Philip Jennings, ‘Making it Happen’: 40 years of dedication to the labour movement
Philip J. Jennings is General Secretary of UNI Global Union, the global trade union for the services sector, with 900 unions in 150 countries. His mission is to Break Through for workers to allow them to unionise and collectively bargain with the conviction that their rights are part of human rights.
Philip is a global union pioneer, recognized as the ‘global warrior’ for workers’ rights. His dedication and ingenuity have led to a transformation of global union work from supply-chain justice, notably the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, through global agreements with multinationals, to union solidarity.
Philip is a long-standing member of the UN Global Compact and was recently appointed to the ILO Commission on the Future World of Work. The University of Cardiff this year recognized Philip’s contribution to the international labour movement with an Honorary Fellowship.
Philip firmly believes that the labour movement is best placed to ensure big business faces up to its responsibility towards its workers, clients and the wider world. He is a tenacious international advocate for workers’ rights which he firmly believes must be an integral part of human rights. The United Nations also share this view. He says, “we would not have seen the inequality in the world today if we had strengthened not demolished the rights to organise and negotiate.”
Philip has taken his message that “Workers Need A Pay Rise” to the ILO, G20, IMF, World Bank, OECD and World Economic Forum – tireless in his pursuit of providing a “seat at the table” for working people.
He is a leading commentator on the Future World of Work (FWOW) and joined Adriana Huffington, Eric Schmidt and others in addressing the Future of Work Conference in London. Earlier this year, he brought together FWOW experts from a variety of difference fields in a Leadership Summit. The Future World of Work will be one of the key themes of the upcoming Liverpool World Congress and Philip is driving force behind it. The ILO and World Economic Forum have taken up the theme with his encouragement.
In 2011, Philip accepted the nomination of United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon to serve on the board of the U.N. Global Compact, on which he continues to serve.
Over a 4-decade career, Philip has been dedicated to the union movement and sought to improve the lives of workers around the world. He has chaired the Labour Platform to End Child Labour at the ILO and chaired the Commission on the Future of the Irish Trade Union Movement as it tackled the devastation of the Euro crisis.
In all his endeavours he remains a determined and courageous advocate for working people. It is in his nature to ‘Make it Happen’, which will be the theme of his last UNI World Congress in Liverpool 2018.
UNI Global Union’s ‘Welsh-born Global Warrior’
Philip J. Jennings has been General Secretary of UNI Global Union since its creation on 1 January 2000 and has been described as the labour movement’s “Global Warrior” by the head of the ITUC. Today, UNI Global Union’s membership and influence continue to grow and counts 20 million members in 150 nations and 900 unions. UNI is a force in Europe, Africa, the Americas and Asia and the Pacific. To date, UNI has negotiated more than 60 global agreements with leading multinationals.
UNI Global Union Breaking Through Nagasaki 2010 onward to Liverpool 2018
As General Secretary Philip implemented the UNI Breaking Through strategy at the 3rd World Congress in Nagasaki. Philip’s commitment to Breaking Through to organise and grow unions to benefit working people has been unwavering. From Nagasaki, through the 4th World Congress in Cape Town 2014 the Breaking Through strategy has become part of the DNA of the organisation as UNI looks forward to the 5th World Congress in Liverpool in 2018.
The aim of Breaking Through is to grow and strengthen affiliated unions and to improve the working conditions and lives of workers in the services and allied sectors.
Philip was unanimously re-elected UNI Global Union General Secretary for a fourth term during the Cape Town Congress. He was profoundly touched by the remarks of Ahmed Kathrada, Rivonia triallist imprisoned for 26 years for his fight against apartheid who said at the opening of Congress, “When I see the thousands of you from so many nations, it feels like the sacrifices we made were worthwhile.” UNI affiliates endorsed his vision and the themes of the meeting which were adopted and will continue to be implemented towards Liverpool 2018:
- Including you to win union growth
- Union organising and recruitment strategies
- Global agreements and global alliances with companies
- Corporate responsibility and human rights
- Smart leverage strategies
- UNI Global Organising Fund continues to drive organising initiatives around the world
- Including you in taking back our economies
- The battle to tackle inequality
- The need to create a financial system that still benefits the 1% over the majority
- The importance of building an economic system which ‘includes you’ for sustainable growth.
- Including you in the Future World of Work
- Developing strong and innovative unions
- Putting quality jobs at the heart of a new deal for workers
- Driving a new economy for societal well-being
Contribution to the Labour Movement – from the Global to Local
Under Philip’s visionary and energetic leadership, UNI Global Union has raised the bar in terms of the visibility of the organisation and the wider labour movement. The organisation’s influence and impact have also grown exponentially, through the focus and endeavor that Philip personifies. Some of the most recent successes and achievements include:
- More than 60 global framework agreements (GFAs) with multinationals, holding them to account on workers’ rights and conditions. These GFAs have brought concrete improvements to workers lives, none less so in Colombia where UNI helped create the first commerce union (Carrefour).
- Tunisian unions formed part of the Quartet who received the Nobel Peace Prize for their contribution to creating a sustainable peace after the Arab Spring in Tunisia. Philip and UNI had an instrumental role in backing these unions and as result Philip was invited to the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony.
- Philip is a passionate supporter of the peace movement and the call for an end to nuclear weapons – UNI is a member of ICAN which convinced the United Nations adopted a landmark resolution on 27 October 2016 to launch negotiations in 2017 on a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons. At the Nagasaki World Congress, Philip was granted a special award for his contribution to the city, world peace and UNI’s support for the Nagasaki Young Peace Ambassadors.
