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Workers Struggles: Asia, Australia and the Pacific

Asia

Thai workers continue protests against privatisation

On March 23, some 5,000 power workers protested at the Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA) in Chatuchak, Thailand. The company responded with threats of legal and disciplinary action. The Labour Protection and Welfare Department ruled the week before that the planned demonstration violated labour laws. Despite the threat, workers took part from the PEA, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) and the Metropolitan Electricity Authority.

The demonstration was part of an ongoing campaign by Thai workers against government plans to privatise a number of highly profitable state enterprises, including water, ports, public transport and power generation. Following massive protest rallies last month, which culminated in a 50,000-strong demonstration, the government was forced to temporarily halt the part-privatisation of Egat.

Indonesian dispute goes to mediation

A strike by 1,600 employees at PT Foster Electric Indonesia on the island of Batam, in Indonesia’s Riau province, was called off last weekend after the company agreed to mediation talks. The workers are demanding that the company pay the legislated minimum wage. Workers are currently paid only 500,000 rupiah ($US58.80) a month, well below the minimum wage of 602,000 rupiah. They are also demanding the provision of housing, meal and transportation allowances.

Six Chinese workers killed in mine explosion

Six miners were killed in a gas explosion in a coal mine in northwest Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region on March 19. The blast ripped through the mine in the early hours of the morning while eight men were working underground. Two managed to escape unharmed.

The mine is one of a number run by the Xinjiang Construction Corps, Number 12 Division. Production at Number 12 Division mines has been suspended but will resume as soon as the management’s safety committee gives a clearance. Each year, thousands of Chinese miners die in gas explosions and cave-ins.

Disputes over wages in Sri Lanka

The pharmaceutical dispensers attached to government hospitals in Sri Lanka reported in sick on March 22 and protested in front of the Health Ministry in Colombo. They demanded the same salary increase that was recently awarded to other health sector employees.

On March 23, technical service employees at various government institutions went on strike for 24 hours. About 3,000 workers demonstrated in front of the Finance Ministry in Colombo. They are demanding a higher pay structure, in line with increases given to health service workers.

Pakistani power workers protest police frame-up

Employees of Hesco, a division of the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) in Dadu, Pakistan, boycotted office and field work on March 21 to protest the alleged police frame-up of three fellow workers. They marched through the main roads of the town and held a demonstration near the press club for two hours.

According to a union official, the police are attempting to implicate three Hesco employees, one official and two linesmen, in the death of a person in the Sharif ja Bhan village. The workers were carrying out duties in the village when an exchange of gun fire took place between a group of local people and police. One man was killed. The union denied the Hesco employees were involved in any way. It accused the police of responsibility for the killing and of using the Hesco workers as scapegoats.

Australia and the Pacific

South Australian public servants strike over pay offer

Some 15,000 public servants in South Australia went on strike for 24 hours on March 26 in support of a claim for improved wages and working conditions. In a last minute attempt to stop the strike, Industrial Relations Minister Michael Wright appealed to the courts to forbid the action.

While the state Labor government’s appeal failed, the Public Service Union agreed to exempt sections of workers from striking, including those in hospitals, dental and mental health services and the Red Cross Blood Bank. A skeleton staff was maintained in the state’s prisons.

Public servants are campaigning for a 10 percent pay increase but the government is offering only an 8 percent increase for workers earning less than $43,000 a year, and 7 percent for those earning more.

WA government offers pittance to nurses

The Australian Nurses Federation (ANF) has denounced the Western Australian Labor government’s offer of a 3.4 percent pay increase from May 1, issued before any negotiations had taken place with the union.

While the government claims it made the offer to avoid industrial action during the “heavy winter flu period”, it is attempting to block a wage campaign before it gets underway. A nurses’ union spokesperson said the government’s move was an attempt to “buy industrial peace in the lead-up to the next state election”.

The government is also anxious to derail any discussion on a range of issues facing nurses, including staffing and hospital security. This month, nurses at the Swan District Mental Health Service in Perth’s outer suburbs held a stopwork meeting to demand improved security after a brutal attack on a nurse and a social worker by a patient.

