Navigation Bar

Home -> UE News -> 1999 Archives -> Article


World of Work:
World Labor
News Roundup

From Jeff Apter In Paris
Special to

  • In this Issue:
  • French workers battle for more jobs to be created and more workers to be covered under that country's new 35-hour workweek law ...

  • A government austerity plan in Germany sparks a demonstration by thousands of workers. At issue: welfare and pension spending cuts even while business gets a tax cut; high unemployment and rising prices ...

  • The United Kingdom is requiring at at least 100 UK-based multinational companies to develop works councils — a mechanism for informing and consulting workers about transnational issues affecting their jobs.

  • Michelin is in trouble in France after simultaneously announcing a 17% increase in profits and a 10% cutback in jobs (affecting more than 7,500 workers). The company says it was just "clumsy".

  • Italian unions are warning the government to expect demonstrations if it proceeds with plans to cut pension spending as well as the planned privatization of several state-owned enterprises, including the Rome Airports Authority.

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.

Page Top

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 pro-employee.

Page Top

United Kingdom:
Ok Given to Works Council

The British government says it will apply the European Union’s European Works Council arrangements affecting at least 100 UK-based multinational companies.

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 1,600.

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 multinational companies.

Page Top

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."

Page Top

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 unrest."

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.

Page Top

UE News - 12/99

Home -> UE News -> 1999 Archives -> Article

Home • About UE • Organize! • Independent Unions • Search • Site Guide • What's New • Contact UE
UE News • Political Action • Info for Workers • Resources • Education • Health & Safety • International • Links

Copyright © 2003 UE. All Rights Reserved