Union leaders from the four corners of the Earth travelled to Nyon, Switzerland, last week to share progress from the past year and make plans to strengthen unions in 2020.

UNI Global Union’s World Executive Board met 5-6 November with a sharp focus on how unions must respond to growing political volatility and growing inequality.

“Across all of our sectors, there is more work underway every day, and its clear that the pace of transformation at work creates an urgency for all of us,” said UNI General Secretary Christy Hoffman. “We are breaking new ground when it comes to the scope and scale of our organising program.  And as for global agreements, we are only limited by our vision and determination.”

This commitment to building worker power was on clear display during the meeting. UNI is directly supporting over 44 different company campaigns in 47 different countries.

For example, in Bangladesh, UNI supported the GPEU’s victory at Grameen Phone, part of Telenor, after a seven-year struggle for recognition. In Zambia, UNI helped ZUSAW grow by more than 8,500 members over 18 months in the security industry. In Albania, it supported the founding of one of the few new unions established in the country in the ICTS sector. UNI helped SINTRASALUDCOL in Colombia as it grew from 25 to 10,000 workers in that country’s private healthcare sector.

Additionally, UNI is coordinating efforts to secure rights within three leading companies in their sectors:

  • The UNI-backed Amazon Global Union Alliance has brought together workers and unions from more than 20 countries to make this corporate behemoth respect the rights of workers in every sector and country in which it operates. Beyond the Alliance, UNI, together with the ITUC will organise a symposium in December which brings together Amazon critics from around the world to develop a challenge to the Amazon business model.
  • At care giant Fresenius, UNI along with global unions PSI and IndustriALL are pushing for a global agreement with their recently created alliance.
  • The Teleperformance Global Union Alliance is campaigning for a fair process to form a union and collectively bargain for the company’s 300,000 workers.

Many of UNI’s campaigns are supported by our organizing centers. In Central Europe, COZZ, the organising center in Poland, continues to grow and delivers results with campaigns in Care, Graphical, and ICTS. In Colombia, another organising center, COE, has recently launched. A new initiative by UNI Europa, EPOC, will provide expert advice, training, and mentoring for Western and Northern European Unions on organizing and defending sectoral collective bargaining.

Since UNI’s 2018 World Congress in Liverpool, the union federation has signed or renewed nearly a dozen global agreements with major employers like BNP Paribas, Telefonica, and Carrefour—many with ground-breaking language on topics like gender discrimination, the right to disconnect, and responsible sales practices. Meeting participants endorsed another year of advancing the number of global agreements but also strengthening how these agreements are implemented.

Beyond organizing for union growth, Hoffman noted that UNI is making a difference in the broader world:

  • UNI is a leader on using Business and Human Rights tools to hold companies accountable and was the first labor organisation to initiate a case under the new French law of vigilance.
  • UNI’s work on ethical AI and data privacy is creating the ground rules for a human-centered world of work.
  • Our Professional & Managers group just launched a highly publicized campaign on the right to disconnect.
  • UNI Equal Opportunities and our affiliates are part of the global campaign to win the ratification of ILO Convention 190, to end workplace violence and harassment.

The World Executive Board supported a programme to raise awareness about discrimination against LGBTI+ workers and launched an LGBTI+ Guide which provides information about the issues faced by these workers and guidance for how unions can tackle these challenges.

As part of our human rights work relating to the Middle East, UNI will use its influence to pressure investors, banks, and other companies to withdraw support from the illegal West Bank Israeli settlements.   

From Hong Kong to Harare and Lebanon to London to Santiago, UNI’s regions reported on uprisings around the world in response to austerity and repression.  The leaders in the room celebrated the recent win by the Frente de Todos party in Argentina, against a right-wing, anti-union government.

One theme from the regional reports was that union power and collective bargaining are needed as a hedge against the closing of democratic spaces.

“Collective bargaining and global agreements are more important than ever in this volatile political period.  They especially help to build workers’ power in multinationals,” said Ruben Cortina, Global President of UNI.

During the meeting, Regional Secretary of UNI Apro Chris Ng was honored for his 42-year career advancing workers’ rights. Brother Ng will retire at the UNI Apro conference in Nepal later this month.

Several unions and labor leaders were recognized for their excellence in organizing and their courage in the face of adversity. In total, UNI gave six “Breaking Through” awards to unions who had major organizing successes, and three “Freedom from Fear” awards to activists who inspired the global movement with their bravery (Read the full story here.)

The World Executive Board also noted that the 6th UNI World Congress and 6th UNI World Women’s Conference will be held in Brisbane, Australia between Friday 11 November and Wednesday 16 November 2022.

The next World Executive Board meeting will be held 11 November and 12 November 2020 and the UNI Management Committee will take place on 13 May and 14 May 2020.


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