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World of Work:
World Labor
News Roundup

From Jeff Apter In Paris
Special to

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General Motors and Ford are planning to cut thousands of jobs in Europe. GM, the world’s largest vehicle maker employing 380,000 in 50 countries, says that although it produced 8.3 million vehicles in 1999, its $5.7 billion profits do not meet expectations and it is slashing 5,000 jobs in Europe on top of the 10,000 announced in the U.S. following in a huge restructuring plan. The job cuts represent about 10 percent of GM’s total workforce in Europe. Output of the Vectra family automobile at its Vauxhall plant in Luton, England will end in the first quarter of 2002, resulting in 2,000 jobs losses. But British unions, who have pledged to fight the decision to end production of the Vectra, warn that up to 10,000 jobs could go because of the knock-down effect among sub-contractors and suppliers.

Meanwhile, Ford, the UK’s biggest car maker and the world’s second biggest is to halt car assembly at the once-mighty Dagenham plant to the east of London. Production is to stop from 2002 with 4,000 redundancies. Ford and its subsidiaries, which employ 50,000 in Britain, are seeking to reduce its manufacturing workforce by 10 percent as part of a wide-ranging cost-cutting plan. Over the last few years Ford of Europe has reduced its workforce by 6 percent annually through voluntary redundancy and early retirement schemes.

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Irish unions have agreed to accept the continuation of the country’s three-year national pay pact after the employers offered another 3 percent wage hike over the next two years. The agreement follows several one-day strikes across a series of industries — the first after a decade of cordial industrial relations. The stoppages were seen as the most serious threat so far to Ireland’s 13-year "social partnership" basis of social relations.

The unions participate in a national agreement called the Program for Prosperity and Fairness (PPF), which sets an annual level of wage increases for three years. But a growing number of unions were dissatisfied with unexpectedly fast rising inflation, saying that they would pull out of the PPF if claims for higher pay were not met. The PPF set a 5.5 percent wage hike in both 2000 and this year and 4 percent in 2002 — the last nine months of the agreement. This was based on projected annual inflation of 3 percent. But inflation rose by 7 percent, a 15-year high and the unions fought for — and won — the new increase.

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Engineering workers at Rolls Royce, the aerospace and marine engines group, have waged a strike prompted by the company’s decision to switch the research and development of gas turbines for power stations to Montreal. The strike, the first for 20 years in a plant with a calm industrial relations record, surprised industry observers. The move is part of Rolls Royce’s global restructuring plan in which it is to downsize 5,000 of its 40,000 employees in the next three years despite good annual profits and huge new contracts.

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Medical practices in Germany’s capital, Berlin, closed down when doctors and medical staff waged a week-long strike in protest against the German administration’s health reforms which came into effect at the beginning of this year. But the protest had been simmering until health secretary Andrea Fischer pegged health spending to scale back the number of drugs paid for under the country’s health insurance system. The health service, which is funded by equal contributions from citizens and their employers, covers 90 percent of the population. Ms. Fischer’s reforms also include cutting the average length of stay in hospital. The move is strongly resisted by hospital employees. Doctors and nurses claim that the savings being sought in the health service will lead to more deaths.

Germany’s health budget has spiraled in the decade since the re-unification of the German Federal and German Democratic Republics. The most recent report by the United Nations’ World Health Organization put Germany 25th in the world health league of 191 countries in which France came top and the United States, trailing the world’s major economies, 37th.

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French unemployment last year fell by 418,000 to reach 2,160,000 — a fall of 16.2 percent of the country’s working population. But the number of people without work and seeking a job still stands at 9.2 percent of the total workforce. The recovery continues the progress of 1998 and 1999 following the defeat of the conservative congress and election of a more pro-worker administration in May 1997. While the recovery has given a boost to youth employment, it has been slower for employees over 50 and the long-term unemployed. The national 35-hour working week legislation which came into effect for some sectors of the economy last year has also been a positive factor in job creation.

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UE News - 2/01

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