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World of Work:
World Labor
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From JEFF APTER in Paris
Special to the UE NEWS

The Euro prompts a new joint collective bargaining strategy among Europe's unions — a British study says part-time jobs will account for a third of all employment by the year 2010 — workers in Spain are demanding a 35-hour work week to combat a 19% unemployment rate — Japanese automakers pursue alliances — German unions propose job-sharing to spur higher employment ... was France's 35-hour workweek law responsible hundreds of thousands of new jobs?

EUROPE European electrical and metalworker trade unions are drafting a joint collective bargaining strategy in response to the arrival this month of the Euro, the new European common currency.

Worth a bit more than the dollar, the Euro came into effect on Jan. 1 for major financial transactions in 11 of the 15 member countries of the European Union. It will come into effect as money for ordinary people in 2002.

The strategy of the European Metalworkers’ Federation, which affiliates seven million metalworkers from 25 unions all over Europe, is the first of its kind among European unions as they respond to the effect on workers’ rights, conditions and collective bargaining of the increased competition expected from the monetary union.

The EMF accuses European engineering employers of using the arrival of the common currency to fragment wage bargaining at the company, regional and national level and so weaken union power. The EMF is due to meet in Frankfurt, Germany in February to endorse the strategy document.

GREAT BRITAINAll employment growth in the next decade will come from part-time jobs, according to Cambridge Econometrics, a major economics consultancy. It underlines how flexible working patterns, especially in services, have become one of the most important forces in influencing the British economy.

The report indicates that by 2010, nearly one third of all jobs will be part-time, compared to less than one-fifth in 1980. The biggest change will affect women, who by 2010 will have more part-time jobs than full-time contracts. It states that manufacturing will lose jobs at an average of 1.5 percent annually in the next 10 years.

SPAINSpanish unionists have been demonstrating for the 35-hour work week, tax reform and better coverage for unemployed workers. Spain’s 19 percent unemployment rate is the highest in Europe.

A day of action held in cities throughout Spain was called by the Workers Commissions and the UGT, the country’s two main labor federations. They say a shorter working week will boost the jobs market and that action is needed to help the 40 percent of Spain’s 3 million unemployed who do not have social cover. A further day of action is expected in the spring.

JAPANThe urge to merge that has hit the world’s automobile industry appears to have had little apparent effect in Japan but it has emerged that leading auto manufacturers like Nissan, Honda and Mitsubishi are in alliance talks with U.S. and European partners causing concern for jobs among unions.

The silence underscores the importance of tie-ups to Japanese manufacturers in the country’s biggest recession for decades. Alliances or mergers represent an easy way to get companies back on their feet by clearing balance sheets of heavy debts and loss-making operations.

GERMANYAs Germany’s unemployment rate rose sharply again to pass the four million mark, the unions say 800,000 jobs could be created through job-sharing. The number of unemployed people in Europe’s biggest economy rose to 4.2 million in December to affect nearly 11 percent of the workforce.

DGB, Germany’s labor federation, believes it is possible to create 800,000 jobs by reducing overtime and increasing part-time work. "There must be a rapid and efficient redistribution of work," said DGB President Dieter Schulte. He stated that overtime worked in 1998 represents the "equivalent of one million full-time jobs." Since half of this is in seasonal work, 400,000 jobs could be created, he said. The same figure is advanced by the Federal labor office.

Meanwhile, the unions hope that the appointment of a leading trade unionist will lead to policies that start to bring down Germany’s near-record unemployment level. Walter Riester, the deputy president of the 3-million strong electrical and metalworkers’ union IG Metall — Germany’s biggest union and among the largest in the world — has taken over as Labor Secretary in the new Social Democrat-Green coalition administration elected on Sept. 27 of last year.

He has been responsible for IG Metall’s collective bargaining strategy and played a central role in negotiating the 35-hour week in the metalworking industry. His key task is to strike an "alliance for jobs" between the administration, unions and employers to tackle unemployment.

FRANCE — Nearly 300,000 jobs were created in the private sector in France last year but it is not yet known how many of these derive from the law establishing the 35-hour work week.

The law, adopted by parliament and the Socialist-led administration last June, makes shorter working hours compulsory by 2000 for companies with more than 20 employees and two years later for small firms and states that working time reductions must be without loss of salary. Agreement has been reached so far in 23 industrial sectors concerning 4.4 million employees and talks are going on in others.

France’s present 39-hour week was introduced in 1982 after being at 40 hours since 1936.

UE News - 01/99


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