Workers Struggles: Europe, Middle East and Africa

18 March 1999

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Europe

French port workers strike against threatened job losses

French port workers at Calais struck for six hours on March 15 to protest against the plans to end duty-free shopping. The workers fear that jobs could be lost as a result, as the cross-Channel ferry operators presently use the tax-free shopping to subsidise lower fares.

The strike affected services on all the Dover-Calais ferries. P & O Stena Line cancelled seven return crossings between Dover and Calais and the dispute also hit SeaFrance ferry services.

Gerard Barron, of the Calais Chamber of Commerce, which runs the port, said, "Staff at the port, as well as SeaFrance employees, are on strike and we have no ferries coming in or out."

Insurance workers set to strike in Germany

Thousands of insurance workers in Germany are expected to strike in seven cities this week to demand a pay increase of 6.5 percent in the insurance sector. Employers' organisations have offered a rise of only 1.5 percent.

The DAG white-collar trade union said that strikes were planned in the cities of Nuremberg, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Hannover, Berlin, Saarbruecken and Munich.

The strikes will consist of stoppages of several hours by insurance workers, they follow several called last week by the union in a number of cities.

The DAG and the HBV trade, banking and insurance workers' union represent some 470,000 private sector employees, they are to continue talks with employers on March 19.

Ukraine power workers to strike indefinitely

Workers at five Ukrainian nuclear power stations, including Chernobyl, are to begin an indefinite strike on March 22 to demand the payment of wage arrears equivalent to $15m.

More than 2,000 workers at the power stations have been involved in protests outside the facilities for over a month, setting up "tent villages" and organising vigils. The workers began a hunger strike on March 6.

The Ukrainian government has signed a decree providing for revenue to be credited to Energoatom, the nuclear power co-ordinating body, specifically to pay for the wage arrears. The government has decreed that 120 million hryvnia will be allotted to the industry but this amount does not resolve the crisis facing the nuclear power industry.

The funds paid to the power stations between March 1 and March 9 totalled just 4.3m hryvnia. The industry has a total debt of 150 billion hryvnia.

Ukrainian coal miners have also begun a series of underground sit-ins and indefinite strikes, to demand the payment of wage arrears equivalent to $700m dollars.

Swedish bus dispute ends

The three-week strike by 15,000 bus drivers in Sweden ended on March 9, following an agreement between the Bus Employers and the Swedish Municipal Workers´ Union. The parties reached an agreement covering the next two years. Under the agreement, pay is to be increased by 6.15 percent and the maximum length of the working day is to be cut from 16 to 13.5 hours.

However, the main concern of the drivers and the issue that led to the strike has not been resolved by the agreement. The drivers had demanded more rest breaks, at least 10 minutes rest after every two hours of work. The agreement specifies that break times will be agreed in local negotiations, not on a national basis. The deal states that where there is no local negotiations, then drivers should have rest periods of between 6-11 minutes after 2 hours of work, or 8-15 minutes after 3 to 3.5 hours.

Miners strike threat ends in Britain

A strike by 3,000 British coal miners over pay was averted when RJB Mining Plc, Britain's biggest coal producer, reached an agreement with the National Union of Mineworkers on March 14. The strike at nine pits run by RJB mining in Yorkshire and the Midlands was to have begun at midnight later that day.

Following three hours of negotiations, both parties reached a deal. Speaking about the agreement an RJB spokesman said, "The strike, due to begin at midnight on Sunday, was called off after RJB agreed to consolidate an additional four pounds of bonus earnings into the guaranteed daily grade rate for mineworkers. The agreement involves no new money. We are delighted that common sense has prevailed."

Middle East

Israeli public sector workers take industrial action

One hundred thousand Israeli public sector workers struck this week amidst reports that a general strike could take place next week. The strike involved workers at civil service offices and courts as well as customs staff.

On March 15, Eli Ben-Gera, the chairman of the Histadrut trade union federation said, "We will hold an emergency meeting later this afternoon. This will include everyone--the ports, Israeli Electric Corp, Bezeq Israel Telecom, trains, city workers, the airport.''

A spokeswoman for the union said that if a general strike were called it would most likely begin on March 22 involving over 700,000 workers.

The public sector workers are demanding a pay rise of 14 percent. This demand takes into consideration a rise in inflation to 8.6 percent last year and an expected rise of 4 percent this year.

The Treasury is offering an increase of just 3.85 percent. Finance Minister Meir Sheetrit said the government would not accept the demands of the workers. "There is no justification for the strike. We don't have a backup coffer at the treasury that would allow us to pay out exceptional raises. Acceding to the workers' unjustified demands would create a budgetary flood, and would force the government to impose new taxes on the public." he said.

In a separate development, 7,600 telecommunications staff working for the Bezeq Israel Telecom phone company also struck on March 14. The strike hit phone services throughout Israel, including the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, which was forced to halt trading.

Over 100,000 phone lines in the cities of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Ramat Hasharon and the area around Ben Gurion Airport were affected by the dispute.

The telecomms workers are striking to protest against future redundancy fears related to the government's decision to cut tariffs and introduce efficiency measures. One report said that 1,800 layoffs would have to go at Israel Telecom in 1999. These measures are in preparation for opening up the domestic land-line telecommunications market on June 1.

Africa

General strike called off in Nigeria

The general strike in Nigeria, planned to take place on Monday 13th of March, was called off by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC). Nigeria, a country of 108 million people, is the most populous in Africa, has been ruled by the military for the last fifteen years.

When he come to power in September last year, General Abdulsalami Abubabakar set a minimum wage of 5.200 naira ($56), but then reneged on this, citing the collapse of oil prices. Federal employees responded to a reduced offer of 3.200 naira by going out on strike in at least ten of Nigeria's thirty-six states, in some cases for more than a month.

A new offer was accepted by the NLC, on Saturday, giving federal service workers 3.500 naira ($38) and local government employees 3,000 naira.

Adams Oshiomhole, president of the Nigerian Labour Congress, which includes over forty unions including the oil workers union, said "Strikes should be called off because the basis of the dispute has now been addressed satisfactory".

South African union federation calls on members to donate pay towards "job creation"

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has called on its members to donate a day's pay to its Labour Creation Trust, set up over two weeks ago. COSATU will join with business as well as the government to raise a targeted 100 million rand ($16 million) from private donations.

South Africa, designated by Merchant International Group as the fourteenth riskiest place to do business in among 45 emerging nations, has an unemployment level of around 30 per cent.

Nelson Mandela, the South African President, donated a day's pay amounting to 1,914 rand ($307), as part of an income to the trust of only just over a million rand in two weeks.

Jeremy Baskin, labour market analyst, said, "Simply raising funds is not going to solve the issue, but it does develop a consensus with the community over the size of the problem that embraces everyone within South Africa".

The level of unemployment has worsened in the last five years due to slow economic growth and a range of other related problems. Two hundred and fifty thousand new jobs are required each year to maintain the levels of unemployment that are now prevalent.