Nurses hold strike ballot over bed cuts

Nurses at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPA) in Sydney may go on strike for 48 hours next week over plans to cut beds for cancer and heart disease patients. Votes in a ballot for strike action are still being counted.

The NSW Nurses Association RPA branch representative Michael Whaites said nurses were protesting a management decision to cut 32 beds at Easter. The management claims the bed closures and cuts to elective surgery are a temporary measure, but the union says hospital authorities are attempting to contain an undisclosed $10 million budget overrun.

Nurses fear the bed closures will result in a backup of waiting lists and the cancellation of life-saving cardiac procedures. A union spokesman said: “People are going to be waiting longer to get their elective surgery and treatment for serious medical conditions as the waiting lists blow out.” Occupancy levels at the hospital are already 97 percent. A level of 85 percent is needed to allow emergency patients to be assigned beds.

Nursing staff locked out

On March 23, nurses employed by the Hobart Day Surgery in Tasmania protested outside the company’s premises after being locked out. The 30 nurses have been campaigning for a 21 percent pay increase to bring them in line with their peers throughout the state. The employer has offered 10 percent.

The company imposed the lockout in retaliation for a threatened strike by the nurses, although it had been given adequate notice that the action had been called off. Management brought in agency nurses to assist in carrying out operations.

The Industrial Relations Commission has since ordered the lockout lifted and instructed Hobart Day Surgery’s South Australian management to send a representative to Hobart by April 1 to negotiate with the union. The nurses’ enterprise work agreement expired in October 2002 but the company held off starting negotiations for a new agreement until January this year.

New Zealand university pay dispute in mediation

New Zealand’s Association of University Staff (AUS) went back into talks this week in an effort to avert nationwide strikes by academic and general staff. A mediator was brought in to try to break an impasse between university employers and unions over the terms of a national collective employment agreement.

At stopwork meetings held over the past two weeks, university staff overwhelmingly rejected salary offers of between 2 and 2.8 percent, which were provisional on renewing current enterprise-based employment agreements. Academic staff are seeking a 30 percent pay rise over 3 years. An AUS spokesman said that unless significant progress is made in mediation, it will recommend up to 10 days’ strike action.

NZ manufacturing workers reject pay offer

More than 600 workers at a stopwork meeting in Auckland last week rejected an employer offer of a 2.7 percent wage increase in the key “Metals” agreement. It was the first in the series of stopwork meetings around the country called after the collapse of negotiations for the Metals agreement, which covers more than 2,500 workers at 220 companies directly, as well thousands more indirectly. Workers at the meeting said they would be making direct demands on their employers to improve the offer. If there is no settlement, another mass stopwork meeting is planned in Auckland on April 2.

Stopwork meetings called over health redundancies

Health workers at New Zealand’s Public Health South held stopwork meetings in Dunedin and Invercargill this week over the loss of jobs. Restructuring plans will result in four positions—three public health nurses and a clerical worker—being axed. A spokesman for the Public Service Association (PSA) said the workers had serious misgivings about how the job losses would affect clinical work and the delivery of public health services to the community. The stopwork meetings were intended to determine a plan of action in response. The PSA has not released details of its plans.

PNG flight attendants oppose working extended hours

Air Niugini flight attendants in Papua New Guinea threatened to strike this week in defence of working conditions. They are also demanding the reinstatement of two colleagues they claim were unjustly sacked by the airline.

The union’s general secretary Milan Dirua announced the planned strike after the National Court refused to agree with the airline management’s interpretation of “heavy crewing,” that is the amount of hours flight attendants can be required to work.

The airline is pressing to introduce 16-hour rosters that the union claims are in breach of Civil Aviation Authority guidelines, which set the maximum at 14 hours. The National Court ruled that the Air Niugini management had to agree to talks with the union in the Labour and Industrial Relations Department.

Dirua said that a strike, voted for by union members earlier this year, would go ahead unless the company backs away from its demand for extended hours.

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