BWI General Secretary Report to 5th World Congress

Buenas Dias Compañero y Compañeras!

We are here! Three years! It’s great to see you all.  Greetings also to our delegates participating via zoom.  Good morning! Good afternoon!

Since the pandemic in January 2020, we have had to face so much uncertainty.    Just the fact that we are here now, in this very beautiful city of Madrid, is already cause for celebration.  Thank you FICA-UGT! Thank you Habitat-CCOO for making this possible.  Thank you Pedro, Daniel and your team. Muchas Gracias  España for hosting our 5th World Congress!

No one is safe from COVID until everyone has access to vaccines. For those in zoom, we look forward to seeing you soon in-person.

Despite the pandemic, we have won many battles. We are here to share and celebrate our victories.  With those victories, we became stronger to fight our bigger battles.

Lula Ole Ole (Chant). Congratulations Brazil, Latin America. The pink tide has come to Latin America!  Workers and voters in Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, Honduras, Chile – and now Brazil – have been reversing the movement to the right. 

Should I include the victory of President Biden as part of the pink tide?  But we are witnessing a wave of unionisation in the US as a consequence of the Biden pro-labour stance and we are happy to see our affiliates gaining from it. I want to recognized our North America affiliates and the building trades.

I also want to recognise our courageous trade unionists who have put their lives on the line for freedom and democracy – Vasyl, Leysia, Catherina, Loy, Khanzar, Sandar. Let’s show them our solidarity for their fight for democracy, peace and freedom in Ukraine, Myanmar and Hong Kong.  Young workers, women workers — are in the frontline in the fight for freedom and democracy.

From Durban to Madrid.  Once again, Thank you to the Africa & Middle East region for hosting our last congress.  Congratulations to your successful organising campaigns of Chinese MNCs.  AMANDLA!

We cannot really celebrate in Europe with the far-right parties in Sweden and Italy won the election.  But what I can really report is that the cooperation of BWI and EFBWW is stronger as ever.  With this, we are stronger to counter the declining membership and labor standards in the region.

BWI Women have mobilised more women in all our virtual meetings and campaigns.  BWI women launched many campaigns - Valuing Women's Work campaign; women in trades; and ratification of ILO convention 190. But more importantly, women have contributed in developing  the post-covid recovery agenda, climate justice and future of work.  We are training hundreds of women in acquiring skills to work in building trades in India, Nepal, and the Philippines. 

Health and Safety is now a fundamental right. It was a great victory for workers. Together, WE WON.

We all mobilised. BWI and EFBWW mobilised to lead the global unions campaign. We were able to get 450 agreements with employers covering 18 million workers demanding that occupational health and safety be incorporated to ILO Tripartite Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.  Another milestone in our campaign was the adoption of the ILO Code of Practice on Health and Safety in Construction.

Our work has started. we just signed an agreement with Société du Grand Paris for  BWI to conduct health and safety inspection. Merci aux syndicats français. Bon travail.

A new global agreement has just been signed today with the Argos Cement, an MNC based in Colombia and has operations in Central America, the Caribbean, and the United States. Felicitaciones sindicatos Saúl, Manuel y Sindicatos Argos. Buen trabajo.  ustedes construyeron un diálogo social regional con Argos que derivó en este acuerdo.

Our sports campaign - Red Card for FIFA campaign has made a difference to the lives of migrant construction workers in Qatar

  • Agreement with the Qatar Supreme Committee and with three (3) multinational companies; 
  • 59 joint labor inspections of the stadium construction sites and accommodations 
  • Elections of workers representative to more than 100 workers welfare committees
  • Legal assistance to thousands of workers demanding wage payments 
  • Organised the workers community leaders forum representing more than 100,000 workers

We have improved the working and living conditions of more than 50,000 migrant construction workers in Qatar.