- Under Philip’s leadership, UNI Global Union built its head office in Nyon, where UNI has become a pillar of the community through its annual ‘What’s Next Forum’, that invites local people to discuss topical regional issues. UNI is involved in a range of local projects, including ‘Projet’, an apprentice scheme for young people. Additionally, UNI supported the successful campaign for threatened Novartis jobs to remain in Nyon and is currently involved in similar local campaigns.
The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety – a blueprint for a safer, sustainable supply chain
Philip is rightly proud of the role UNI played in working with its sister global union IndustriALL to create the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. The Accord was launched in response to the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013 which claimed the lives of more than 1,100 garment workers in Bangladesh. The Accord is a legally binding agreement and has been signed by more than 200 global brands.
The Accord has also garnered support from numerous Bangladeshi unions and various NGOs such as the Clean Clothes Campaign, Workers’ Rights Consortium, International Labor Rights Forum and Maquila Solidarity Network. The International Labour Organisation acts as the independent chair.
A second Bangladesh Accord will continue the work of the previous accord beyond its 2018 mandate until 2021 – this accord already has close to 50 brands signed up.
The Accord has become a blueprint for a sustainable global supply chain beyond Bangladesh and the garment industry. The BBC described it as one of the top ten news stories of the decade. The ILO, with which UNI had close working ties, has taken global supply chains and the Future World of Work as two of organisation’s centenary initiatives – both strongly advocated personally by Philip to the DG of the ILO.
Philip Jennings: a vision for world sport
Philip has also been instrumental in bringing the world of sports players and athletes into the UNI Family with a new organisation, the ‘World Players Association’. UNI is uniquely placed in Switzerland to influence the world sports’ governing bodies, such as FIFA, UEFA and the IOC, around workers’ rights for Mega-Sports’ events such as the Olympics and the Football World Cup. Philip is clear that all workers in the sports supply chains deserve decent work and a fair wage. Under Philip’s leadership UNI has worked closely to support the ITUC in championing the rights of workers on Mega-Sports events such as the Qatar World Cup and elsewhere.
Philip Jennings: the voice of the Labour Movement
Philip is an avid user of social media and now has more than 100,000 followers on twitter follwers which he uses to great effect to get his message across.
Philip is the spokesperson for UNI Global Union and his views have been aired in leading international and national media around the world, including The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Guardian, Le Monde and El Pais. Philip’s voice on union issues is also strong in the US. Philip is a regular guest on CNN and most recently gave his forthright views on Trump’s election saying that the President-elect had ‘drained the swamp to make room for the yachts’ – a reference to Trump’s move to replace ‘politics as usual’ with an equally bad scenario of an administration packed with out-of-touch billionaires who are a million miles away from working people. Philip has also been on CNN to discuss the living wage campaign in the UK.
Jennings is not afraid to go into the lion’s den, telling right-wing Fox Business News audience that unions were strong, relevant and credible. He said that unions must have access to businesses, making the analogy that denying workers the right to join a union was similar to denying people the right to vote. He said that low paying companies like Walmart, Wendy’s and McDonald’s had to be forced to give their workers a voice through union membership and the labour movement would keep knocking on the door.
Philip has also co-hosted a two prime time news programme on CNBC where he forcefully presented the workers’ view to the world of big business.
New York Times: “Jennings…says the only way to reduce that wage gap is for working people to again have a voice. His father, he said, was a toolmaker in a Rover car factory in Cardiff who with co-workers successfully went on strike for better pay and work conditions back in the 1950s and ’60s. “We need to revisit some of the old struggles,” he said. “We need to rediscover collective bargaining.”
CNN Quest Means Business: Richard Quest quotes Philip Jennings, “The World needs a pay rise!”
The Guardian: Larry Elliott quotes Philip Jennings, “We can twist the global economy back into shape – this includes a new commitment to create jobs, address income inequality and falling living standards. Since the global financial crisis it’s been a race to the bottom in jobs, wages and living standards.”
Awards and Honours at a Glance
- In 2011, Philip accepted the nomination of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to serve on the board of the UN Global His mandate has been renewed until 2018.
- He also received the Nagasaki International Peace and Friendship prize from Nagasaki City Major Tomihisa Taue, and was appointed an ambassador for the Prefecture of Nagasaki by Governor Hodo Nakamura in 2011.
- Philip is alumnus of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Commonwealth Leadership Development.
- In 2013, Philip won La Côte newspaper’s Personality of the Year award for the Léman region of Switzerland for his dedication to local and global issues.
- Received an Honorary Fellowship from Cardiff University for services to the international labour movement in 2017.
- From 2010 to 2013, Philip was included in the Swiss Bilan Magazine list of the most influential people in Switzerland. He was also voted as one of the top 100 personalities by the Swiss L’Hebdo.
Philip Jennings: in His Own Words
“I grew up in Cardiff, South Wales, in a labour environment filled with labour voters and union families”. My father, who was a toolmaker at the local Rover car factory, successfully went on strike for better pay and conditions in the 1960s, and my mother worked at Marks and Spencer.
I was the only child on our street to go to university. I went on to graduate from Bristol Polytechnic with a business studies degree, followed by a M.Sc. in Industrial Relations from the London School of Economics.
I’m married to my Danish wife Birgit, who also scaled the heights in the teaching profession where she was Head of Art at the Geneva International School, a visiting examiner and served two terms as Chief Examiner for the International Baccalaureate (IB). We have two great children, Alex who is following his dream in the music industry at ‘High Focus Records’ where he writes, produces, performs and manages Hip Hop artists and Sarah who is a well-being health practitioner.
From 1976-1979 I worked with the National Union of Bank Employees. In 1980 I joined the International Federation of Employees (FIET), where I became executive secretary in 1986 and was general secretary from 1989-1999. UNI Global Union was born in 2000 and we have never looked back.
I’ve come a long way from those formative days in Cardiff but, as they say, you can take the man out of Cardiff but you cannot take Cardiff out of the man.”
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