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South Africa: Unions prepare for national strike against corruption and retrenchments

21.09.2017:   The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has called for a national strike on 27 September to protest "state capture", corruption and retrenchments.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Southern African Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union (SACTWU), affiliated to COSATU and IndustriALL, will take part in the strike. South Africa's Labour Relations Act allows for strikes on socio-economic and political issues such as corruption and retrenchments.

The "state capture" was based on a 2016 report by former public protector Thuli Madonsela who wrote that the state had been captured by private interests including those of business owners including the Gupta family. In the report, the Guptas were allegedly involved in the appointment of ministers and directors of state companies, and corruptly influenced the awarding of state contracts to favour their interests. Recently, a number of international companies, including Bell Pottinger and KPMG, were implicated in the corruption scandal.

Workers continued to lose jobs in mining especially with the recent announcement by Impala Platinum to retrench over 2100 workers. According to StatsSA 32000 mining jobs were lost in the last year. The garment and textile also lost 3000 jobs.

Said the NUM: "The strike is a platform for workers to voice out their displeasure on how South Africa is run and that the looting of state resources and corrupt activities by a network of a certain predatory elite should be condemned. Workers are being left out in the cold to fend for themselves amidst massive retrenchments taking place in various sectors of the country's economy particularly mining".

SACTWU's demands during the strike included an end to outsourcing of work through labour brokers. Instead the union wanted more permanent jobs.

Said Fabian Nkomo, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa: "We support the strike action by COSATU affiliates because corruption is theft. Money meant to benefit workers and society ends up in the bank accounts of corrupt individuals".

Source:  IndustriALL Global Union--IndustriALL represents 50 million workers in 140 countries

Sally Hunt elected new President of the TUC

20.09.2017:   Education International welcomes the election of education unionist Sally Hunt to the helm of the Trades Union Congress.

Sally Hunt will serve as president for a year and preside over the Trades Union Congress (TUC) 150th Anniversary Congress in Manchester in September 2018. In addition, she will also chair the TUC's general council and executive committee.

"It is a huge honour to become the president of the TUC, especially as it prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary. Trade unions are a force for good and exist to support their members, Hunt stressed, as she proudly reminded that her background is education, "which I believe offers the best route for people to control their life and fulfil their potential".

She went on to note that "as we attempt to deal with Brexit, making sure people have a chance to learn new skills has never been more important, and I see unions leading the way in opening up those opportunities."

A relentless education advocate

Hunt has two decades of experience as a senior trade union official. Since June 2007 she has been General Secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), an Education International (EI) member organisation, following the merger of the Association of University Teachers (AUT) and the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education.

Her first job in the trade union movement was as a senior research officer with the financial trade union now known as Accord. Following that, Hunt was an assistant general secretary of the Nationwide Group Staff Union. In 1995 she joined the AUT as an assistant general secretary. She was elected general secretary of the AUT in 2002.

Source:  Education International--EI uniting 32.5 million education workers in 396 associations and unions in 171 countries and territories

Campaign wins reinstatement for dismissed union leader at Manila Peninsula Hotel

20 September 2017:   Jenny Marcos, a leader of the Peninsula Employees Union at the Manila Peninsula Hotel in the Philippines, has been reinstated at her job with full back pay and is back at work after being terminated in 2016 for union activities in support of the IUF's Global Housekeeping Campaign. The unions at the hotel, both members of the IUF-affiliated NUWHRAIN, have been fighting for her reinstatement and in defense of union rights with the support of the IUF in the region and internationally.

The union has expressed its warm appreciation for the many thousands of supporting messages to the Peninsula management sent in response to the IUF s urgent action appeal. The IUF will continue to monitor respect for trade union rights at the hotel.

Source:  International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco, and Allied Workers' Associations--IUF uniting 12 million workers in 428 affiliated organizations in 128 countries

The OECD re-affirms the need for stronger wages but fails to draw the necessary conclusions regarding the bargaining power of workers

20/09/2017:   The OECD's key messages from its interim forecast published today is that the economic upturn is gaining momentum and becoming more synchronised across countries. Importantly, the OECD recognises that weak wage dynamics is as one of the major obstacles that is holding back growth and demand. However, it is disappointing that the OECD's conclusions yet again fail to include policies aimed at stimulating the wage growth needed to sustain the current upturn in its recommendations.

Even in crisis-struck euro area countries, growth dynamics finally are expected to somewhat firm up, although the pace of growth still remains constraint, with Italy only expanding by 1.2% in 2018 and France by 1.6%.

However, as the OECD correctly observes, this short-term momentum is no guarantee for medium-term sustained growth, and to secure the latter, policy needs to step up.