Thank you to all the affiliates who supported the campaign.  Thank you for the affiliates who send in safety inspectors and trainers to Qatar.  from  Germany Belgium Austria Iceland Sweden UK Norway Finland Netherlands Switzerland Philippines India Nepal Australia Turkey South Africa and Ghana.

I want to thank and recognise Jinsook Lee. She dedicated her life to the struggle of migrant workers throughout the world and played a leading role in Qatar.

Our campaign has gone bigger, we demanded decent work for one million construction workers in Qatar. This has resulted in labor reforms such as the introduction of minimum wage and the abolition of forced labour.  But these labor reforms are meaningless if they don’t make a real difference in the lives of migrant workers. Will the Qatar government have the political will to enforce the law? Will reforms continue after the world cup? We will be there, with the workers, and we will help them continue their fight for justice.

Soon, Qatar will no longer be in the headlines, but the workers will still need our help. BWI is not going to walk away from those workers. Forty Five (45) days before the World Cup, we still have an important task.  We will continue to campaign as well as negotiate with the Qatar Authorities and FIFA to recognise and establish a Migrant Workers Center.  This is the vehicle for the migrants to organise and support each other.  The MWC is a safe haven for migrants to protect themselves. It’s about their own agency to fight for their rights even after the World Cup.

We are not alone in this campaign.  BWI has built a broad global alliance with global and national unions, the players union FIFPRO, human rights groups AI and HRW  and football fans.— 

And our sports campaign moves on! We are present in the workplaces of the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics and will surely fight for the rights of the builder of the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy. We also move to the US, Canada and Mexico to ensure decent work in the preparations of 2026 United FIFA World Cup.

We have so many victories and battles to report.  I invite you to report as well. This is our collective work.  Allow me to recognise the members of the Presidium for their leadership and steady support on the BWI activities.


The pandemic was not just about health. It was also a social and economic crisis that deepened inequalities and injustices. We have already seen all of these before: health crises, global recession, economic slowdown, soaring inflation rates, technological advancement, climate change,  energy crises, armed conflicts,  right wing politics, violence against women and racism, lies and disinformation.  

These crises are not new but the Covid 19 pandemic has shown us – and reminded us -- that things can get worse,  in ways never experienced or even imagined before. It also created an environment that provided cover for a surge of authoritarianism. 

The pandemic has brought greater inequality.  Oxfam reported that — During the pandemic, a one billionaire was created every 30 hours while one million people crash into extreme poverty every 33 hours.  In the decades-long process of globalisation, governments have abandoned their power to regulate and influence investors and multinational companies. The rapid concentration of riches in the hands of a few companies and individuals is a form of re-distribution of wealth, but not to improve society or make it fairer. 

If I may use the slogan being used by the BWI youth —- People first before profits.

Holcim, IKEA and many MNCs took advantage of the pandemic to terminate workers, restructure and get rid of trade unions. MNCs talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. They are better at public relations than at industrial relations. 

It’s time to review our global agreements.  We cannot allow Skanska or We Build or Vinci to have a double standards - good labor practices in Europe and poor labor standards in the US, UK or Australia.

We have to re-negotiate our global framework agreements. Many, but not all, include health and safety as an ILO fundamental right. Climate change and just transition should also be added. Some agreements do not yet cover the value chains, including sub-contractors and suppliers. They should also include mediation and dispute settlement mechanisms. 

BWI has begun to use leverage from workers’ capital, but its effectiveness depends on the ownership, transparency, and shareholder rights. Further work will be done in this area and others like the BlueDot Network.

BWI has done pioneering work with the World Bank and its International Finance Corporation to include labour rights clauses in procurement or lending policies. This, along with government procurement policies provide leverage to influence corporate conduct.  Aslam Adil, building union in Pakistan won his complaint at the IFC violating its own standards in their Karot Hydropower project.  Great Job Aslam.

We are extending that cooperation to regional development banks.  Next week, BWI will be conducting health and safety mission with EBRD in South East Europe. And before the end of this year, we are signing our first agreement with the Asian Development Bank allowing BWI to be part of the bank’s selected monitoring of construction project.

