help realise fully the rights, ideals and principles of justice and equality enshrined in the Declaration itself, in the UN Charter and other legal instruments, and in conventions of the International Labour Organisation.
Together, let us turn these rights into everyday reality!
General Confederation of Trade Unions