Unions act to secure tax justice to secure workers’ rights

published 10 October 2018 updated 11 October 2018

Addressing tax avoidance by multinational companies was the focus of trade unions from all over the world at a recent seminar.

Protecting workers’ rights in the face of tax avoidance by multinational companies was the key issue discussed  at a trade union global tax seminar held in Geneva on 8-10 October. Hosted by the Friedrich Ebert (FES) foundation, the Centre for International Corporate Tax Accountability and Research (CICTAR) and the Public Services International (PSI), the event examined tax practices of multinational companies and their effects on working conditions across the globe.

The seminar, attended by delegates from Education International (EI) and its member organisation, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), exposed the tax practices of these firms in order to “challenge this destructive business model”, according to a brief by CICTAR.

The common practices of outsourcing, privatisation, and precarious working conditions in which multinational corporations oftentimes engage are, according to CICTAR, responsible for growing inequality, declining wages and working conditions and attacks on collective bargaining and diminished union representation. Multinational companies avoid taxes through complex and opaque structures, but depend heavily on government contracts. “Challenging the business model of multinational companies presents an opportunity to win improvements for millions of workers and to advance global tax justice,” the brief states.

Country examples

National unions made presentations at the round-table discussion, “Can unions build power and win supporters with tax campaigns?” The AFT’s Bob Brown described  the success of a state-wide teachers’ strike in West Virginia that successfully obtained a five per cent pay-rise for teachers and opposed large cuts in the public budget for education. Participants from Sinafresp (Brazil) outlined how their “ The poor pay more tax” campaign is raising awareness about regressive tax systems that are an injustice in their country.

EI fights for tax justice

EI has on numerous occasions campaigned for fair and progressive taxation to fund high quality public education for all, including as a critical way to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals. In 2016a toolkit was developed  together with the Global Campaign for Education and ActionAid International to support education unions and civil society organisations across low- and middle-income countries to advocate and campaign on issues related to financing for education through progressive and fair taxation. The toolkit is adaptable to different contexts and can be downloaded here.