BWI construction unions pioneer global strategy on Chinese MNCs

In a collective and sustainable effort to respond to the challenges imposed by the emergence of Chinese multinational companies in the global construction industry, BWI organised a Global Conference on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) from 12 to 14 June in Manila, Philippines. 

Attended by close to 80 trade unionists from Asia Pacific, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America, the conference informed BWI affiliates on the latest trends and developments on the global construction industry, especially on how to effectively engage the BRI, a global infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 to invest in nearly numerous countries and international organisations.

BWI said that it hopes to pioneer a global strategy to effectively engage BRI-led Chinese MNCs to safeguard labour rights, exact employer accountability and protect the environment. 

In their opening and solidarity messages, BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson and FES Philippine Office Country Representative Vinzenz Huzel took turns in lauding the participants for heeding BWI’s call to develop a global plan of action to engage the Chinese MNCs on labour and environmental rights based on its organising-negotiating-influencing pillars as outlined by its strategic plan. 

University of the Philippines Professor Rene Ofreneo started the discussion by giving a presentation on the BRI experience in the Philippines, particularly the country’s current infrastructure strategy dubbed as “Build-Build-Build.” He asserted that it is important for the trade union movement, civil society organisations and other concerned sectors to ask their respective governments what is the development framework guiding their particular national infrastructure programs.  

“There is a need to scrutinise which are the projects that meet the urgent requirements of the people, such as infrastructure that support small farmers, education of poor children, small and medium industries,” Ofreneo said. 

BWI Global Coordinator on Infrastructure Linnea Wikström followed shortly after with a presentation on the global overview of the infrastructure sector. She provided the participants with the international trends on technology in the construction sector, modular and offsite construction, smart cities, stimulus plans and migrant workers’ issues. 

Wikström also enumerated the critical issues that were identified with the emergence of Chinese MNCs such as the limitation to the rights to organise and collectively bargain, occupational health and safety (OHS), forced and child labour, and gender inequality and discrimination. 

For his part, BWI Education Secretary Tos Añonuevo started his presentation by saying that “more workers die from workplace-related accidents and illnesses than soldiers deployed in wars.” It is with this perspective that he pointed out the importance of engaging Chinese MNCs and the larger BRI framework. He cited the widespread labour rights violations, non-transparent loan agreements, poor labour inspections and workplace health and safety that continue to plague BRI infrastructure projects in different countries. 

Añonuevo also presented BWI’s strategy on the BRI comprised of three key concepts: “build,” which covers trade union organising and strengthening, “defend,” which promotes negotiating national agreements and grievance resolutions and “advance,” which identifies influencing policies, social dialogue and campaigning. He ended his presentation by reminding trade unions that developmental loans and aid should not be exploitative of workers and their countries’ resources.

The afternoon session of the conference's first day was devoted to panel discussions that deliberated the relevance and impact of BRI on trade unions, countries and international financial institutions (IFIs), and the possibilities and opportunities opened for trade union organising in BRI infrastructure projects.