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World of Work:
World Labor
News Roundup

From Jeff Apter In Paris
Special to

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French Unions Fight for Shorter
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.

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One-day General
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.

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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.

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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 eight years.

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.

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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."

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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.

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UE News - 12/02

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