Red Bracelets for Menstruating Workers a Red Flag for Norse Union

Lindsay Beyerstein December 2, 2010

Nor­weigian boss­es have become obsessed with a new way of scru­ti­niz­ing the bot­tom line. Accord­ing to a new report by the Parat trade union, increas­ing num­bers of employ­ers are impos­ing tyran­i­cal toi­let rules” in an attempt to lim­it the num­ber of work­ers attend­ing to bod­i­ly func­tions on com­pa­ny time.

One unnamed com­pa­ny requires women to wear read bra­clets while they are men­stru­at­ing to excuse extra” trips to the restroom, accord­ing to a sec­tion of the report quot­ed in the Dai­ly Mail: Women quite jus­ti­fi­ably feel humil­i­at­ed by being tagged in this way, so that all their col­leagues are aware of this inti­mate detail of their pri­vate life.’ 

Accord­ing the report, 66% of man­agers make employ­ees ask for per­mis­sion to access the facil­i­ties with elec­tron­ic key cards so that their breaks can be mon­i­tored. The report iden­ti­fied three com­pa­nies using video sur­veil­lance to mon­i­tor bath­room traf­fic. Some firms favor a low­er-tech approach, ask­ing work­ers to sign in to a guest book” before doing their business.

The report is now in the hands of a gov­ern­ment agency known as the Nor­we­gian Con­sumer Coun­cil or For­bruk­er­rådet. (Bath­room reading?)

It’s not clear why the union took the report to an agency tasked with pro­tect­ing con­sumers, as opposed to work­ers. Maybe because the Con­sumer Council’s mis­sion is based on Unit­ed Nations’ eight core con­sumer val­ues, one of which is, All con­sumers have the right to sat­is­fac­tion of basic needs.”

Lest Amer­i­cans feel smug about our alleged­ly supe­ri­or bath­room rights at work, it should be not­ed that some Amer­i­can work­ers are still fight­ing for access to san­i­tary facil­i­ties and even the right to drink water on the job.

In Jan­u­ary, the Equal Employ­ment Oppor­tu­ni­ty Com­mis­sion filed suit against Giu­mar­ra, a Cal­i­for­nia agri­cul­tur­al con­gomer­ate that mar­kets prod­ucts under the brand name Nature’s Part­ner.” The com­pa­ny is fac­ing a sep­a­rate law­suit from work­ers who allege that they were denied bath­room breaks and even fresh water while work­ing for hours in triple-dig­it heat.

The plight of Nor­we­gian work­ers in scar­let let­ter bracelets made head­lines around the world. Their strug­gle became an instant metaphor for cor­po­rate greed trump­ing work­er dig­ni­ty. Let’s hope this spir­it of sol­i­dar­i­ty can extend to work­ers every­where. One of the basic prin­ci­ples or orga­niz­ing is focus­ing on what we all have in com­mon. Let’s face it, every­body has to go sometimes.

Lind­say Bey­er­stein is an award-win­ning inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Not­ed. Her sto­ries have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Mag­a­zine, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. Her pho­tographs have been pub­lished in the Wall Street Jour­nal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hill­man Blog (http://​www​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a pub­li­ca­tion of the Sid­ney Hill­man Foun­da­tion, a non-prof­it that hon­ors jour­nal­ism in the pub­lic interest.
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