Workers Struggles: Europe, Middle East & Africa

13 June 2014

Europe

Strike by French rail workers

A strike by rail unions CGT-Cheminots and SUD took place Tuesday night. The unions are protesting the reintegration of the state-owned train operating company with the state-owned rail infrastructure company Reseau Ferre de France (RFF).

The unions do not oppose the reintegration of the companies, but say the plans do not go far enough and the heavy debts incurred by RFF will weigh down the newly-integrated organisation and could be used to push for privatisation of the rail company.

According to news web site France 24, less than half of high-speed intercity TGV trains were running and few regional trains particularly in the Paris area were running.

UK firefighters continue strike in pension dispute

Firefighters in England and Wales began the first of two strikes this week in a long-running dispute over pensions and the issue of a later retirement age. Fire crews in England and Wales walked out for 24 hours on Thursday. A further strike is set for seven hours on June 21. The last series of strikes by firefighters took place in May.

The Conservative/Liberal Democrat government is seeking to raise firefighters' retirement age from 55 to 60, whilst increasing their pension contributions.

The 24-hour stoppage, which coincides with the start of the football World Cup, is the longest to be held in the current dispute, which has already seen 12 separate strikes with the first held on September 24 last year.

In between the two strike days firefighters will not carry out any voluntary overtime—now routinely required by many fire and rescue services to maintain fire coverage—or conduct training of potential strikebreakers.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said, “Before 2010, firefighters already contributed one of the highest proportions of their salary towards their pensions (11 percent), and in April this increased for the third year running. Firefighters typically now pay over £4,000 a year from a £29,000 salary, and the government has announced they will impose another increase in 2015. It added, “Under the government’s proposals, firefighters who are forced to retire before the age of 60 as a result of ageing will have half of their pension taken away”

National solidarity strike by Finnish dockers

Around 2,000 dockers employed in ports across Finland held a one-day strike Wednesday. They are members of the Transport Workers Union AKT. They took action in solidarity with 600 dockers currently on strike at the port of HaminaKotka in southern Finland.

AKT said the action was in response to claims that a shop steward involved in the HaminaKotka strike had been threatened by a representative of a Russian ship caught up in the strike.

Greek media workers walk out to commemorate closure of ERT state TV

Greek media workers held a four hour national strike on Wednesday. It began at 12 noon and was called to commemorate the Greek government’s decision announced on June 11 last year to close down the state broadcasting company ERT, which led to the loss of nearly 3,000 of jobs.

Following the announced closure, ERT workers occupied the company’s headquarters and continued to broadcast radio and TV programmes. The occupation was put to an end when over 100 police brutally attacked the occupation in November last year and physically ejected the 50 workers on site.

Thousands of Italian municipal workers march

On June 6, thousands of municipal workers employed by Rome city council, who had gone on strike for the day, marched through the city. Those taking part included police, social workers and teachers.

The city council is planning to cut the wages of municipal workers by up to 200 Euros ($271) a month as part of an austerity drive. Rome employs around 24,000 employees who would be affected by the wage cut.

Bulgarian medics protest continues

Around 100 doctors working at the Emergency Care Unit in the Bulgarian capital Sofia have been continuing their protests for the last week. They are demanding a pay increase, additional staff and for structural improvements to be carried out at the centre.

They are also protesting the government health minister’s dismissal of the unit’s director, Georgi Gelev, and his replacement by Alexander Ziatanov. The doctors accuse the government of scapegoating Gelev for the unit’s failures. They dismissed him in response to the death of a photographer who had been waiting over 40 minutes for an emergency ambulance to arrive.

Taxi drivers in Europe-wide action over use of mobile app

Taxi drivers in many major cities across Europe, including London, Madrid, Milan, Berlin and Paris, took strike action Wednesday and mounted protests.

The target of their protest is the mobile phone app, Uber and similar apps. Black cab taxi drivers in London argue that the San Francisco based app, Uber, which calculates a taxi fare based on time elapsed and distance travelled acts as taxi meter. In London, only black cab taxi drivers are legally allowed to use taxi meters. Similar regulations apply in other major European cities.

The Uber app lets mobile phone users hail a taxi from their phone. The app links users to private hire drivers. There are around 3,000 private hire drivers using the Uber app in London. As the app calculates the fare charged on the basis of time taken and distance travelled, the London black cab drivers organisation, the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) say this means it operates as a taxi meter.

Transport for London (TfL) which is the body charged with enforcing regulations affecting the running of taxis claim Uber does not constitute a taxi meter. On June 4 TfL asked for a high court ruling to settle the matter. The outcome is still awaited.

Swedish rail workers may extend strike

The strike by more than 1,200 rail workers employed by Veolia in southern Sweden, which began June 2, may be extended to include a one-day strike on June 20 in the Swedish capital, Stockholm if the ongoing negotiations continue to make no progress.

The rail workers are represented by the SEKO union, which called the action when Veolia sacked around 250 employees only to then take them back on worse conditions including being re-employed on an on-call basis and paid by the hour. SEKO is also demanding a reduction in the number of temporary staff employed and for anyone employed for more than a year to be made permanent.

London rail unions announce strike action

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) union, Unite and TSSA, at Transport for London (TfL) are to strike for 24 hour beginning 6 am on June 13. The action is in opposition to TfL’s plans to bring in performance pay measures and cuts to pension rights.

