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World of Work:
World Labor
News Roundup

From Jeff Apter In Paris
Special to

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Russia’s First Post-Soviet Labor Law
Reform Makes Industrial Action Harder

Russia’s first major reform of labor legislation in the 10 years since the winding-up of the Soviet Union makes it harder for employees to strike and eases restrictions on bosses seeking to dismiss employees. The new labour code also compels companies to accept collective bargaining and penalises employers failing to pay wages on time. Late payment of wages, sometimes for several months, is a frequent complaint of many working people. Employees suffering more than 15 days arrears of wages will be allowed to stay away from work. The original labor code updates the previous rules which have hardly changed since 1961.

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German Unions Seek Big Pay
Increases in Face of Jobless Rise

As unemployment approaches four million and the recession deepens, German unions are preparing to lodge big pay claims. After a year of austerity the powerful 2.8 million-strong IGMetall engineering and electrical union is to press for wage increases of 5-7 percent. IGMetall president Klaus Zwickel said the union also wanted action to combat growing unemployment which now stands at 9.5 percent of the labor force.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Schroeder, the country’s leader, has started his Social Democratic Party’s campaign for re-election. When he was elected in 1998 he pledged to reduce unemployment to 3.5 million by September 2002. He said the present 3.96 million figure was "worrying" but pointed out that the number of workless had hit 4.5 million in late 1997 under the former conservative administration. He announced a scheme to pay subsidies to workers who take low-paid jobs. The scheme has been criticized because it also includes phasing out tax exemptions for single parents.

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New French Labor Law Scuppered;
35-hour Week Extended

A major political scandal has erupted following the French Constitutional Council’s rejection of a new law which made it harder for companies to dismiss employees. The council, the official guardian of France’s constitution, rejected key elements in a law restricting the bosses’ powers to sack workers. The law was adopted following massive union protests over job losses by international companies that were making a profit. The council’s decision is a victory for the employers who campaigned strongly against the proposals saying they impinged on business’ freedom of action. The nine-man council comprises seven members named by conservative parties and two nominated by the Socialist Party.

Meanwhile, two years after the 35-hour week was introduced without loss of pay in the public service, and private and public companies with more than 20 employees, the measure has been extended to small firms. By Jan. 1, more than 87,300 companies together employing 10,300,000 people had established the new working hours. The small companies have a two-year transition period to reduce weekly working hours from 39 to 35 hours.

Introduction of the 35-hour working week has already created or saved 364,000 jobs.

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Germany Abandons
Nuclear Power

After three years of bitter debate, the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, has enshrined in law the closure of all its nuclear power plants by 2020. This date could be later because if some plants are closed earlier than expected, others will be allowed to stay open longer. One of the country’s 19 nuclear power stations — which account for one-third of Germany’s electricity production — was taken off-line indefinitely in October following a safety scare. The conservative CDU party said it would repeal the law if it won next September’s congressional election.

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Big Corporations
Accelerate Layoffs

The world’s biggest corporations shed nearly 600,000 workers in the first nine months of 2001 — and layoffs are continuing. Meanwhile, unemployment in the 15-country European Union was expected to jump by 500,000 in 2001 and it is not all due to the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S.

Even before New York’s Twin Towers were destroyed, the U.S. and many European countries were going into recession. Economists estimate that since September the world’s biggest companies have accelerated the pace of layoffs. Most jobs have gone in technology, finance, aviation, media, engineering and telecommunications as major corporations used the attacks as an excuse to lay off even more employees.

The International Labor Organization warns that 24 million people world-wide could be thrown out of a job in 2002. This includes an extra half a million onto the dole queues in the European Union member countries — the first jobless rise since 1997.

The number of U.S. jobless is expected to rise to 5.8 percent this year from a 30-year low of 4 percent in 2000. And Japan last year recorded 5 percent on the dole — its highest unemployment rate for half a century. But it expects 5.5 percent jobless in 2002.

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UK Manufacturing
Workers Bottom of League

UK manufacturing employees are the lowest paid in the developed world while the country’s top company executives are paid more than their European counterparts. A new salary survey has heightened union anger and shareholder concern over the huge bonuses and share awards paid to senior executives even when companies are not doing well.

The survey, published by Management Today, claims that the average manufacturing wage for British manufacturing workers is $29,500, compared with $37,600 in Germany, $45,500 in the U.S. and $53,000 in Japan. The report also says that UK workers are the cheapest in the developed world to dismiss.

Meanwhile, top UK company executives are paid more than $145,000 a year more than their European counterparts and have received an average 29 percent pay rise over the last two years. The survey shows that British chief executives take home an average annual salary package worth $730,000, a third more than their colleagues in France who are the second highest paid in Europe. Germans executives are bottom of the top peoples’ pay league with an average $430,000. Only U.S. employers outstrip UK executives, with an average $1.45 million a year.

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Italian Unions Take Action
Against Anti-Employee Bill

Italy’s three trade union federations, representing some 11 million members, have taken mass action against the conservative administration’s plans to reform the country’s labor laws. It is the first serious clash between the unions and prime minister Silvio Berlusconi since his election in spring 2001.

The CGIL, CISL and UIL union federations conducted a series of two-hour national stoppages in protest at Berlusconi’s plans to change Italy’s "workers’ statute" by removing the obligation on employers to reinstate sacked employees if a labor court states they have been unfairly dismissed. Introduced in 1970, the workers’ statute is the cornerstone of labor law.

The unions, who called the action after talks with the prime minister broke down, say the stoppages could be the first acts in more serious industrial action. Berlusconi is cautious about the bill and has given no deadline for the new legislation’s passage. The multi-millionaire media mogul, backed by the employers’ federation, has never forgotten that strikes against his plans to reform the pensions system contributed to the downfall of his previous administration in 1994 after only seven months in power.

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UE News - 02/02

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