- Human Rights at Work: Perspectives on Law and Regulation
This is a timely and extremely relevant book. As this review is written, the US labor movement is simultaneously reeling and reenergized by the efforts of Republican legislators in numerous state legislatures to strip public employee unions of their right to bargain collectively. The book contains helpful strategies and ideas for this crisis as well as other related concerns.
In one of the chapters, Lance Compa, writing about the intersections of international labor rights conventions and US domestic law, describes a United Electrical Workers Union complaint against the state of North Carolina. Filed with the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Committee on Freedom of Association, the complaint charged that the state’s ban on public employee bargaining violated ILO Convention 87’s principle that all workers should enjoy organizing and bargaining rights. The committee ruled in favor of the union and urged the United States government “to promote the establishment of a collective bargaining framework in the public sector in North Carolina . . . and to take steps aimed at bringing the state legislation . . . into conformity with freedom of association principles.”1 The committee’s decision prompted the state legislature to introduce legislation to implement collective bargaining. In a similar case, the committee issued a decision against the Bush administration’s denial of collective bargaining rights to airport screeners in a case brought by the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Government Employees.2
Christian Brunelle’s article informs us of the Canadian Supreme Court decision in Health Services and Support-Facilities Subsector Bargaining Association v. British Columbia3 where the government, claiming a funding crisis in the healthcare system, adopted a law that authorized outsourcing of work in violation of a collective bargaining agreement and eliminated bargaining over other specified matters. The Court ruled that the concept of freedom of association under the Canadian Charter includes a procedural and constitutional right to bargain collectively.4 These are just examples of [End Page 1177] the wealth of information contained in the book. It informs the reader of the similarity of the struggle faced by workers around the world and the dire need for labor protections that transcend domestic jurisdictions.
Most of the book is devoted to an impressive analyses of the mechanisms by which the various international labor conventions interact and counteract with domestic legal systems in an attempt to establish and better protect the rights of workers. The first three sections contain national case studies that examine the way trade unions and their supporters have utilized national and international provisions to address worker issues in their respective countries.5 This is followed by a section that provides a number of informative discussions on particular international and regional agreements that can be utilized to address worker issues, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the European Social Charter (ESC), and the International Labor Organization’s 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. A third section contains discussions on enhancing the regulatory possibilities of labor relations, and places these in various theoretical contexts.6 These hefty sections are sandwiched by extensive introductory and concluding chapters providing additional historic and theoretical information on the evolution of international regulations that address worker’s rights.
Although a work of over 600 pages with twenty-one chapters and almost as many different authors can hardly be fully assessed within the confines of a book review, it is worthwhile to identify at least one theme that is noted by almost all the authors: the issue of globalization and the consequential growth of an “informal” sector of the labor market that has been impervious to domestic regulation. This has become a burgeoning area of concern to human rights activists as the fall-out from the 2008 economic crisis continues to manifest itself.
Informal workers are those who are employed freelance, part-time, on call...