Strike by housing workers in Camden, London over victimisation

Staff employed by the One Housing Group in the London borough of Camden, held a four-day strike June 6 to demand the re-instatement of union convenor Brian Kennedy. The workers are members of the Unite union. Kennedy was suspended by the company and on May 20 attended a gross misconduct hearing, the outcome of which has still not been announced.

Middle East

Iran metro construction workers strike

Around 900 construction workers, employed by the privately-owned Iranian based civil engineering company Kayson, struck on June 3. They are employed building a metro system in the central western city of Ahwaz. They are protesting the non-payment of wages for five months and non-application of overtime rates.

They accuse the company of not paying the legal minimum wage of US$200 a month, not complying with labour legislation and not issuing pay slips. Around 400 workers were involved in a several-weeks-long strike in the autumn of 2011 over non-payment of wages.

Strike by iron ore workers in Iran enters third week

Around 2,500 iron ore workers employed by the Central Iron Ore Company in Bafgh, Iran have been on strike for over three weeks. They are protesting against measures to privatise the company. Around a quarter of the stock has been put on the stock exchange and bought by the Khuzestan Steel Company. Workers are demanding the company remain publicly-owned and for its profits to be used to improve life in the city.

Lebanese air traffic controllers in two-hour protest strike

Air traffic controllers at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International airport went on strike Tuesday for two hours. This led to the delay of 15 flights. Their action was in solidarity with the Syndicate Coordination Committee’s (SCC) protests over the government’s failure to implement public-sector pay increases agreed in 2012.

Lebanese public-sector workers strike

The Lebanese Union Coordination Committee (UCC) organised a two-day strike of public-sector workers, including teachers, on Monday and Tuesday of this week. They were demanding parliament discuss and resolve the previously agreed but as yet non-implemented pay increase.

The UCC had also called for demonstrations in front of the Telecommunications Ministry. Teachers have refused to cooperate in the holding of public exams if the issue is not resolved.

Palestinian health ministry threat to deduct striking doctors pay

The Palestinian health ministry announced it is to deduct wages from the salaries of doctors who have been on strike for several weeks. They are protesting the government’s alleged disregard of their employment rights. A health ministry spokesman said, “Employees who do not fully comply with their work schedule [could] lose a portion of their wages equal to the number of days they were absent.”

Africa

No settlement in South African platinum miners’ dispute

The three South African Platinum companies, Amplats, Impala and Lonmin have failed to agree with Associated Miners and Construction Union (AMCU) on a settlement of their near-five-month wage dispute.

AMCU had made further concessions, pushing their demand for a basic entry wage of R12, 500 ($1, 163) a month over four years to five years, but employers have made no changes on their wages offer.

Minister of Mineral Resources Ngoako Ramatlhodi made a proposal that the government may be able to assist in the speedup of housing provision, in response to AMCU’s demands over accommodation allowances, before withdrawing from the negotiations. 

Another proposal being considered by the government is an amendment to legislation on strikes ruled to be against the public interest.

The government is fully supportive of the employers. Ramatlhodi said if the platinum companies agree to AMCU’s demands, it could result in the wholesale closure of shafts and mass retrenchments, damaging the economy even further. The minister added that his proposed amendments would give the Department of Labour sweeping new powers.

South African port workers dispute continues


The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) is continuing its six-week old dispute with Ngqura Transnet Port Terminals, South Africa. The port workers came out on strike on April 25 demanding the ending of labour brokers and increased shift loads, and for payment of the transport subsidy currently paid to Port Elizabeth staff.

Transnet said labour brokers were no longer used at Transnet core operations, but their spokesperson Wandisa Vazi admitted NUMSA members at Ngqura were employed through labour brokers.

The strikers have been locked out since April 28 with management demanding they give up their dispute and submit to Transnet lockout conditions. While NUMSA is a minority union with fewer than 150 members, the numbers on strike has now swelled to 300.

The company is offering an amnesty to company employees, that is, non-labour broker workers, to return to work which would exclude NUMSA members. The container terminal is a main shipping hub for global companies and critically important to the car industries and other exporters.

South African sugar workers in disputes

Some South African Sugar refinery workers refused to return to work on Monday after the union agreed to a deal ending the strike. Hundreds of the 5,500 workers stayed out on strike in opposition to the deal negotiated by the Food and Allied Workers Union, (FAWU) under the Sugar Bargaining Council.

The workers were demanding an across-the-board 11 percent wage increase, a R800 ($74) monthly housing subsidy and a 3 hour reduction in the working week. The settlement was a pay increase covering 3 tiers of employees, 10 percent, nine percent and 8.75 percent, from lower to higher grade, with the other issues taken off the agenda, until the end of 2014.

A worker opposing the settlement at the Tongaat Hulett sugar refinery in Clairwood, Durban said of his union, “We have worked for this company for years and years but we are paid peanuts. We had thought they would get us at least the housing subsidies and the reduction of the working week. There is no incentive for us to return to work because our conditions are still the same.”

FAWU has declared separate disputes at the South African Sugar Research Institute and with the seven sugar cane plantations owned by Illovo Sugar, South Africa’s biggest sugar producer. It is expected that the disputes will be subject to arbitration.

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