The OECD is also correct to identify the weak wage dynamics as one of the major obstacles that is holding back growth and demand. Indeed, despite declines in unemployment in most advanced economies, average real wages have only increased by 0.2% per year since 2008, partly explaining why real disposable household income of the bottom 10% still hasn't recovered the lost ground since the start of the crisis. Instead, the OECD stresses stronger structural reforms that address productivity gains, supposing that stronger productivity growth will translate into stronger wage growth. Against the background of three decades of wages staying behind productivity across the entire OECD, this approach, which broadly repeats the previous OECD Economis Outlook of June, offers an incomplete response.

The OECD should urgently start to consider the role of coordinated collective bargaining in rebalancing the negotiating power of labour as well as the positive role robust wage standards can play in providing incentives to business management in improving productivity and driving innovation forward.

Source:  Trade Union Advisory Committee to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

INDIA: 5000 Odisha State electricity workers demand living wages

19 September 2017:   On 14 September Odisha State electricity workers held a protest in the state capital Bhubanewar, demanding a massive wage hike (an increase from 4000 rupees per month to 18,000 per month) and the regularisation of outsourced employees. 5000 electricity workers from across the state that are members of the union NOBSM attended the protest, before union officials met with the Minister of Energy and the Energy Secretary.

"Living standards for these workers have gone backwards since the state electricity network was privatized, said R.C. Khuntia (President of the Indian National Building, Construction, Forest and Wood Workers' Federation), who was present at the rally. Today workers have given the State Government three months in which to act."

The workers were demanding a significant increase in wages, from only 4,000 rupees a month (US$68 a month) to 18,000 rupees a month (US$280 a month), citing the huge rises in costs of living in recent years.

On top of this, working conditions for electricity sector workers in Odisha State are extremely dangerous, as NOBSM General Secretary Askaya Tripathy explained to the World Congress on Health and Safety at Work in Singapore earlier in the month.

"On average, 50 workers a year are dying to bring electricity to the state of Orisha", said Tripathy. "Safety is a complete afterthought for us. We do this job with no personal protective equipment, and with unreliable machinery. We are being massively overworked and receive only meagre wages."

Source:  Building and Wood Workers International--BWI uniting 12 million members in 328 trade unions in 130 countries

Africa's education leadership works towards union unity

14.09.2017:   Africa's top education union leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to increase trade union unity on the continent to help reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Convening for its annual statutory meeting held from 11-12 September in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the Education International (EI) Africa Regional Committee reiterated its commitment to quality education for all by linking the theme of the next Africa's Regional Conference to the sustainable development goals (SDGs), especially SDG 4: "Inclusive and equitable quality education in Africa": the place of the unions in achieving the 2030 Agenda".

The Committee highlighted the need for concerted effort among education unions in Africa to achieve SDG 4, as reports coming from the six EI African zones unveiled the recurring issue of the weakening of trade unions in various countries, the major cause being the proliferation of splinter unions. This union pluralism has resulted for example in the existence of as many as 159 teacher unions in Benin, 55 in Cote d'Ivoire, and 39 in Senegal, and there is a similar trend in many other African countries.

The Committee therefore reiterated that 'unity' is the regional priority, as well as the need to elaborate a clear strategy ensuring that trade unions become stronger. "Unity is certainly important in strengthening the movement in Africa. It is one of the major tools for labour education but we should be not be so inflexible to lock out some of the emerging progressive groups, EI Africa Regional Committee's President Wilson Sossion stressed in his address to African education leaders.

As we must be able to substantiate our arguments and I am happy with the establishment of the EI Africa's Research Network, he added. He also agreed with the other education union leaders that "democracy is not a gift of nature, it must be won" and "unions are democratic institutions with possibilities of influencing the world". There is a great need to raise professional standards to make it more difficult for governments to ignore teachers, and privatisation and commercialisation of education must be halted, he further acknowledged.

Sossion went on to underline the seven signals of teacher professionalisation, which is another major challenge for African teacher unions, i.e. the influx of untrained teachers, the casualisation of teaching, the gap in pay, the reduction of professional autonomy, standardised testing, increased evaluation of teachers, and the importation of private management systems into the public sector.

Source:  Education International--EI uniting 32.5 million education workers in 396 associations and unions in 171 countries and territories

IndustriALL files OECD complaint against steel producer Ternium

14.09.2017:   IndustriALL Global Union has lodged an OECD complaint against multinational steel producer Ternium for refusing to recognize and negotiate with a trade union at its operations in Guatemala.

