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Hazard or Hardship

Hazard or Hardship: Crafting Global Norms on the Right to Refuse Unsafe Work

Jeffrey Hilgert
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press,
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Hazard or Hardship
    Book Description:

    Today, hazardous work kills 2.3 million people each year and injures millions more. Among the most compelling yet controversial forms of legal protection for workers is the right to refuse unsafe work. The rise of globalization, precarious work, neoliberal politics, attacks on unions, and the idea of individual employment rights have challenged the protection of occupational health and safety for workers worldwide. In Hazard or Hardship, Jeffrey Hilgert presents the protection of refusal rights as a moral and a human rights question.

    Hilgert finds that the protection of the right to refuse unsafe work, as constituted under international labor standards, is a failure and calls for a reexamination of worker health and safety policy from the ground up. The current model of protection follows an individual employment rights framework, which fails to protect workers against the inherent social inequalities within the employment relationship. To adequately protect the right to refuse as a human right, both in North America and around the world, Hilgert argues that a broader protection must be granted under a freedom of association framework. Hazard or Hardship will be a welcome resource for labor and environmental activists, trade union leaders, labor lawyers and labor law scholars, industrial relations experts, human rights advocates, public health professionals, and specialists in occupational safety and health.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6924-4
    Subjects: Law, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction: Commodified Workers and the International Response
    (pp. 1-14)

    Colonel Nicholson had again reassured his Japanese captors that the British soldiers under his command could construct their railroad bridge before the deadline. In the classic World War II film Bridge on the River Kwai, the exacting commander touts the organizational efficiency of his captive battalion, eventually beaming at the sight of the bridge as it nears completion. Hesitantly, near the end of the enormous construction project crafted entirely from jungle lumber, a young major approaches Nicholson and dissents, saying the soldiers—now Japanese prisoners of war—must be given permission to slow down or openly revolt, given the importance...

  6. 1 Human Rights and the Struggle to Define Hazards
    (pp. 15-34)

    Protecting basic refusal rights where workers face the most dangerous working conditions has had wide public support generally. Definitions of workplace hazards, however, are socially contested; meaning workers and employers often disagree about the definition of workplace hazards. The right to refuse typically has been wedded to some threshold, defined legally, that describes the degree of occupational hazard a worker may refuse. The phrase “imminent and serious danger” is one such legal standard that is used to determine when a worker can refuse unsafe work.

    One can argue over the specific hazard threshold that will be covered by the right...

  7. 2 Theoretical Perspectives on Individual Employment Rights
    (pp. 35-52)

    With the decollectivization of rights at work over the previous generation, the notion of an “individual” employment rights era emerged as the alternative to national labor policies based on collective or association-based worker protections. The right to refuse unsafe work has been swept up in this trend. Global worker health and safety policy has likewise undergone a shift since the 1970s. Once viewed as a component of workers’ freedom of association, the right to refuse unsafe work is now considered a matter of individual employment policy, with specific—and debilitating—controls. In this chapter I discuss some of the major...

  8. 3 The Right to Refuse in International Labor Law
    (pp. 53-85)

    That human rights are individual rights at the expense of collective rights has been an argument against human rights frameworks in both national labor policy and workers’ rights advocacy. The right to refuse unsafe work, however, introduces more complexity to this debate. As workers’ freedom of association rights are often viewed as only those rights dealing with the establishment of trade unions, it is often forgotten that the freedom of association also entails certain individual rights. One example is a worker reserving the individual prerogative to support a union without discrimination or retaliation. There is a history of the right...

  9. 4 How Effective Are Convention 155 Refusal Rights?
    (pp. 86-118)

    Convention No. 155 concerning Occupational Health and Safety in the Working Environment was adopted in Geneva by the International Labour Conference at its 67th session in 1981. Since adoption, the convention has been ratified at an increasing pace over thirty-one years. Fifty-nine member states were a party to the treaty as of August 2012. Among the notable characteristics of this group of countries is the large number of major developing and emerging market economies, including China, Brazil, South Korea, Turkey, Venezuela, Mexico, Vietnam, and South Africa. The population of these fifty-nine member states covers over 2.5 billion people, rivaling the...

  10. 5 Ideological Origins of the Global Framework
    (pp. 119-139)

    The global norms on employee dissent and the right to refuse unsafe work were crafted under a strong Anglo-American influence. This history further informs our analysis of the mobilization of bias. The negotiation and adoption of Convention No. 155 involved intentional political activity that extended beyond a simple pressure tactic or influence-seeking mechanism commonly employed in labor policymaking. Cultural strategies played a formidable role. Culture in this context is defined not in the narrow sense used in everyday speech but as a general term used in social science to encompass all “symbolic and learned aspects of human society” including knowledge,...

  11. 6 Negotiating “Safe” Rights versus Seeking Social Justice
    (pp. 140-158)

    The Anglo-American experience with regulating worker activism for occupational health and safety would in time be modeled around the world. As the United States pushed the “Washington Consensus” internationally, Canada would use its domestic experience with refusal rights on the global stage. The International Labour Affairs department at Labour Canada recognized the value of the intellectual precepts of the internal responsibility ideology early on as the solution to the global health and safety question. John Mainwaring, representing Canada at the ILO in Geneva, gave a review of international labor conventions in a report issued shortly after the Robens Report was...

  12. Conclusion: The Future of Labor Rights in the Working Environment
    (pp. 159-172)

    A remarkable increase in both social consciousness and government policy on occupational safety and health has emerged in the past half century. Workplace health and safety has now become an area of labor and employment relations that is “extensively regulated” with “intense legislative activity worldwide” in recent years.¹ This action has encompassed more than just labor inspection and the creation of rules to regulate particular hazards. It also includes legal protections against discrimination for the advocates of better working conditions and for refusing unsafe work. These protections even extend to worker representation arrangements, workplace health and safety committees, and powers...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 173-188)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 189-200)
  15. Index
    (pp. 201-208)