Workers Struggles: Asia, Australia and the Pacific


South Korean immigrant activists arrested

On September 2, South Korean immigration officials, accompanied by 30 police, raided the home of two young Bangladeshi workers. Both were arrested and are now being detained in a holding facility. The raid is part of a government crackdown launched earlier this year to deport thousands of guest workers declared “illegal” by the Immigration Bureau.

The two men, Cobil and Bidu, played a central role in opposing the deportations and led a sit-in campaign at the main cathedral in Seoul from mid-June until August 28. Their arrest follows a series of raids by the Immigration Bureau at the end of August. Officials seized 14 immigrant workers at a rail station. Three of those seized have been released, but 11 will be deported.

Many of the “illegal” workers came to South Korea under the government’s notorious trainee program, which compels them to work for a specified employer. Working conditions and wages were often so inadequate that many to seek work elsewhere. They are then declared “illegal”.

Immigrant workers and Korean support groups are planning to hold a rally in Seoul on September 8 to demand the release of all detainees and denounce the government crackdown.

Pakistani court clerks strike against transfers

Local court clerks in Pakistan’s Peshawar province struck for three days on August 31 to protest against the Peshawar High Court’s decision to transfer eight All Pakistan Clerks Association (APCA) officials. The union officials work in five districts in Peshawar.

The strike brought all judicial and election work to a standstill. The APCA said that their members had been victimised because of a dispute between the union and court authorities over high court appointments. The clerks have threatened further action if the transfer order is not reversed.

Municipal workers in Sri Lanka protest outsourcing

Over 150 workers at the Kotte Municipal Council, a suburb adjoining Colombo, demonstrated on September 2 against the outsourcing of council work. Garbage collection and road and drain cleaning contracts were awarded to a private company at the beginning of this month. The company does not intend employing all the council workers and plans to increase work output by more than 50 percent.

Estate workers demand company shut dangerous quarry

Some 300 workers employed on the Bambarakalle Estate in Nuwara Eliya went on strike on August 28, to demand the plantation owners shut down a quarry on the estate. The estate is owned by Agalawatte Plantations. The workers walked off the job when a quarry blast hurled rocks onto the workers’ village, damaging houses, a temple and the estate school. Workers from the nearby Labookelle Estate joined the strike on September 2.

Sri Lankan loom workers fight factory sell off

This week, 3,000 workers and their families occupied the Veytex Power loom factory in Veyangoda, 31 kilometres from Colombo. The workers were protesting against the state-owned Peoples Bank sale of the plant on August 26. After ending the occupation, they marched to Veyangoda town centre and picketed the local Peoples Bank branch. A joint union spokesperson said the bank had also violated a Supreme Court order for refusing to pay salaries for last two months.

Sri Lankan sugar workers launch hunger strike

Fourteen casual workers employed by the Hingurana sugar factory in Sri Lanka began a hunger strike last week outside the provincial government building in Damana. Hingurana is located about 225 kilometres from Colombo.

Workers are demanding the company pay them the same benefits and conditions as permanent employees and provide each employee with one acre of land if they are laid-off. Association of Casual Workers secretary E.M. Sirisena said the casual workers would continue the hunger strike until their demands were met.

Australia and the Pacific

Australian IT workers fight 50 percent pay cut

Staff from Deloitee Consulting demonstrated outside the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) in Melbourne on September 4, against company moves to cut salaries by as much as 50 percent. The workers want a court order to postpone a September 6 deadline set by the company for acceptance of the pay reduction.

The Community and Public Sector Union also wants an AIRC interim award directing the company to recognise the union, which has about 115 members at the firm. The union has indicated that if the deadline is extended it will “negotiate salary levels” with the company.

The company wants salary cuts for 75 percent of its 900-strong workforce in order to increase contract work with Telstra, Australia’s main communications provider. The Telstra contract accounts for two-thirds of Deloitee’s revenue. Telstra wants to outsource more work to India and other lower-cost regions.

Pastry workers strike in Melbourne

Pampas pastry employees in the Melbourne suburb of Tottenham have been on strike since August 28, over a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement. The strike involves production workers, cleaners and maintenance personnel.

The 150 workers struck after the company offered a pay rise of just 2.8 percent per year for three years. Employees want a six percent increase and are bitter over the low offer because productivity has been driven up in the past two years at the plant. They are also seeking a reduction in qualifying time for long service leave from the present 15 years service to 10 years. Multinational food company Goodman Fielder owns Pampas.

West Australian casino workers demonstrate over wages

Burswood Casino employees in Perth demonstrated at the annual staff meeting on September 4 and presented management with a petition signed by more than 650 workers demanding the company honour its promise to increase wages. Three years ago, management said that if workers abandoned collective bargaining and signed over to individual work agreements they would automatically receive cost-of-living rises in July 2001 and July 2002.

The company has not yet paid the July 2002 rise and has sent letters to employees on individual contracts demanding they accept changes to working conditions. The letter, dated August 26, states that any “pay rises granted will be on the basis that they are cost effective to the company”.

New Zealand teachers ratify new work contract

New Zealand secondary teachers have voted to ratify arbitration panel recommendations for pay increases of between 6 and 12 percent, on top of the government’s original 3.5 percent offer over two years. In a ballot of Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) members last week, 88 percent voted in favour of the proposed agreement. Approximately three-quarters of the union’s members participated.

The government and union expect the ratification to end the 18-month dispute, which has involved a series of wildcat strikes and student walkouts. The deal, however, has failed to deliver improvements that will reduce the onerous workloads in secondary schools. As a result, a ban on the further introduction of a new qualifications system, the National Certificate of Educational Achievement is likely to be endorsed at next month’s PPTA annual conference.

Otago University staff strike over pay

Otago University unionists struck on September 2, disrupting the beginning of classes after the mid-semester break. The staff also voted to implement rolling stoppages and a work-to-rule if there is no breakthrough on wage claims. Negotiations broke down last month after the university answered a union claim for an 8 percent pay rise with an offer of just 1.5 percent. The university’s offer is at least one percent below the rate of inflation.

Court orders NZ mill employer to consult over job cuts

Carter Holt Harvey (CHH) has been ordered to halt plans to contract out work at the Kinleith pulp and paper mill. The Employment Court ruled this week that the company must spend at least 28 days consulting with unions over plans to restructure the mill’s maintenance workforce.

When the company announced in March that it intended to layoff 380 maintenance workers and replace them with contractors supplied by the international contracting company ABB, the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) suppressed industrial action to defend the jobs. Instead, it mounted a legal challenge over the company’s failure to consult with the union on process. The EPMU has 600 members at the mill.

EPMU national secretary Andrew Little declared the court ruling a victory for the “good faith” provisions of the Employment Relations Act. Indicating that the union was prepared to work with the company to produce better efficiencies than the contractor, Little said: “We have always believed that the existing workers can meet the company’s objectives, if only it will give them a chance.” He went on to remind CHH that the unions had “saved the company hundreds of thousands of dollars” over the past two years through the “team development scheme”.

Solomon Islands teachers to boycott exams

On September 4, public school teachers in the Solomon Islands National Teachers Association (SINTA) voted to boycott grade six, form three and form five examinations if the government did not pay $3.8 million ($US1.2million) owed to them in back pay and union dues. The teachers are among the thousands of public sector workers who have not been paid for nine weeks due to the financial crisis racking the Solomon Island’s government.

A SINTA spokesman indicated that the union was not prepared to give the government extra time to meet the payment. The Minister of Education responded by saying the money owing would be paid by installments. The exams are due to commence in late September.