Sitraternium, which is affiliated to IndustriALL through the FESTRAS trade union in Guatemala, has been struggling for recognition at Ternium since it was officially registered in March 2012. Workers came together to unionize after they were threatened with dismissal for raising concerns about long working hours, low salaries, lack of proper vacation and insufficient health coverage.

Initially the company sacked all Sitraternium's 27 founding members but was eventually forced by the courts to reinstate them. The company made repeated attempts to block recognition of the union until finally the Guatemalan Supreme Court confirmed the legitimacy of Sitraternium in February 2015. Despite the ruling and numerous appeals for dialogue from the Ministry of Labour, Ternium is breaking the law by refusing to negotiate with the union. While the Ministry says it is sympathetic to the union, it has failed to penalize Ternium for its illegal behaviour. Guatemala is listed as one of top ten worst places for workers' in the International Trade Union Confederation's Global Rights Index 2017.

In February this year, an inspector from the Ministry of Labour found that Ternium had wrongfully implemented a compulsory alcohol and drug testing policy after workers were informed that they would be suspended if they didn't take the test or sacked if they failed it. A day after the Ministry wrote to the company commanding it cease the policy, Ternium fired three workers who refused to be tested.

Unions belonging to the Tenaris Ternium Workers' World Council are shocked by the treatment of Sitraternium as Ternium and Tenaris generally have normal relations with unions at their plants in other countries. Both Ternium and Tenaris are owned by the Techint conglomerate. Ternium, which is headquartered in OECD member-country Luxembourg, is one of the biggest steel companies in Latin America with more than 19,000 workers at production facilities in Guatemala, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Colombia, as well as the United States.

IndustriALL's general secretary, Valter Sanches, said: Ternium says it wants to be the leading steel company in the Americas. Clearly, they are not showing leadership in the way they're treating their workers in Guatemala. Ternium has tried every measure under the sun to avoid bargaining with Sitraternium. By filing an OECD complaint, we mean to show that workers at Ternium in Guatemala cannot have their rights violated any longer.

The complaint is being filed at the OECD National Contact Point in Luxembourg by IndustriALL, Sitraternium and the Canadian branch of IndustriALL's North American affiliate, United Steelworkers (USW).

Source:  IndustriALL Global Union--IndustriALL represents 50 million workers in 140 countries

BWI Calls for the IOC to Act to Ensure Justice for Pyeongchang Olympics' Construction Workers

11 September 2017:   From 14 to 15 September 2017, the BWI, the leading Global Union federation of building, construction, wood and forestry and allied sector trade unions, will hold a rally in front of the Lima Convention Center, the site of the 130th International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session to highlight the delayed payment of wages to construction workers. Workers who built Olympic venues are currently owed almost one million US dollar in back wages and a total of six million US dollar are owed to workers on Olympic-related construction projects.

"The IOC must live up to the commitments it has made to human rights through the 2020 Agenda by using its political power and use its leverage to immediately address these," stated BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson. "The BWI has consistently raised the issue of back wages along with safety and health issues for the past two years in the IOC but unfortunately they have failed to concretely act, risking the livelihoods of these workers and their families."

The IOC has political power and responsibility to demand immediate payment of back wages. According to a worker who has yet to be paid for his work: "The IOC can make sure people get paid on time and don't get hurt on the job. If they want construction work done well, they should make sure that the people who do the work are treated well. The quality of construction depends on the quality of the work done by workers and the treatment they receive."

The BWI's affiliate in South Korea, the Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions (KFCITU), has actively organised workers working in projects related to the 2018 PyeongChang Games. The union has also been at the forefront of organising workers against triangular and disguised employment relationships that deprive them of their rights to bargain collectively. For their efforts, union organisers have been harassed and jailed. In January 2017, three KFCITU-affiliated organisers were arrested under politically-motivated charges.

In addition, KCTU President Han Sang-Gyun is serving a three-year sentence for his role in coordinating a legal demonstration against labour reforms by the then Park Geun Hye government. The BWI, along with the international community, has called for the immediate release of President Han. The 2018 Pyeongchang Games will be tainted if trade unionists continue to be in jail during the Games.

The BWI is calling on the IOC to:

  • Use its political role to facilitate the immediate payment of back wages to construction workers.
  • Use its influence to press the newly-elected Moon Jae in government to end attacks against trade unions and release all jailed trade unionists including Han Sang-Gyun.
  • Concretely engage with the BWI to find long-lasting solutions so that future Games do not face similar issues as that of the 2018 PyeongChang.

Source:  Building and Wood Workers International--BWI uniting 12 million members in 328 trade unions in 130 countries

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