Rally for 35 Hour Week
The new law establishing the 35-hour working week has
encountered difficulties regarding financing and is facing opposition from the
unions. Labor wants the administration to encourage companies to create as
many jobs as possible through a shorter working week and prevent their social
security system from being raided to pay for it.
The first 35-hour week law, which affects companies with more
than 20 employees was due to come into effect on 1 January 2000 but could now
be delayed for several weeks.
The second law, currently under discussion, extends the
35-hour week to companies with 20 or fewer employees and is set to be
effective on 1 January 2002. Companies reducing the working week and creating
jobs will receive subsidies. Public servants, municipal employees and hospital
workers will be covered by a separate law. Since 1982 the legal working week
has been 39 hours.
Austerity Plan Angers Unions
Thousands of public service workers have again demonstrated in
Berlin against the administration’s planned austerity program.
German unions have slammed the plan to slash public spending
next year, protesting that the poor and the elderly are to bear the brunt of
welfare and pension spending cuts as electricity and gasoline prices rise. At
the same time, business tax is reduced.
The unions want reinstatement of the wealth tax, which was
abolished in 1997. The administration does not intend to re-introduce the tax.
Meanwhile, the country’s unemployment rate hovers around
four million or 10.2 percent of the workforce.
And anger is mounting over the government’s plan to delay
lowering the age of retirement to 60 from 65 now. Although the government
seems to have backtracked on retirement, the 2.7 million member IGMetall (the
electrical and metal union) continues to criticize the administration they
helped to get into power for being too pro-business and not sufficiently
The British government says it will apply the European Union’s
European Works Council arrangements affecting at least 100 UK-based
Most of the countries in the European Union — a kind of
NAFTA with 15 member countries — already have procedures to ensure that
companies provide information to employees and consult the workforce. European
Works Councils were established by the European Union in September 1994 to
ensure that multinational corporations employing at least 1,000 people in the
countries involved and at least 150 in two or more EU member countries
establish a mechanism for informing and consulting staff about transnational
issues. An estimated 560 EWC agreements exist in Europe out of a possible
The UK’s previous Conservative government refused to apply
it. But the Labour government, elected in May 1997, will now establish a
framework to give similar rights to employees in Britain working for
Michelin Profits Up, Jobs Down
A major row has broken out in France following the
announcement by Michelin, the family-run tire multinational, to shed 7,500
jobs at the same time as the company posted a 17 percent profits rise. The
unions responded with a major demonstration.
New Michelin boss Edouard Michelin admits it was
"clumsy" to make the two announcements at the same time, but said
the company would still reduce its European workforce by 7,500 — 10 percent
of the total — by 2002.
More than 15,000 jobs have been lost at Michelin’s French
plants since 1983. After demonstrations by thousands of Michelin workers,
Socialist Prime minister Lionel Jospin criticised Michelin’s downsizing
program while it is making big profits. He said it was "inadmissible to
announce substantial profits in the same breath as requesting public funding
to help pay for restructuring that involves a big reduction in jobs."
Workers Fight Pension Cuts
Italy’s unions have warned the administration to expect
protest demonstrations following plans to cut pensions spending. Italians may
retire at 57 if they have made pensions contributions for 35 years.
Serge Cofferati, the general secretary of the CGIL, the
biggest of Italy’s three labor federations, said pensions reform was
"not the best way to resolve the country’s problems." He made it
clear that any attempt to cut pensions spending could "lead to industrial
The unions also oppose the plan to sell off shares in the
national electricity company Enel, a state-owned bank, the national highway
management company and the Rome Airports Authority.
UE News - 12/99