Democracy and Peace

We are witnesses to government abuses and major political upheavals in many parts of the world. As we are gathered here today in Madrid, in Hong Kong, trade union leaders are in prison for their active support for democracy. Many trade unionists in Myanmar have joined the armed resistance. And, in Belarus union leaders are in prison; Ukrainians are fighting against the Russian invasion. Comrades, please join me once again in recognising these brave comrades and their trade unions who have risked life and limb to fight for freedom, independence and democracy. 

Trade unionists are engaged in struggles against dictatorships on all continents. However, authoritarians are not confined to dictatorships. Elected authoritarian leaders and their populist followers are trying to destroy well-established democracies like my country, the Philippines, Brazil, Hungary, Turkey, Tunisia, Thailand, and India. In Europe, Extreme Right parties have grown in several countries including Italy, France, Germany, and Sweden. 

The world breathed a sigh of relief when Joe Biden was elected President of the United States. However, we can all see that American democracy is still in danger. Former President Trump still refuses to accept the results of the 2020 election. If a significant number of people do not accept the peaceful transfer of power, democracy is in danger.  

Extreme Right groups that organised the attack on the CGIL headquarters in Rome and  CFMEU in Melbourne were inspired by the attempted insurrection at the US Capitol on 6 January.  The Extreme Right, have become experts in disinformation. Their persistent lies have blurred distinctions between truth and falsehood and have ushered in a post-truth era in which democracy may become even more precarious.

The fight for democracy mobilises trade unionists because strong trade unions need democracy and democracy needs strong and free unions. The fight for democracy and the fight for trade unions are, in fact, one and the same fight. 

Climate Justice

Friends and colleagues, as we applaud our democracy defenders and re-commit ourselves to democracy,  let us also re-commit ourselves to the work of protecting the earth.   For the earth too is in danger, and with it, the most at risk are the marginalised people on this planet.  We need to intensify our efforts in sustainable forest management,  in clean construction for the just transition to low emission manufacturing and construction.  


BWI is working with C40 on active measures to reduce emissions. The C40 initiative will build cooperation between city governments and the two sides of industry.  It will encourage stability in the industry, secure employment and upgrading skills. It will create jobs, which may also provide opportunities for women and young people who would like to work in the trades.

Forests are the lungs of the planet; and crucial in both mitigating the impacts of climate change and enhancing adaptation efforts. Clearing forest is happening on a massive scale in Brazil as well as rampant forest fires require better forest management with sufficient, trained staff to protect forests and, therefore, the planet. It should also improve the status and conditions of forestry workers. Our footprint and impact on global forest certification systems and the rights of forest and wood workers remain robust as Mark and Fatimah, both elected board members, continue to be the workers’ voice in FSC and PEFC respectively.  

The manufacture of building materials, especially cement, produces carbon. Solutions are being sought through technology, however, there have already been job losses and an increase of precarious work in the sector, including the exploitation of migrant workers. There needs to be a social focus as part of greening the industry and just transition to ensure that any displaced workers have rights, social protection, training opportunities, and good employment alternatives. Our work on greening the planet is linked with the future of work. 

Vamos! Organising Beyond Borders

The world today - post pandemic world where peace is threatened by the multiple crises.  This requires us to do more not less.  This requires greater solidarity and  cooperation among trade unions both global north and global south. Working for people, peace, planet, will require sacrifices.  I believe we are ready to make these sacrifices to meet the challenges ahead.  However, we need to close our ranks.  And we need to gather more workers into our fold.  There is no getting around this:  in numbers there is safety. In numbers, there is strength. 

In this Congress, I hope we renew our sense of collectivity and solidarity. And of course, our sense of friendship and comradeship.  

I want to thank all of you for your solidarity.   La lucha continua! Para la gente, para el pueblo, para la democracia, para la paz, para la planeta!  

El Pueblo Unido Jamas Cera Vencido