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World of Work:
World Labor
News Roundup

From Jeff Apter In Paris
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Zenroren’s newspaper reports on the union federation's protest against Nissan job cuts
Zenroren’s newspaper reports on the union federation’s Jan. 25 protest against Nissan’s elimination of jobs, a demonstration that included two representatives of Mexico’s Authentic Labor Front (FAT), as well as representatives of France’s General Confederation of Labor (CGT). Nissan is run by the French company Renault; the FAT organized a Nissan subsidiary. UE facilitated the contact between the Japanese and Mexican union federations.

About 5,000 angry unionists responded to the call of the All-Japan Metal and Machinery Information Workers’ Union, affiliated to UE’s ally Zenroren (the National Confederation of Trade Unions), against job cuts at Nissan. The Japanese auto maker since last year is run by France’s Renault. It was one of the largest protests targeted at one company in recent Japanese history. The French automaker’s three-year restructuring plan involves closing five plants and reducing Nissan’s workforce by 21,000, including 16,000 in Japan and 1,500 in the United States. Rengo, the main union at Nissan, accepted the Renault-Nissan plan and did not join the protest.

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Talks between Germany’s powerful electrical and metal union and the employers have been adjourned until March 6 after it became clear the two sides were far from agreement. UE’s German sister union, the powerful IGMetall, has put in a claim for a 5.5 percent wage hike this year for the 3.4 million unionized workers in the engineering and allied industries. The claim is all the more important as it becomes traditionally the model for other unions’ wage claims.

The employers say they are "shocked" by the claim, which they did not believe would be more than 4 percent and have offered 2.6 percent. The union says it has based its claim on 3.5 percent rise in productivity, 1.5 percent inflation and 0.5 percent to fund early retirement for union members. IGMetall, the world’s largest individual union, last year won a 3.6 percent pay award following a 6.5 percent pay claim. Union president Klaus Zwiekel says IGMetall’s claim is "a policy which will promote jobs," as the union also wants retirement at age 60. Four million employees, about 10 percent of the workforce, are unemployed.

The engineering employers say that the union’s pay claim is too high but they have now accepted talks on early retirement.

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French unemployment has fallen sharply and now stands at 10.6 percent of the labor force. The rate of fall has surprised all economists. Reducing the high unemployment rate was the main priority for the Socialist coalition administration when it was elected to a five-year term in mid-1997.

Meanwhile, the administration’s 35-hour-week legislation is due to come into effect soon. The law, which reduces the working week by four hours without loss of salary, has been held up by a court over the complicated issue of overtime payments.

The law affects companies with more than 20 employees. A second bill, currently under discussion, extends the scope of the 35-hour week to companies with 20 or fewer employees and is set to be effective on Jan. 1, 2002. Companies reducing the working week and creating jobs will receive state aid. Federal and municipal employees and people working in hospitals will be covered by a separate law. Since 1982 the legal working week has been 39 hours.

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COSATU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, has started a program of "mass action" to "raise public awareness" and protest against high unemployment. COSATU has started a campaign of demonstrations and picketing to culminate in a nation-wide strike of its 1.8 million members in May. The protests will cover all sectors and notably the automotive and metal industries. A series of strikes is threatened for later this year.

Since the end of the racial discrimination apartheid policy in 1994, the new administration has passed several labor laws to protect workers but COSATU has severely criticized recent legislation to implement wage restraint and flexibility. The union federation says the administration is liberalizing the economy too quickly and not doing enough to curb job losses. Unemployment is estimated at 35 percent.

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UE News - 02/00

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