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close this bookAction Against Child Labour (ILO, 2000, 356 p.)
close this folder7. Trade unions against child labour
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentTrade unions strengthen their capacity to address child labour issues
View the documentTrade unions support children, their families and communities
View the documentTrade unions raise awareness on child labour issues
View the documentTrade unions gather and disseminate data on child labour
View the documentTrade unions include child labour concerns in collective bargaining agreements
View the documentTrade unions advocate for codes of conduct
View the documentTrade unions work in partnership with NGOs, employers' organizations and governments
View the documentThe international trade union movement plays a major role

Trade unions include child labour concerns in collective bargaining agreements

The National Federation of Workers in Agriculture (CONTAG), in Brazil, conducted training courses for trade union leaders on how to incorporate and improve clauses on children's rights, including child labour, in their collective bargaining agreements. An analysis of existing agreements was undertaken to see how child labour clauses could be incorporated into bargaining agreements. This has been a successful strategy, and other trade unions have followed their example.

The clauses relating to child labour focus on prohibiting the employment of children under 14 years of age. They also state that the employment of minors over 14 years is subject to national legislation which offers protection and restriction in relation to the employment of children and adolescents in Brazil.

Other clauses, as in the coffee plantation agreement, state that there shall be equal remuneration for men, women and minor workers above 14 years. Other agreements include educational provision for the children of workers. The collective agreement for cane plantation workers in Pernambuco provides that employers engaging more than 50 workers must guarantee free primary schooling for the children of their workers, unless there is a school within 1 kilometre of the workplace.

Box 7.6. Data collection and dissemination by trade unions

Although the gathering of data in these examples does not always directly involve trade unions at the initial stage, trade unions are none the less critical in the dissemination of information in the fight against child labour.

The economic implications of replacing child labour with adult labour were examined in the carpet and glass industries by the Centre for Organizational Research and Training, Baroda, India, in cooperation with the ILO's Employment Department. The results were presented at a workshop for the Government, trade unions, employers' organizations and NGOs. The data showed that the cost of replacing child labour with adult labour was not very great, and that some successful carpet manufacturers were able to run their businesses without child labour. Information from the major markets such as the United States indicated that the small increase in production costs would not impact on sales. The workshop also addressed other issues that encourage the employment of children, such as children's greater docility and acceptance of longer working hours. The findings also broke the myth that the nimble fingers of children are necessary for carpet making, because adult strength is needed to make high-quality carpets. This information was confirmed in an ICFTU (International Confederation of Free Trade Unions) study on child labour in 1994 which reported:

"In our interviews with managers of carpet weaving workshops, we asked in particular whether children's small hands were a necessary prerequisite to rapidly produce quality work. The answer was negative.... As regards quality, measured in terms of knots per square centimeter, it is in fact the adult weavers, whose strength helps them to... produce the best-quality carpets."1

1 Quoted in Institute for Applied Social Science and Norwegian Institute of International Affairs: Child labour and international trade policy (Oslo).

The same finding was made in the gemstone industry in India, where children work under hazardous conditions. Again, children produce goods of medium quality and adults are needed for the best work.

In Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh, trade unions undertook a study on child labour in brassware production:

"Our survey found that in and around Moradabad, there are 22,000 children under 14 who work from the age of 5 or 6. Many of the poor parents earnestly wish to send their children to school but poverty and a general lack of schools prevents them from doing so. Trade unions have come forward to combat child labour. I know our limitations infighting this serious problem. We are trying to help set up non-formal schools for working children."

(Z.M. Naqvi, lawyer and local AITUC leader in Moradabad)

The General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions undertook a survey in the tea plantations in Nepal, to examine the nature and extent of child labour and provide the information needed to develop an action programme for the elimination of child labour in tea plantations. The results of the survey were published as a booklet entitled LIFE - Inside Dhurmas.

Box 7.7. An agreement in Uganda

The Memorandum of Understanding signed between the National Union of Plantation and Agricultural Workers (NUPAW) and the Uganda Tea Association (UTA) includes a clause on child labour, which reads:

"UTA and NUPAW agree that employment of children under the age of 18 years is not condoned and therefore the management shall not directly employ or allow the employees to bring their children in the Estates to work their task."