WORK-LIFE BALANCE / JUL. 04, 2014
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Labour Freedom in the US: How Real is it ?

Many Americans will celebrate their Independence Day with games, sports, guns bells, guns and fireworks to celebrate freedom in every aspect of their life: freedom of expression, freedom of movement, freedom of thinking and so on.  The Declaration drafted by Thomas Jefferson points to three fundamental principles “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as indisputable rights shared by all people equally. Although freedom is deemed a prevailing value in modern America, the following facts concerning US labour contradict this notion:

Slavery Challenges America

50,000 people work in forced labour conditions in the US and an additional 17,500 are being trafficked every year, according to Justice Department statistics. These terrifying numbers mean that more human beings are being enslaved yearly than during legal slavery in America’s dark history.     

Domestic slaves are the most hard to discover; this kind of slavery can be happening next door to you and it could be difficult to realise it. Recently, patterns of domestic slavery were found in supposedly ‘decent’ households, often in expatriate enclaves. In those cases, only the intervention of conscientious citizens could break the slaves’ chains.

Workplace Gender Discrimination Levels are High (for an Otherwise Liberal State)

The principles of Declaration stipulate that all men and women as well as races are treated equally. Ironically though, during fiscal year 2012 99,412 workplace discrimination charges were reported in the private sector. Gender inequalities in the US workplace amounted to 29.5% (27,687 charges) last year while race discrimination totaled 35.3% (33,068 charges).   

Immigrant Workers Fear of Filing Charges Over Unfair Treatment

According to a report by Human Rights Watch the “immigrant workers are often afraid to come forward to file unfair labour practice charges or to appear as witnesses in unfair labor practice proceedings because they fear their immigration status will be challenged”. Feeling vulnerable because of their immigration status, they are reluctant to fully exercise their rights. The report adds that “workers who persist in exercising the right to freedom of association are often victimized by the employer moving from threat to action: calling the INS to have them deported, even though such an act is an unfair labor practice under the NLRA”.

Finally, only the fact that even a small fraction of people do not entirely enjoy their freedom and basic labour rights in the country which nurtured liberty and equality, says a lot.  It urgently calls for more work to be done in eradicating contemporary forms of human inequality, labour tyranny and oppression. Celebrating the Independence Day of America would have more meaning today if all US employers made use of the Declaration’s principles to constructively promote workers’ rights and interests as well as working conditions and social benefits through collective bargaining and social dialogue.     

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