(en) Labour News

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Mon, 10 Mar 1997 18.00 GMT


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[Two articles from the 'International Trade Unionist Bulletin' - see end of message for further details]

British Unions Agree to Social Partnership

Labour unions in Britain have agreed to a social partnership between themselves and employers. The strategy is outlined in a document, "Partners for Progress" which was adopted by the unions on Wednesday (Feb. 26). John Monks, the head of the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) told the media that the documents outlines a "social partnership between unions and employers, involving the government". The document says that "Inherent in the social partnership model outlined in this report is the need to minimise industrial disputes."

Unions Blockade Swaziland

Swaziland's border with South Africa and Mozambique were blocked yesterday as unions put pressure on the kingdom to adopt democracy. The Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) has been on strike for the past month hoping to pressure the government into moving more quickly into democratic practices. South Africa's Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) supported the blockade by stopping the flow of goods into and out of Swaziland Monday, March 3. SFTU has demand that the Swazi government repeal a 1973 law which bans all political parties and puts all power in the monarchy.

Renault Closes Belgian Auto Plant

Thousands of workers in Belgium demonstrated last week when they heard the news that car manufacturer, Renault, had announced plans to close its Belgian assembly plant. The announcement last Thursday ( Feb. 20) came as a complete shock to the plant's 3,100 employees. Another 1,000 people who work for sub-contractors are affected. The Belgian government reacted by saying Renault had contravened a number of Belgian and European Union rules on consulting workers on a plant closure as well as the collective agreement. A spokesperson for the government said the workers should have been consulted. The government is planning to sue the company which is 46 per cent owned by the French government.

Korean Parliament Delays Labour Law

A committee of the South Korean parliament has delayed the introduction of a section of a controversial labour law which would allow employers to layoff workers. The committee also said Friday (Feb. 28) that it will recommend that the outlawed Korean Confederation of Trade Unions be legalised. But it is still deadlocked on the question of salaries for union officials. The committee consists of representatives from all the country's major parties.

U.S. Army Civilian Workers in Germany Strike

About 600 civilian workers employed by the U.S.Army in Frankfurt, Germany' have gone on an indefinite strike. The workers are members of the DAG white collar union. They are demanding job guarantees and compensation for any lay-offs.

French Miners Release Mangers

Miners in eastern France yesterday released four managers they had been holding since last Thursday (Feb. 27) to protest government plans for closing their mines. The 2,400 miners work in state-owned potassium mines in Wittelsheim. Their five unions are demanding job guarantees for the 800 miners who will be left when the mines are scheduled to by shut down in2004.Some miners are still occupying the mining company's offices.

Engineers Protest in Jordan

Some 500 Jordanian engineers protested in front of the Prime Minister's office Saturday (March 1) to demand that the government implement a wage accord it agreed to four months ago. The engineers are members of the Engineers' Union which has some 26,000 members. They have threatened to begin on indefinite strike on March 26 if their demands are not met. The head of the engineers' union is Laith Shubailat a leading Islamist opposition figure who was released from prison last November.

Mexican Workers Told To Support Ruling Party

The head of Mexico's Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) has told his six million members to support the country's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in upcoming elections or leave the union. Fidel Velazquez, the 96-year-old leader of the CTM, was angrily responding to the fact that many CTM members had not voted for the PRI in last November's election. Valazquez was unanimously re-elected by a CTM convention last week to head the union until 2004 when he will be more than a 100 years old.

Argentinian Truck Drivers Protest

More than 2,500 Argentinean truck drivers held a three-day protest at the start of last week (Feb.17-19) to demand government action to protect them from foreign competition.The truckers organised a 40 mile-long convoy for a 600 mile trip to publicise their campaign. They have threatened to call a two week strike which would block border crossings if the government doesn't pass legislation to protect their jobs.

Albanian Media Workers Protest Coverage

Workers employed at the state-operated television station in Albania have accused the station of censorship and biased reporting of recent anti-government demonstrations. RTVSH employees attending a union meeting in Tirana last week said they were ashamed of the station's reporting on demonstrations sparked by a government-backed investment scheme which collapsed.

Truck Drivers Strike in France

Truck drivers in France disrupted traffic in a number of French provincial cities last week as they demonstrated to back their demands for shorter working hours and earlier retirement. The workers are represented by the Communist CGT and the unaligned Force Ouvriere unions. They are asking for a 35-hour work week and retainment at age 55 instead of 60.

Coca-Cola Workers On Strike in Sri Lanka

Workers at two Coca-Cola bottling plants in Sri Lanka have been on strike for 10 weeks with no end in sight. The 700 workers are members of the Ceylon Mercantile Union. The bottling plants are operated by a join venture of Coca-Cola and a Sri Lankan company, Pure Beverages. The workers are protesting against planned layoffs.Their strike began December 12.

Transport Strike in Kathmandu

Transport workers in Nepal held a one-day strike last Wednesday (Feb. 26) which paralysed public transit throughout the country. Some 375,000 workers who work with public transport buses plus private taxis, three- wheeled scooters and trucks participated in the strike. They are members of the Transport Workers' Association. The strike was called to back demands for the introduction of a minimum wage and better accident insurance. The government responded by saying any improvement in working conditions was up to the private companies to implement.

