Workers Struggles: Europe & Africa

9 May 2008

Europe

Greek telecoms workers stage two-day strike

Greek telecommunications workers employed by Greece’s biggest phone company, OTE, began a two-day strike on May 6 in protest at government proposals to sell a stake in the company to Germany’s Deutsche Telekom AG. The government is OTE’s largest shareholder, with a stake of just over 28 percent.

Deutsche Telekom recently revealed plans to acquire a 20 percent stake in OTE for about €2.5 billion ($3.9 billion) from Marfin Investment Group Holdings SA. Such a deal is reliant on an agreement with the Greek government.

The OME-OTE trade union, representing the workers, is opposed to the plan on the nationalist basis that OTE will come under the ownership of a foreign company, if the sale goes ahead. OME-OTE said in a statement, “OTE is a piece of Greece and is not for sale. The government and the Germans are deluded if they think that the deal will have prospects when workers and Greek society are totally against it.”

On May 6, some 1,500 workers rallied and marched in central Athens. According to an Associated Press report, flags were burnt at the rally, “although they mistakenly burned two Belgian, rather than German, flag.”

Workers at InBev brewery in Belgium take unofficial strike action

On April 25 office staff employed by InBev, the world’s second largest brewer, began an unofficial strike at the firm’s main plant. The plant is located in Leuven, near Brussels, and produces Stella Artois lager.

Workers are in dispute over the company’s plan to introduce a system of flexible pay linked to performance for 180 sales staff. Trade unions had informed InBev that official industrial action would begin from April 30.

The striking workers set up blockades and called on colleagues not to enter the plant for the planned shift change at 2 p.m. Striking staff also blockaded the gate to another InBev plant in the southern town of Jupille. However, production at the Jupille plant was not halted.

On April 28, the unofficial action ended after the company came to an agreement with the strikers. No details have been released.

Nurses continue industrial action in Sweden

Swedish nurses continued their campaign of industrial action this week. On May 5 the strike entered its third week, with a further 4,300 nursing staff walking off the job. The walkout brought the numbers of staff engaged in industrial action to 7,150.

The nurses are members of the Swedish Association of Healthcare Professionals (Vårdförbundet) who are in dispute with the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions over pay.

Among those striking this week were 200 nurses at the Alingsås hospital. This represents one third of the staff at the facility.

Last week Vårdförbundet met with the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions via a mediator. Following the talks the union stated that it had authorised 2,750 members to strike on May 16 pending the resolution of the dispute.

Homeless and housing charity workers strike in England

Staff employed at the homeless and housing charity, Shelter, in England and Scotland staged strike action on May 1. The employees are protesting management plans to end their pay and grading structure and force them to accept new employment contracts.

The workers are members of the Unite trade union and have been in dispute with Shelter since February. The strike is the latest in series of strikes by the 450 workers, with previous stoppages held in March and April.

Workers picketed Shelter offices in several cities including London, Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield in England and Glasgow in Scotland. The union said that the contract was “the worst in the 41-year history of the organisation.”

Shelter said the changes have been forced on it as a result of the government’s competitive tendering system. Chief executive Adam Sampson said, “We cannot afford to lose these contracts or we will be failing the hundreds of thousands of people and families we help every year. The status quo is not an option and we need to act now or it will be too late.”

One of those who joined the picket line in Manchester, in the northwest of England, was film director Ken Loach. In his 1966 film Cathy Come Home, Loach brought the question of homelessness to wider public attention. Shelter was founded shortly after the release of the film.

He said of the dispute. “I am shocked and saddened about what is happening at Shelter, and how hardworking and dedicated employees are being treated. At a time when we are heading into a recession, and a rise in homelessness and repossessions is a real risk, charities like Shelter are needed now more than ever to give good quality advice and support to people in housing crisis.

“The direction that this management is trying to force on Shelter can only harm those that Shelter was set up to defend. The constant drive for cheaper labour is the reason some people find themselves with nowhere to live. The management must listen to their staff and to those who wish Shelter well and impose no cuts in pay or conditions for Shelter workers.”

Africa

Nigerian bakers on nationwide strike over price of flour

Members of the Association of Master Bakers and Caterers of Nigeria (AMBCN) have been on a nationwide strike since May 5, to protest against the rapid increase in the price of flour and other raw materials, which they do not want to pass onto their customers.

“Already the prices of wheat flour and rice, both of which are now staple food in Nigeria, have gone up,” said Lateef Oguntoyinbo, chairman of the Lagos state chapter of the AMBCN. “Mills have been arbitrarily increasing prices,” he said, calling on the government to intervene.

Oguntoyinbo said he had met with top government officials to ask them to reduce or cancel wheat tariffs or subsidise bakers, but had received no response. “We are in big mess and we have no choice but to embark on this strike,” he said, pointing out that demand would drop and then both bakers and consumers would lose out.

Charles Ugwuh, Nigerian minister of commerce and industry, said the problem was caused by rising international wheat prices. The United Nations agency, IRIN, reported that many consumers were supporting the bakers’ stand against price increases.

In August 2007, a bakers’ strike took place over the issue of price rises. At that time, a 100 percent increase in the government tax on flour led to an increase of 25 percent in the price of bread.

Bread has become a staple food for most Nigerian town-dwellers. Nigeria is now the largest export market for US wheat.

Statewide strike in Borno, Nigeria

Workers belonging to the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in Borno State, Nigeria have been on indefinite strike since May 5, to demand a 15 percent pay rise.

The chairman of Borno NLC said that the state’s workers were the lowest paid in the country. The gates of the State Secretariat in Maiduguri were kept locked from the first day of the strike.

South African transport workers strike over pay and conditions

South African workers employed by the Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality (TMM) are on strike to demand a pay increase and improvements in their employers’ practices. On May 5, the workers marched to the authority’s head office to present their grievances.

The strike has been declared illegal. TMM has said that those taking part would be recorded as absent without permission, and would be subject to disciplinary procedures.

The union representing the workers is the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU). The union met with TMM on May 7, but the outcome has not yet been reported.

Namibian zinc miners vote to strike

A wage dispute at the Skorpion Zinc Mine in south Namibia has escalated after the workforce, members of the Mineworkers’ Union of Namibia (MUN), voted by a 90 percent majority to take strike action.

Wage negotiations began in October 2007. The miners are demanding a rise of 14 percent while the company is offering 10 percent. The strike is expected to start on May 9.

When it is operational, zinc is exported from the mine to Asia, Europe, North America and South Africa.

Strike wave expected after Kenyan post election violence

According to the Kenyan Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU), the last three months have seen unions giving a record nine strike notices, compared to the usual average of four strike notices a year. Consumer price inflation reached 26.6 percent this month, the highest in 15 years, because of rising food costs.

A senior official at COTU, Adams Barasa, told Business Daily, “We are likely to see more strike notices in the near future since unions are under intense pressure from their members for pay increases.” A number of collective bargaining agreements between unions and managements had collapsed, he explained.

The Kenyan economy, which grew at 7.1 percent last year, is expected to slow drastically this year after disruptions due to the post-election violence in which 1,200 people died and over 300,000 were displaced from their homes.

“The post-election violence is now being used as a scapegoat to deny the suffering workers a decent pay,” said Barasa. The general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, Benson Okwaro, said that workers in most firms have gone for two years without a pay increase despite the surge in living expenses.