Workers Struggles: Europe, Middle East & Africa

12 December 2014

Europe

Further one-day strike against Belgian government austerity measures

The three main Belgian trade union bodies—the Christian Trades Union ACV, the Socialist Trades Union ABVV and the Liberal Trades Union ACL VB—held their latest strike on Monday against the austerity measures being pushed by the right-wing Belgian government.

The strike affected the Flemish and Walloon region of Brabant and the capital, Brussels. It hit transport services, with 44 percent of flights from Brussels’ main airport cancelled. Metro, bus and tram services in the capital did not run, and international train services to Paris and London were hit. A countrywide general strike is scheduled for Monday next week.

Strike of French railway control staff

A three-day strike began December 4 by French railway control staff. It was called by the General Workers Confederation and the SUD-Rail Union. The staff are responsible for passenger safety on trains and at stations. They are protesting plans to eliminate the role of control staff through the introduction of automatic devices and other measures.

Amazon staff strike in Germany

Around 500 Amazon staff at the company’s distribution centre in Bad Hersfeld struck on Monday, with other staff at its Leipzig warehouse joining the strike in the afternoon. They are members of the Verdi union. The German Amazon operation is the second largest after its American one. It employs 10,000 full-time staff in nine distribution centres and a further 10,000 on a seasonal basis.

The one-day strike was part of a long-running programme of industrial action by the union. Verdi is calling on Amazon to give its workers pay and conditions in accordance with collective bargaining agreements across retail and mail order businesses. Amazon regards its distribution and warehouse staff as logistics workers and gives them lower pay and lesser conditions than would apply to retail/mail order staff.

Firefighters in England hold another 24-hour strike

Firefighters in England began a 24-hour strike at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, the 48th such action. It follows a four-day strike at the end of October. Firefighters in the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) have been involved in a long-running dispute against government plans to attack their pension terms.

The government is seeking to increase the age at which they are able to receive their pensions, from 55 to 60, as well as making them pay more into the scheme but receive fewer benefits. Many firefighters fear the raising of the retirement age to 60 will render them open to dismissal, as they will be less able to meet stringent fitness conditions to be able to remain in their jobs.

Strike of UK Ministry of Defence support workers

Around 800 staff employed by the Defence Support Group (DSG) began a 10-day strike on Monday. The DSG is under contract to the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) and is responsible for “the through life maintenance, repair, overhaul, upgrade and procurement support services for defence equipment.”

They are members of the Unite union, and the current strike follows six well-supported days of action in October and November. They are protesting the imposition of a 1 percent pay rise. In real terms, they have seen their pay cut by around 18 percent as the result of government austerity measures. Unite describes the DSG as “a cash rich organisation which can well afford a decent pay rise.”

The DSG is currently a government-owned entity but is being prepared for selloff to the private sector, which could lead to job losses and attacks on conditions. The preferred bidder for the DSG is Babcock Land, the biggest supplier of support services to the MOD.

The workers are skilled engineers, based at DSG sites across the UK. The main sites are Bovington in Dorset, Catterick in North Yorkshire, Colchester, Donnington in Shropshire, Stirling in Scotland, Sealand in North Wales and Warminster in Wiltshire.

One-hour strike by Norwegian airline employees

Around 3,500 airline staff, members of the flight attendants’ union Parat, held a one-hour strike between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Tuesday. The strike affected major airports and flights of SAS, Norwegian and Wideroe airlines and led to delays, but not cancellations. Parat union leader Vegard Einan, who described the strike as “political”, explained it was in response to government plans to make it easier for all companies to employ temporary staff, expand the limits for overtime and other changes to make labour more “flexible”.

Irish government agrees to Waterford Crystal workers pension deal

In 2009, the historic Waterford Crystal plant, manufacturing high-quality crystal glass goods, went bankrupt. An occupation of the site by workers was wound up by the Unite union. As well as the company being declared insolvent, the staff pension scheme was also declared insolvent.

The former staff pursued a court action against the government for loss of their pensions. In 2013, the European Court of Justice found in their favour. The Irish government this week signed off on a deal that would give around 1,700 former Waterford employees an average €40,000 payment, with the exact amount depending on their length of service, etc. The settlement was described as modest by Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton. The former employees will receive around 80 percent of their estimated pension before the scheme was declared insolvent. They have to vote on whether to accept the proposed settlement.

