French Unions Fight for Shorter
Hours, Against Privatization
Workers in France are facing a return to a longer working week following the new conservative administration’s plan to
reverse the positive reforms of the Socialist Party-led administration defeated in the June parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, a strong
movement is underway to counter plans to sell off state-owned industries to the administration’s big business backers.
A bill to soften regulations limiting the working week to 35 hours has been presented for debate in Parliament. The reform
keeps the basic 1,600 hour working year — equivalent of a 35-hour week, but makes a 39-hour week available to employers and increases
annual overtime allowed from 130 hours to 180 hours. The 35-hour week was designed to boost jobs and already applies to eight million
workers. The bill will also reduce the bosses’ social security and welfare taxes.
Meanwhile, 80,000 transport and public service workers and gas and electricity employees held mass rallies throughout
France to protest the administration’s privatization plans. The sell-off program includes parts of the huge national electricity and gas
groups and a reduction in the nation’s share of Air France to 20 percent from the present 54 percent. Industrial action is expected to
increase with the announcement that unemployment is continuing to rise: 150,000 jobs were lost, mostly in manufacturing, in the first half
of this year alone.
Strike Paralyzes Italy
The CGIL, the biggest of Italy’s three union federations, led 10 million workers in a 24-hour general strike against the
economic policies of Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative administration. Huge rallies took place in more than 100 cities. Millionaire prime
minister Berlusconi wants to make downsizing easier for the employers. The stoppage was the second major action this year. In April, 13
million workers stayed away from work in the biggest strike for 20 years organized by the three labor federations. But the smaller UIL and
CISL federations, made a deal with the administration and did not support the latest action.
More than 25 million working hours have been lost to strikes this year alone — almost 500 percent more than in the same
period in 2001. In 1994, the last time Berlusconi was premier, his administration fell after only seven months following demonstrations
against plans to reduce pension entitlements.
More Than a Quarter of European
Workers Suffer from Stress
More than one worker in four in the European Union (EU) — a kind of European NAFTA — suffers from stress, a new report
reveals. Stress is the main cause of absenteeism in Europe after back pain. Every year five million workdays are lost due to stress. One
of the highest-risk stress groups is women, balancing child care and a job.
Forty-one million people in the 15 EU member countries - 28 percent of the workforce — suffer from illnesses linked to
pressure at work, lack of control over tasks and boredom. Workplace-derived stress is also caused by growing workplace phenomena such as
violence, bullying and other forms of harassment. Three million people claim to have experienced sexual harassment and 12 million
intimidation and bullying.
Stress contributes to anxiety, depression and cancer and accounts for 20 percent of cardiovascular diseases in Europe.
Musculoskeletal disorders and gastro-intestinal diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome, are also linked to stress.
Unions and Employers Sign
Landmark Teleworking Agreement
Teleworkers, the growing group of people in Europe using a computer and/or telephone to work from home, are to be given
equal rights with office workers. The move follows a landmark framework agreement between unions and both private and public employers
covering 17 countries. An estimated 4.5 million teleworkers are to be covered, a figure expected to increase by at least 400 percent in
The agreement was signed after eight months negotiations between the European Trades Union Confederation (ETUC) and
European-wide private and public sector employers’ associations. It guarantees teleworkers equal rights in employment, training and
health and safety. The agreement,involving the 15 European Union countries and non-members Iceland and Norway, will allow teleworkers to
organize their working time according to national legislation.
ETUC general secretary Emilio Gabaglio called the agreement "a significant step forward." It is expected the
measure will take three years to come into effect.
Alcatel Slashes Another 20,000 Jobs
Alcatel, Europe’s biggest telecommunications equipment manufacturer, has announced plans to cut another 10,000 jobs
world-wide. The move, brought about by the slump in telecoms sales and its drive to return to profit at the expense of the workforce that
created it, will reduce the French company’s workforce to 60,000 by the end of 2003. At the end of 2000 Alcatel employed 113,000 people,
falling to 83,000 people in June this year.
The job cuts come on top of 30,000 job losses already earmarked for 2001 and 2002. Alcatel said that the downsizing was
part of a major restructuring plan. A country by country assessment is to be undertaken to decide where the axe will fall. A spokesman for
the French CGT union at Alcatel said the new round of job reductions was "intolerable." He feared the latest downsizing move
would "not be the last."
Polish Miners Lead Warsaw Protest
Miners protesting the government’s plan to close seven mines and eliminate some 35,000 of Poland’s 140,000 coal
industry jobs marched through Warsaw on Nov. 14, joined by workers from the equally threatened steel industry and nurses who demanded pay
increases and more funding for hospitals.
UE News - 12/02