Record high level of workers’ rights violations in 2023, Global Rights Index reports

published 14 July 2023 updated 22 March 2024

Nine out of 10 countries violated the right to strike in 2023. 77% of countries excluded workers from establishing or joining trade unions. The 2023 Global Rights Index, launched on 30 June 2023, highlights the injustices faced by workers globally and the status of the countries with the highest violations of workers’ rights.

Workers’ Rights in Danger

In Eswatini, over 80 people are reported to have lost their lives in the police crackdown on protests demanding democracy and fair wages. Trade union leaders were forced into exile, and two members of parliament were arrested and put in detention without trial. Trade union gatherings and protest actions are banned, and on January 21, 2023, Thulani Maseko, a human and trade union rights lawyer and political activist, was murdered.

Bhekie Mamba, President of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), reflected on the violence against workers in Eswatini, explaining that “even today, we experience workers who are being beaten by the police and the army, some harassed and killed by the state police and the army who roam the streets after hours.” Mamba added that “this all has given employers the opportunity to undermine the bargaining mechanisms, because they know that there is nothing the workers can do.”

The violent attacks against workers’ rights in Eswatini demonstrate the crisis that workers around the world are experiencing, putting unions at risk.

The Global Rights Index

“This global rights index is not only giving you a state of play on workers’ rights and trade union rights, but also on the situation of democracy at a global level,” said Luc Triangle, Acting General Secretary at the ITUC.

The Global Rights Index, reported by the International Trade Union Confederation, collects data on and analyses the extent to which countries and companies uphold international law as related to workers’ rights. Countries are measured against 96 indicators which are grounded in international legal standards of fundamental rights in the workplace. The Global Rights Index rates countries on a scale from 1 to 5+ on its degree of respect for workers’ rights, with 5+ indicating the highest violation of rights.

In the 2023 Global Rights Index, the top 10 worst countries for working people were announced to be Bangladesh, Belarus, Ecuador, Egypt, Eswatini, Guatemala, Myanmar, Tunisia, the Philippines, and Turkey, with Ecuador and Tunisia being added to the list since 2021. The Middle East and North Africa was identified as the worst region in the world for working people, consistent with the previous nine editions of the Global Rights Index.

Across countries, data demonstrates a significant increase in workers’ rights violations on a global level since the first edition of the Global Rights Index in 2014. Paapa Danquah, Legal Director of the ITUC, explained that “nine out of 10 countries violated the right to strike, an increase from 6 in 2014.” Danquah also highlighted that in 2023, 42% of countries restricted the right to free speech and assembly, which has increased from 26% in 2014. Similarly, countries arresting and detaining workers increased to 46% from 25% in 2014. 77% of countries excluded working people from the right to establish or join a trade union. Workers experienced violence in 44 countries, and trade unionists were murdered in eight countries including Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Eswatini, Guatemala, Peru and Sierra Leone.

Committed to Solidarity

As the voice of education unions globally, Education International stands with unions that have persevered through danger, corruption, and violence to fight for civil liberties. EI supports the mission of the Global Rights Index to call attention to the injustices faced by workers, and to demand accountability for governments suppressing workers and unions around the world.

“The line between autocracy and democracy is blurring, when the dialogue between state and citizen breaks down, when nations flirt with autocracy to pass unpopular laws, when governments deploy state forces to stop lawful resistance, democracy is on the line and working people suffered the consequences,” reflected Triangle. “But the Index is a force to build a better world because it shows what is really going on.”