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World of Work:
World Labor
News Roundup

From Jeff Apter In Paris
Special to

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Five German unions suspended their merger plan to form Verdi, the world’s biggest individual union, when the public services and transport union OTV failed to approve the new organization. Two-thirds of the members voted in favor but the constitution of the 1.53 million-member OTV requires 80 percent approval.

Four other unions back the merger: the postal workers, the bank and insurance union, the media and printers and the office workers union. If Verdi goes ahead after another vote in April 2001, it will have three million members in 13 separate industrial sectors with 120 regional offices serviced by 5,000 full time officials. The merger move follows a membership crisis in which one-third of Germany’s union membership has been lost since 1991.

Meanwhile, Britain’s engineering and electrical union, AEEU, is seeking to seal a merger with IG Metall, Germany’s biggest union, to create a cross-border organization representing more than three million members. Although there are many U.S./Canada and Great Britain/Ireland cross-border unions, this would be the first significant cross-border tie-up in Europe.

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Two of Canada’s biggest union organizations are engaged in a fight over the right of Canadian workers in U.S.-based unions to join a Canadian union. Relations between the Canadian Auto Workers’ Union and its federation, the Canadian Labour Congress have become so bitter that the 220,000-member CAW, Canada’s largest private sector union, for the first time refused to join the CLC’s Labor Day parade in September.

The CLC, which represents 2.4 million workers, or two-thirds of all unionized workers in Canada blames the CAW for grabbing members and power. The CAW, which seceded from the U.S. United Auto Workers union in 1985, says it is fighting for democratic rights, including breaking away from foreign-controlled unions.

At the center of the conflict is an attempt by up to 30,000 Canadian members of America’s Service Employees International Union — about one-third of its Canadian membership — to leave and join the CAW. The SEIU, also affiliated to the CLC for its Canadian members, claims the autoworkers raided its locals. The CLC imposed sanctions against the CAW, which says there was no raiding or initiation of recruitment and that dissident SEIU members had approached it for affiliation. (CAW Pres. Buzz Hargrove posed the issue as one of basic union democracy when he addressed the UE Convention in August.)

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The International Labor Organization has slammed the Venezuelan administration’s interference in the country’s labor movement. The complaint followed President Chavez’s organization of a referendum to suspend from duty and then remove within six months leaders of the one million-member Venezuelan Workers’ Confederation (CTV), the country’s largest labor organization. The CTV, along with the Catholic Church, is one of the few remaining pockets of opposition to Chavez. Although two-thirds of those voting agreed to the President’s measure, only one in five workers went to vote. The union leaders say the referendum is a sham and have pledged not to leave their posts.

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British technicians and blue-collar workers are to pay the price for "unsatisfactory" results at Rolls Royce which have pushed down its share price. In a bid to return to double-digit revenue and dividends growth, the aerospace and marine engines group has established a three-year restructuring program during which an estimated 5,000 jobs will be axed. The announcement of the job cuts — from its world-wide labor force of 40,000 — comes in spite of the company’s record order book.

Most Rolls Royce income derives from after-sales maintenance work which will be affected by the early retirement of most of the remaining Tristar and Boeing 747 aircraft. The Group has been shedding about 2,000 jobs a year with its British workforce down to about 30,000. Recently it has won dozens of new orders, including to supply Singapore Airlines with 100 of its Trent-900 series engines to power a fleet of A3XXs, the European Airbus’s latest giant jumbo jet. Rolls Royce says that the new orders will not have an impact on its economic performance for six or seven years.

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The European Union (EU) has warned that retirement ages in Europe may have to rise if public finances are to cope with pensions provision and that tougher budget policies may be needed. The EU is an organization of 15 European countries with some similarities to NAFTA. It warns that pensions expenditure for rapidly aging populations could lead to an increase in pensions expenditure of 3-5% of gross domestic product (GDP) in most member countries. It also says countries could also see an average 3 percent increase in health care expenditure to cater for the aging population. It indicates that spending hikes could be contained by raising the pension age which is 60 in most EU countries.

Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands are expected to face the biggest increase in pension outlay but the UK will have the easiest ride. It is only in the UK, where pension provisions are among the lowest in Europe, that the share of GDP spent on public pensions is expected to fall. Spain’s public pensions expenditure is expected to almost double to 17.7 percent in 50 years.

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