Board Studying American Airline Dispute

A board established by U.S. president, Bill Clinton, is studying a labour/ management dispute at American Airlines where pilots have threatened to strike. The establishment of the board on February 15 meant that the pilots could not strike until at least two months. The major issues include pay and whether members of the Allied Pilots Association can fly smaller aircraft for an American Airline affiliate for less pay.

Greek Teachers Continue Strike

State high school teachers in Greece are headed into the seventh week of a strike for higher pay. Some 60 per cent of the country's schools have been shut down. The government is saying that its budget does not have any money for particular groups of workers. Greece is preparing itself for entry into the European Monetary Union in 1999 by restricting wages and benefits for public sector workers.

Ecuadorian Unions Threaten Renewed Protests

Trade unions have threatened to renew their anti-government protests if the country's newpresident continues the policies of his predecessor. The Ecuadorian Congress replaced former president Abdala Buscarm with Fabian Alarcon on February 6th after weeks of street demonstrations by workers. The unions held a national assembly last week which decided that if the new president does not oppose privatisation and neo-liberal policies they will strike on May 1.

Nike Protesters Arrested

Nineteen people were arrested when they demonstrated at the opening of a new Nike Superstore in San Francisco on Saturday, February 22. The protesters were publicising the fact that Nike contractors pay Indonesian labourer less than $4 to make a pair of shoes that sell for $140 in the U.S. Meanwhile athletes such as basketball star Michael Jordan are paid millions of dollars to publicise Nike shoes.

Nigerian Oil Strike Threatened

Nigerian oil workers have threatened a strike because they have not received their January wages. The workers are employed at Nigeria's Department of Petroleum Resources which processes exportdocuments for oil shipments.

Sri Lankan Nurses Threaten Strike

Nurses employed by state-owned hospitals in Sri Lanka are threatening to strike this week to win higher wages and rollback cuts in overtime pay. Muruththetuwe Ananda, president of the Public Services United Nurses' Union, told the media that her 14,000 members will stage an island wide strike if the reductions in overtime payments are not rescinded by March 5. The nurses work in 585 hospitals. Cutbacks in staff levels have forced the nurses to work overtime to continuing serving their patients.

Polish Unemployment to Fall, Says Government

Poland's unemployment rate should continue to fall enough to allow the country to join the European Union by 2002 says its government. But that is suspect because the government keeps changing the way it counts the country's unemployed.

LOW WAGES + LONG HOURS = POOR HEALTH by Peter Gibson

Low wages and very long hours are causing increasing health problems for the drivers of lorries and busses right round the world. The increasing use of very large, long-distance vehicles, where the driver has to live in their cab, to use it as a sleeping cabin as well as their workplace, is exacerbating the problem. While most countries have laws or regulations which seek to control the hours that drivers work, or to lay down the time they must have for rest or meals, where the driver crosses a country's border and moves into another police area, the chances of any check on the hours worked or breaks taken is very unlikely. Only if there is an accident and drivers or passengers in a coach are hurt, is there likely to be any investigation. In almost every case it is the driver who is held responsible. However, the main cause of ill-health among drivers has been found not to be the stress resulting from long hours, that is the second cause of ill-health among drivers. The poor design of the drivers cab, unsuitable driving seats, poor ventilation or heating, which cause long-term joint and muscle problems, are by far the greatest dangers to the health of drivers. An examination of the survey of drivers hours conducted by the International Transport Workers' Federation reveals why very few drivers are still at work when they reach retirement age. Whilst the maximum working hours allowed by law is 16 in Britain and 15 in Japan, it reduces to 13 in Sweden, 11 in Finland and 10 in Germany and Norway. The monthly hours allowed in Britain are up to 448; 233 in Japan; 168 in Sweden and in Germany 195 on busses, but 240 per month on trams. In some countries the time behind the wheel driving is often a lesser time than working hours. It means that whilst a lorry driver is engaged in loading and unloading his vehicle, that time is excluded from driving time. So that the time for rest, the time to unwind or stretch your legs after 5 to 5.5 hours at a time in the cab and to have a meal, is reduced in almost every country by 30 minutes. Only in Finland and Norway does the law require the driver to have 45 minutes break. The impetus to make bigger and bigger profits often means that drivers in all countries are under pressure to drive longer hours, at faster speeds and with shorter breaks than the law allows. Because there is little or no interest in enforcing the laws or safeguarding the health of the drivers, the state governments look the other way. The health and safety of drivers across the world needs to be an issue for all of us. _____________________________________________________________________ The above article is by way of a brief introduction to a more comprehensive study of this subject. The Bulletin will publish the outcome of this study, which is of particular interest to all who are heavy goods or public service vehicle drivers or passengers, in future issues. EDITOR _____________________________________________________________________ This is from the International Trade Union Solidarity Campaign (ITUSC) at:- e-mail: itusc@gn.apc.org website: http://www.itusc.org.uk 'snail' mail: PO Box 18, Epsom, Britain, KT18 7YR Tel/Fax ++44 (0) 1372 817 778 _____________________________________________________________________

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