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World of Work:
World Labor
News Roundup

From Jeff Apter In Paris
Special to

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Unemployment in the Netherlands has fallen to such low levels that the administration is considering offering about $1,500 to unemployed people signing up for a job. Unemployment, until just a few years ago, amongst the highest in western Europe, has fallen to an official 2.4 percent — the lowest figure for 20 years. But many unemployed people on low incomes are considering whether the Plan, if put into practice, is worth the bother.

Unemployed workers often receive additional benefits ranging from help with the rent to discounts on municipal services. These benefits would be lost if the recipient took a job where the salary was no more than unemployment pay plus the supplementary benefits. If the administration accepts the bonus scheme, workers who sign up for employment will get the first part of the payment after six months in the job — and they will have to keep it for another 18 months to receive the full amount.

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More than 15 percent of the workforce in the European Union — a kind of NAFTA with 15 member countries — are considered to be working on low pay. Eurostat, the EU’s official statistics office, reports that some 16.5 million people are on low pay — more than three-quarters of them women.

In 37 percent of the cases, the worker concerned is in a job where salary levels are low, in 43 percent of cases the low pay results from part-time work — usually under 30 hours a week — and in the remaining 11 percent, low pay is a mixture of both cases.

Low pay is defined as that received by an employed person which is below the average wage set by each of the EU’s member countries.

Although the average of people on low pay in the 15 countries was found to be over 15 percent, considerable variations were seen among the countries.

Portugal and Denmark came out best with, respectively, 6 percent and 7 percent of low paid employees in their workforces — less than half the EU average. The United Kingdom came out worst with a reported 21 percent of workers on low pay — 25 percent higher than the EU average and three times more than Portugal and Denmark.

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Ukraine has promised to close down forever the last working reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power station by the end of this year. Explosion of the station’s fourth reactor in April 1986 spread clouds of radioactive debris all over Europe, causing the world’s worst nuclear disaster. Making the pledge in the presence of U.S. President Bill Clinton, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said Chernobyl would be switched off permanently by 15th December.

The U.S. is to provide Ukraine with about $75 million to help to make the disaster site safe and repair or renew the concrete and steel shell which has covered the reactor since the disaster and invest in Ukraine’s beleaguered energy sector. One of the Chernobyl reactors is still producing electricity.

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Germany has become the first major industrial power to withdraw completely from civil nuclear power. The administration, a coalition of the Social Democratic Party and the environmentalist Green Party, has struck a "compromise deal" to shut the country’s 19 nuclear power stations by 2021. Abandon of nuclear energy was in the coalition’s program when they were elected in Autumn 1998 but the two partners for months had been squabbling over the exact text of the legislation.

The administration has also banned the transport of nuclear waste for re-treatment in British and French reprocessing plants from 2005. In return, Germany’s Chancellor, the Social Democrat Gerhardt Schroeder, has guaranteed the industry’s four main energy producers, "unfettered operation" of the power stations until their closure and has promised not to impose more rigorous regulations or further taxes as demanded by the Green Party.

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Politics rarely make for popularity so it is hardly surprising that France’s most popular person is not a politician, but a soccer player.

The opinion poll — which usually chooses actors, singers or high-profile charity workers — selected Zinedine Zidane, the main architect of France’s soccer victories in the World Cup and European Nations Cup as their favorite Frenchman. What is more surprising — and heartening — is that "Zizou", as he is affectionately known, is a third generation son of Algerian immigrants.

The choice comes at the same time as France shows the highest growth of jobs in Europe. Although unemployment at 9.6 percent is high by U.S. standards, it has fallen to 2.3 million — the lowest figure since 1991. The fall of 500,000 in a year includes more than 200,000 jobs created or saved by the recent establishment of the 35-hour working week.

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