Armenian chemical workers protest non-payment of wages

Employees of the Nairit chemical plant in the Armenian capital of Yerevan began holding protests at the end of last week. Last Thursday, they held a protest outside the house of the president of Armenia. Protests have continued, including outside other government buildings and blocking off roads, and they have threatened to begin a sit-in strike at the plant.

They are demanding wage arrears, some going back 18 months, and are also protesting notices of dismissal sent out to many workers. A statement issued by management declared a new contract will be signed shortly, but only about 500 current staff will be signed up, leaving around 1,000 facing dismissal in February. The under-utilised plant has massive debts, and many of those due to be laid off will never receive the arrears owed to them.

Middle East

Iraqi workers protest non-payment of wages

Thousands of Iraqi workers took to the streets Tuesday to protest non-payment of wages going back three months. They are employed by state-owned companies that are self-financed, meaning wages are not protected when the companies encounter financial problems. The workers demanded the state-owned companies become centrally funded so that wages could be financed.

Gaza civil servants walk out

Civil servants in Gaza were set to strike on Thursday. They are members of the union of civil servants and are taking the action over the decision of the Palestine Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, not to pay civil service staff hired by the former Hamas-run government.

In an escalation of the action, teachers, who are also classed as civil servants, will come out on strike next Sunday and picket the Ministry of Education.

Lebanese power workers’ dispute ended

The four-month strike by temporary workers employed by the Lebanese state-owned power company EDL has ended. The 1,700 temporary staff had wanted to be taken on as permanent employees by the company.

A previous commitment brokered by the government would have given around 900 of the temporary workers permanent status, leaving around 800 in limbo. No details of the new settlement are currently available, but it is thought that the remaining 800 temporary staff will be given permanent positions as current permanent EDL staff retire.

Africa

Nigerian civil servants walk out

Nigerian public servants in Ondo state embarked on a two-day warning strike on Tuesday in response to three months of unpaid salaries. The Joint Negotiating Council (JNC) has attempted to bargain with the state government with no success. The JNC advised its members to stay at home and is calling on the government to respond quickly to its demands.

Burkina Faso miners oppose wage cuts

Production at the Inata gold mine, a subsidiary of the Indian mining group Avocet in Burkina Faso, was halted on December 4 by striking miners opposed to management demands for wage cuts.

The company is in consultation with workers’ representatives, aided by the government attempting to find ways to reduce costs, saying that the falling price of gold demands a cut in wages. The Burkina Faso government has a 10 percent stake, with Avocet owning the remaining 90 per cent.

Malawi workers strike in several sectors

Employees at the Anti-Corruption Bureau Malawi went on strike this week demanding a 70 percent salary increase. The workers accuse the government of breaking a contract that commits to reviewing wages when inflation rises or there is an increase in civil service pay. The Ministry of Finance said it would definitely not implement their demand.

Malawi university support staff are also striking in pursuit of a 45 percent pay increase to counter rising prices. The government is confronted with a five-week-old judiciary strike, a National Food Agency strike and a threatened university academic and teachers’ strike for similar demands. Parliamentary support staff are threatening to strike as well.

Ebola medics in Sierra Leone strike over poor treatment

Junior doctors withdrew their services to Ebola patients in Sierra Leone Monday, demanding better treatment for medical workers infected by the virus. Three more doctors lost their lives to Ebola in the last week. A study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published Tuesday noted that Ebola infection is 100 times higher in medical staff than in other adults. It also revealed breaches in infection control and prevention practices.

The junior doctors want special treatment centres dedicated to medical staff, with life-saving equipment such as dialysis machines. The whole country had only 120 doctors before the Ebola crisis, and it has lost 10 so far. The doctors compared their action to soldiers withdrawing from the war front in order to save the lives of other soldiers.

Sierra Leone has overtaken Liberia, with 7,798 cases compared with Liberia’s 7,719—bringing the total infections to 17,800.

Kenyan meat commission workers strike

More than 500 workers went out on strike at the Kenya Meat Commission (KMC) in Athi River town, just outside Nairobi, on Tuesday. The KMC was set up through an act of parliament in 1950. Its objective is to provide a ready market for livestock farmers and high quality meat and meat products to consumers.

The workers accused KMC top management of misspending a government KS700 million ($7.7 million) cash injection. Daniel Mutua, a spokesman for the workers, said management had spent KS350 million ($3.9 million) on “retreats” while workers have not been paid their salaries. KMC management has failed to make national health insurance and other payments on behalf of its employees. The workers are calling for government intervention and the sacking of the entire management.