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World of Work:
World Labor
News Roundup

From JEFF APTER in Paris
Special to the UE NEWS

JAPAN. The Japanese administration has issued proposals to create more than 700,000 jobs to tackle the country’s highest-ever unemployment. The ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party’s measures, which come a few months in advance of congressional elections, are aimed at restructuring Japan’s giant corporations and supporting emerging industries.

Unemployment has reached 4.8 percent — the highest since the end of World War II — and is expected to continue its upward spiral. It is accompanied by falling wages and bonuses which have undermined the administration’s efforts to boost consumer spending through tax cuts and the issue of shopping vouchers. Many Japanese economists believe unemployment will continue to rise.

Almost half the minimum 700,000 jobs the administration intends to create will be in public services and local government. Subsidies to take on more people are to be given to 15 emerging industries including health care, biotechnology and telecommunications. Financial support will also be given to companies hiring unemployed middle-aged people.

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ITALY. Italian metalworking unions and employers’ organizations have reached agreement on a salary and working hours’ package after a month of talks. Salaries are to rise and each worker in engineering — the country’s biggest manufacturing sector — receives a one-off bonus.

Except for the steel industry, the unions have won reduced working time for night work and weekend shifts but failed to win the 35-hour working week they wanted. The employers’ federation has obtained greater flexibility, as extra overtime — something the unions contested — is to be allowed, especially in seasonal labor.

The previous agreement expired last December and it has taken several negotiating sessions to renew the contract which covers about 1.5 million workers. The three engineering unions signed following consultation with their members after several days of action, including stoppages, meetings and mass demonstrations in major Italian cities.

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KOREA. The latest strike wave in South Korea has been repressed by the police after shipyard workers joined subway workers in action to protest against layoffs. Union leaders announced a series of strikes and mass demonstrations to put pressure on the government to slow down restructuring of Korea’s corporations.

Workers at a major shipyard owned by Daewoo Heavy Industries stopped work demanding that the parent company scraps plans to sell the shipbuilding business. And about 5,000 scientific and research workers also went on strike. The actions have been called by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the more independent of the country’s two labor federations.

The KCTU is demanding talks with the administration about alternatives to downsizing which has resulted from corporate restructuring. The government said it would only enter talks with the KCTU if the other labor federation, the FKTU, takes part. Both union groups and the employers walked out from government talks recently.

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EUROPE. The European Commission, the unelected administration of the 15-country European Union, is seeking to inflict a fine on the French government if it does not amend its labor legislation to allow women to work at night. It accuses France of not respecting an instruction to abolish discrimination at work, has asked it to pay a record $150,000 fine for every day it fails to comply and says it must change its laws.

France is the only one of the 15 European Union countries to ban women from night shifts. Its legislation says women may only work at night in very specific circumstances. About 800,000 women work night shifts, about half in the health sector. The French government contests the ruling. The dispute continues.

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EUROPEAN UNIONS. The cold war within Europe’s trade union movement has ended following the acceptance into membership of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) of the CGT, France’s biggest labor federation.

More than a quarter of a century after the CGT made its first application, the ETUC’s executive board recommended admitting it to membership. Three other French labor federations are longtime ETUC members. The CGT’s membership was ratified at the ETUC convention in Finland at the end of June.

The ETUC was founded in February 1973. Over the years it has continued to grow, bringing in unions from Italy, Spain, Portugal and eastern Europe. And now it affiliates more than 58 million trade unionists belonging to 65 national labor federations from 28 countries throughout the continent of Europe.

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