Construction workers demand greater input into urbanisation


Gopinath Paneersalvam (AIKTMS, Chennai, India) asking about how technology and data can be used to advance workers' rights. 

A BWI delegation of construction workers attending the World Urban Forum 9 in Kuala Lumpur (WUF9) on 7-13 February 2018 have demanded greater input into the process of urbanisation. The BWI and its predecessor IFBWW have participated in the WUF and UN-Habitat process since 1996, however unions, decent work and workers’ rights were hardly mentioned in the ‘New Urban Agenda’, the focus of WUF9.

“There is a great irony that while construction workers build the casinos, shopping malls and luxury condominiums of tomorrow, they often live in slums or other forms of inadequate temporary housing on construction sites” said BWI Asia Pacific Regional Representative Apolinar Tolentino. “Without strong interventions to strengthen workers’ rights, the New Urban Agenda will fail to underpin the necessary action for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”

The BWI delegation included representatives from some of the region’s fastest growing cities, including Jakarta (Indonesia), Phnom Penh (Cambodia), Yangon (Myanmar), Chennai (India), as well as from Kampala (Uganda) and Copenhagen (Denmark). With more than half of the world’s population now living in cities and cities accounting for around 70% of global GDP, discussions around the future of urbanisation are more important than ever.

Vice-President of the Building and Wood Workers’ Trade Union of Cambodia (BWTUC) Chhlonh Sou spoke in a panel on labour and housing markets, describing the poor conditions in which Cambodia’s construction workers – most of whom are rural migrants on temporary contracts – live. “We believe that housing is a human right”, he said, “however we cannot see that right being realised without strong protection of the right to freedom of association and decent work.”

Gunde Odgaard, Head of Secretariat of BAT-Kartellet (Denmark), spoke in the Stakeholder Roundtable for Trade Unions and Workers on the value of strong labour clauses in public procurement contracts. He noted that many of the largest construction projects are publicly-funded, and municipalities had an obligation to ensure that funding was not used to undermine workers’ rights. Odgaard has authored a paper on the subject, that gives working examples from Denmark, India, Brazil and South Korea on the effective use of labour clauses.

In the same Roundtable, Phyo Sandar Soe (General Secretary of the Building and Wood Worker Federation of Myanmar) noted that construction workers in Yangon needed better health and safety protections and security of tenure to improve their quality of life.

The newly-elected Executive Director of UN-Habitat, Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, is currently also Mayor of the Malaysian city of Penang.

In preparation for WUF9, the BWI published a briefing paper which you can download here.