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World of Work:
World Labor
News Roundup

From Jeff Apter In Paris
Special to

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The French Socialist-led administration has cut unemployment by one million since it was elected in June 1997. The jobless total has hit a 10-year low, falling to 9 percent. When the administration won power in a shock reversal of the conservatives’ huge majority, unemployment stood at 12.5 percent.

About 1.5 million jobs have been created in the last three and a half years during which France has enjoyed average annual growth of 3 percent — the strongest of the large European countries. It attributed the performance to stimulation of domestic demand, last year’s implementation of the 35-hour working week and its youth employment scheme. Labor secretary Elizabeth Guigou said the result was very good but pointed out France still had 2.12 million without jobs.

The strong growth was also reflected in huge profit increases, especially by TotalFinaElf, the giant oil company and the seven main banks. The BNP Paribas bank posted net profits of $4 billion, 58 percent up on 1999, while reducing its workforce by 3,350. Despite the good results for the economy, INSEE, the national statistics institute, reports that 4.2 million people live under the poverty line, the same rate of poverty as in 1996. Most poverty is found among the 15-25 year olds and among immigrants.

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As the world celebrates the centenary of Giuseppe Verdi, one of the world’s greatest composers, the German union movement has created Ver.Di, the world’s biggest union. Delegates from five rival German unions met in Berlin to bury the hatchet and confirm their merger into the Vereinte Dientleistunggerwerkscahft — yes, it’s all one word! — the German services union.

The media workers’ union (IG Medien), the commerce, bank and insurance union (HBV), the post office workers’ union (Postgewerkscahaft) and the clerks’ union (DAG) gave the green light to the amalgamation plan in October 1997. But the merger was finally made possible following a change of mind by the OTV public transport union. OTV, which now accounts for about half of Ver.di’s membership, voted by 87 percent to accept the tie-up during a special convention. A previous consultative vote gave a majority of 65 percent but an 80 percent approval rating was needed. That vote resulted in the resignation of OTV’s president.

Ver.Di, with nearly three million members is bigger than IG Metall, the German engineering and allied workers’ union, previously the world’s biggest union. Ver.Di represents 1,000 professions from mulitmedia graphic artists to nurses and bank workers and will conduct negotiations for 13 multi-skill collective agreements.

Since the beginning of the 1990s Germany’s union movement has lost about one-third of their membership.

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The European Union, a kind of European NAFTA, says its wants to open totally the European employment market by 2005 and has adopted a plan to eliminate obstacles to the free movement of labor within the its 15 member countries.

The free movement of labor is one of the bases of the European Union. But only 0.4 percent of the total workforce works in another EU member country, compared with 2.4 percent of the American labor force working in another U.S. state.

Many obstacles exist to the free movement of labor in Europe, including language barriers and differences in the various health insurance systems. The new plan aims to overcome some of the difficulties to mobility by harmonizing supplementary pensions systems which are a real headache for people having worked in more than one EU country.

The aim is to ask EU administrations to recognise the home health insurance systems of "mobile workers" and encourage recognition of their professional qualifications and skills.

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Daewoo Motor, the South Korean vehicle manufacturer, is to shed 6,500 jobs world-wide, representing 14 percent of its 46,000 non-Korean workforce. The job cuts come on top of the 6,884 already announced this year for its Korean plants. In February hundreds of Daewoo workers in Korea seized the company’s huge manufacturing plant at Inchon in protest against the boss’ plan to lay off one worker in three. They left only when forced out by the police.

The latest round of job cuts affects Daewoo’s 15 plants and 31 commercial subsidiaries abroad. The biggest losers are in Poland, where 1,300 of the Warsaw plant’s 4,900 workers lose their employment, and in India, where 865 jobs in the 2,900 workforce are to go. America’s General Motors is examining whether to take over the ailing company.

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British manufacturing continues to be hit by a new series of big job cuts, with telecommunications and electronics the hardest hit. Motorola, Philips and Ericsson are the latest companies to slash jobs. British workers are particularly exposed to the industry’s downturn, which started with the bursting of the Internet bubble in the U.S.

Scotland received a major shock with the announcement by Motorola, the U.S. electronics and communications group, that it is to close its "silicon glen" cellphone plant in Bathgate with the loss of 3,100 jobs. The Motorola shutdown — Scotland’s biggest industrial closure in at least 20 years — has caused a row as the company has refused to give details of its decision whilst keeping open a similar factory in Germany. The unions believe Bathgate was chosen as German labor laws make it more difficult to lay off workers, even though the Scottish plant is more profitable. Since 1995, the British government has given Motorola $24 million in regional aid for the Bathgate plant.

Philips, the Dutch electronics group, is to cut up to 7,000 jobs but gave scant details of where the axe would fall among its more than 6,000 workforce in Britain. Meanwhile, Ericsson, the Swedish telecommunications giant, is seeking to cut its workforce by 12,000, including more than 1,000 in Britain.

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UE News - 5/01

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