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Member Profile April 2016

CoDev

Unifor

Mohamad Alsadi, Director, Human Rights and International Department at Unifor, with the Canadian labour delegation to Bangladesh joined by the Canadian High Commissioner Benoît-Pierre Laramée in a meeting on Feb 17, 2016, with the Ministry of Labour officials to discuss labour rights and workers health and safety issues.

This month CCIC met with Mohamad Alsadi, Director, Human Rights and International Department at Unifor to discuss May Day, Unifor's social justice fund, the #1 priority for the Canadian government and much more…

CCIC - May 1st is May Day, or 'International Workers' Day'. Why should Canadians care about May Day and what link is there with international development and humanitarian assistance?

Mohamad Alsadi - May Day is international workers day and its roots are in North America around the fight for the 8 hour day.  There are a great many special days on our modern calendars but there is no substitute for May Day that celebrates both worker rights and international solidarity.  The eight hour day movement that gave rise to May Day was very strong in both the USA and Canada in the late 19th Century.  A peaceful demonstration in Chicago’s Haymarket Square in support of workers on strike for an eight hour day was brutally suppressed by police on May 4, 1894.  The International Workingmen’s Association declared May 1 to be “international workers day” in all countries to show their solidarity with the workers of North America, and every year since millions of working people around the world have marched in support of worker rights.  We could not be happier that CCIC and Flash are helping to keep the meaning of May Day alive for a new generation of workers.

 

CCIC - Unifor's Social Justice Fund has supported more than 1,110 projects in over 43 countries. Can you tell us about one current project, of which you are particular proud and excited.

Mohamad Alsadi - It is estimated that more than 100,000 people globally are employed in the shipbreaking sector, mostly in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, China and Turkey. Once highly mechanized, today shipbreaking is very dangerous and grueling work. Workers dismantle the giant sea vessels, so the steel can be re-sold and re-purposed. In Bangladesh, large shipbreaking yards line the coast of the Bay of Bengal.

In Bangladesh, where health and safety and environmental regulations are lax and it is difficult to find paid employment, workers, including children, are frequently badly injured or killed on the job. Workers lack adequate health and safety protections and can be exposed to toxic substances, which are also released into the water from the shoreline.

The Unifor Social Justice Fund has partnered with the Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation (OSHE) to help set up a medical clinic in the city of Sitakunda in the Chittagong district in an effort to help provide much-needed medical services to injured workers. OSHE regularly hosts special health care seminars for union leaders and members and provides basic information about disease prevention in the workplace. The Foundation also raises awareness by providing educational materials about health and safety at work. In addition, OSHE supports and assists the families of deceased members.

The clinic runs study circles where workers can learn about basic occupational health and safety rights, as well as how to apply existing labour laws. These classes teach workers their rights, how to enforce them, and how to encourage others to do the same. With the necessary tools of education and health and safety protections, workers are empowering themselves in the sector.

In one year, the clinic received more than 1,250 workers and their families. The clinic provided services including but not limited to basic health care, special physical therapy, pain relief and referral to specialists. There are four people working at the clinic: a doctor, a nurse, a part time accountant and executive director.

 

CCIC - Why is it important for labour groups, such as UNIFOR to be part of international cooperation and how would you describe this unique contribution?

Mohamad Alsadi - The trade union movement from its inception has been internationalist in its outlook, and Unifor’s Social Justice Fund is an extension of our internationalism.

Of course the SJF supports development goals in many countries with our partner organizations.  But in our modern era of “globalization” international solidarity between workers is more relevant than ever.  We all understand the downward pressure on wages and living standards for workers in Canada as a result of globalized trade and the free movement of capital across borders.  Unifor sees our international cooperation with workers in developing countries not as charity but mutual solidarity to fight for fair trade rules and recognition of worker rights in all countries. 

We need to remember that solidarity is always returned.  And when Canadian workers face difficult struggles, especially in industries where we export manufactured goods and commodity products, we can count on worker organizations from Germany to Brazil to South Africa to Mexico to  respond to our calls for support.   I assure you this has many times had a meaningful impact from which Canadian workers have benefited.

 

CCIC - In your opinion, what is the top issue that Global Affairs Canada and the Canadian government need to address in 2016 related to international cooperation?

Mohamad Alsadi - Canada should revisit the negative changes of the past decade to our international development policies.  Canada’s international development commitments should rise significantly in relation to our GDP, and we should respond to the needs of people in the developing world on a humanitarian basis rather than as an extension of Canada’s trade and commercial policies. 

Global priorities for international cooperation today must of course emphasize refugee settlement, global health emergencies and natural disasters, which unfortunately continue to affect millions of people in many regions of the world, while only some of these crisis seem to attract the global attention and resources they deserve.

The right to decent work is a growing international issue that Unifor and the global labour movement is advancing with our partners in the development community.  We believe that the recognition of worker rights can be one of the major practical instruments to promote sustainable economic development and a fairer distribution of wealth.

 

CCIC - What does Unifor value most about its CCIC membership? 

Mohamad Alsadi - The CCIC has done a great job of bringing the progressive development community in Canada together.  The difficult period of the past decade that we are all survivors of has shown the importance of our network and mutual support.  Working together with our CCIC friends and member organizations we have an opportunity now to help shape a more progressive Canadian international development policy and a bigger role for the NGOs that make real international solidarity happen.  If we did not have CCIC, we simply would have to invent it.

 

 

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