International labour struggles

16 June 1998

Australia

National building workers strike

Building workers in Australia defied an Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) order to call off a one-day national strike on Monday. The strike, involving 150,000 workers, is the second in just over three weeks, called to o ppose a push by the employers to slash working conditions.

Construction companies are continuing with their application to the IRC to use the Howard government's Workplace Relations Act to strip back contract conditions. The Act allows minimum working conditions to be cut to 20 items. Employers can demand the elimination of conditions deemed to be "inefficient work practices" or that "restrict productivity".

The employers are seeking to scrap penalty rates, lengthen the working week by eliminating paid rostered days off, and abolish inclement weather payments, so that workers would be forced to work in the rain and extreme heat.

More Telstra jobs to go

The partially-privatised Australian communications giant, Telstra, announced last week that it plans to axe another 2,000 jobs on top of the 25,000 already targeted for destruction.

As a result of ruthless job-cutting, outsourcing and cost-cutting, Telstra has announced a record $1.6 billion half yearly profit and forecast that it will exceed its $2.8 billion forecast for the entire year.

Jobs are currently being destroyed at the rate of 1,000 per month. Over 16,500 jobs have gone to the wall since the company announced "Project Mercury" in late 1996 -- its plan to axe 25,000 jobs in three years.

In many areas the cuts to manning levels have been so extensive that they have already undermined the ability of workers to carry out a range of basic services, providing management with the excuse to step up outsourcing and increase the use of contract labour.

Only weeks ago lines staff from Telstra's Corporate and Consumer Division around the country were called to joint management-union meetings to be presented with a deal, already endorsed by the communication union, to "outsource" jobs and services in a wide range of areas, including upgrading and rehabilitation work, construction, maintenance and other "non-core" activities.

The division's workforce has already been severely chopped back. Manning levels in the New South Wales Central Coast region alone have been cut from 500 to 150 in five years.

The latest announcement comes only weeks before the government's plan for the $40 million sale of the remaining two-thirds of Telstra goes before the federal Senate.

West Australian nurses' strike called off

The nurses union last week called off an indefinite strike in West Australian public hospitals, agreeing to abide by whatever decision is handed down by the Industrial Relations Commission on a pay claim for 13 percent over two years.

On June 9 over 1,000 nurses in Perth voted for the indefinite strike following a 48-hour stoppage in May and a campaign of rolling stoppages and industrial bans. The state's Liberal Party government has refused to increase its offer of only nine percent over three years, tied to productivity trade-offs. The nurses' pay is lagging behind that of nurses in other states by $60 to $80 a week.

The government took the dispute to the Industrial Relations Commission late last week claiming that the strike was "jeopardising public safety". State Premier Richard Court called on the union "to get its members back to work".

Earlier, angry nurses rallied outside state parliament and heckled Health Minister Kevin Prince for attacking their action. Before the rally Prince had broken into tears on talk-back radio and accused the nurses of deliberately "hurting the sick".

One of the nurses' demands is for the employment of 200 extra nurses because staff shortages are undermining the provision of health care. With 16,000 patients throughout the state waiting for elective surgery, because of spending cuts, the public hospital system is in disarray.

Europe

Norwegian air traffic controllers strike

Norway's air traffic controllers went on strike on the weekend, halting most flights to and from the busier southern half of the nation. Airports and other facilities that provide an important link for helicopter flights to offshore oil installations in the North Sea and Norwegian Sea could be disrupted if the walkout continues.

Job losses in Britain

Pilkingtons, the glass company, has announced 1,500 job losses and warned that it may shed more. This brings the total job losses in the last year to 7,500. Four thousand of these had taken effect April 30 and 3,500 more jobs will go by March 1999. The company is undertaking a major global restructuring, and cited the competition in the float-glass market as the reason for the job losses. As it made its redundancy announcement, expected to save the company �230 million a year from 1999, the company's accounts showed a profit of �125 million.

The cash and moneycard firm, De La Rue, is cutting its work force by 375 at its plant in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, in the northeast of England. The company plans to cut back capacity by 25 percent. Reporting a profit loss of 18 percent in the last year, the company chairman, Brandon Gough, said that De La Rue was taking "radical action". The job losses will initially cost the firm �25 million and are expected to save �9 million a year beginning August this year.

The engineering group Siebe is to cut 400 jobs in Britain as part of a global restructuring aimed at shedding 4,000 jobs. The company is to transfer 2,000 jobs to lower wage countries Mexico, Malaysia and China. Company chairman Allan Yurko said, "You drop your costs by 80 percent. It's a compelling reason--if you cannot automate labour out you have to do it. If it's hands-on labour I submit those jobs are gone." The company announced the job losses after revealing that profits had increased by 15 percent last year to �486 million. The losses in Britain will be in the West Country, where the firm makes compressors and pneumatic controls. The job losses will cost Sieba �100 million, and by the year 2000 will save them �60 million annually.

Cardiff Bus workers reject company pay offer

Bus workers in Cardiff, Wales have voted to reject a 3.6 percent pay offer by Cardiff Bus, in favour of strike action. The workers, including depot staff, rejected the company offer by a margin of nearly four to one.

Greek courts ban bank workers strike

The courts in Greece have banned a 25-day strike against threats to privatise the state-owned Ionian Bank. This came after police violence was used to end a workers' occupation of the central computer section of the bank on June 1. The court ruling was announced as Greek trade unions met to discuss action. The unions issued a statement declaring that any decision they made would take into account the court's ruling.

Public sector workers strike in Czech Republic

On June 8 nearly a half million public sector workers struck against austerity measures being imposed by the government. Last year wages in the public sector fell 9 percent. The strike was organised by 10 public workers unions in the face of growing rank-and-file anger. In most places the unions only called a symbolic one-hour strike or made proclamations against the government. Road workers blocked important roads and highways for an hour.

The strike was immediately attacked by the media because it was taking place only two weeks before the elections. New elections were called after the fall of the V. Klaus government in November 1997, which followed large trade union demonstrations.

United States

Buffalo, New York nurses, sanitation workers fight take-aways

Registered nurses at Mercy Hospital in Buffalo, New York, have rejected management's demands for concessions and authorised their union, the Communication Workers of America Local 1133, to strike the hospital. Management is projecting a $6.5 million deficit due to reduced managed care program reimbursements. The leadership of another unit of the CWA local, representing service, technical and clerical employees, has already accepted management's concessions demands and the layoff of 85 workers.

The 252-179 no vote by the nurses is their third rejection since December. Union officials said it was the best contract they could achieve without a strike.

After months of negotiations, city garbage collectors conceded to the Masiello administration's demands for an 8-hour-a-day work schedule. Traditionally, sanitation drivers worked fewer hours because of the hazards of their job, including constant lifting, often in poor weather conditions. The collectors and drivers will lose thousands of dollars in overtime pay with the new schedule. Workers have engaged in a slowdown, leaving large sections of the city without garbage collection.

The membership of Local 264, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, rejected the schedule change and other concessions demands by a unanimous 76-0 vote on May 18. The city wants to reduce crews from three to two collectors per truck and institute automated "tippers" using non-union labour. Workers would then join a labour pool to perform other city jobs, like cleaning parks and tree service.