Danish nurses at many hospitals walk out over imposed pay deal in defiance of government and union; ScotRail strikes continue and expand in Scotland; Nigerian doctors strike enters week six, union tells doctors in Lagos to return as other health workers threaten walk out

Workers Struggles: Europe, Middle East & Africa

The World Socialist Web Site invites workers and other readers to contributeto this regular feature.


Danish nurses walk out over pay, defying government and union

Nurses at multiple Danish hospitals held wildcat strikes this week, in defiance of a government ban and the orders of the Danish Nurses' Organisation (DSR) union.

The government intervened on August 28 to end a ten-week strike of over 6,000 nurses, and imposed a pay deal which had been rejected twice by DSR members.

According to the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR), around 100 nurses in Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen began one-hour daily strikes on Monday. They coordinated their walkout through a Facebook group, after similar one-hour stoppages on August 30 and 31 by 100 nurses at Aarhus University Hospital, and on September 3 by a few dozen nurses in the cities of Roskilde and Horsens.

DR quoted one striking nurse who criticised the corporatist model accepted by all the Danish trade unions, saying “We tried to use the Danish model to strike and fight for better conditions and better wages. It has not worked.”

The hospital management in Roskilde said it had reported the “illegal” stoppage to the Danish Regions employers’ organisation, after which the nurses could be fined or fired by the labour court. Danish Regions called on the DSR to “actively contribute to preventing new work stoppages.” The DSR denounces actions taken outside its control, and its stewards are ordering the striking nurses back to work.

One DSR steward speaking to Jydske Vestkysten said any action “will be an illegal strike. Then I have to go in and say that you can get fines and the Danish Nurses' Organisation can get fines. So, I will never encourage my colleagues to do that.”

She complained the government did not intervene to break the strike sooner: “if [it] knew in advance [it] would not give any more money, then why does the government let [the strike] go on for 10 weeks.” While attempting to shut down the strikes, the DSR also voted last week at its conference to make members pay an additional “conflict quota” on top of their dues.

Four-day warning strike in German wholesale sector

This week, workers in the German wholesale and foreign trade sector held a four-day strike as part of a collective bargaining dispute. The stoppage was called by the United Services Union (Verdi) on Wednesday in the Rewe logistics centre in the town of Nossen, Saxony, according to the Sächsische Zeitung.

Verdi was involved in collective negotiations for workers in the wholesale and foreign trade sector and the retail and mail order sector, but mostly kept the warning strikes in each sector separate. However, this week, the Sächsische Zeitung reported that retail workers in Kaufland and Netto stores throughout Saxony were called to strike with the wholesale workers.

The collective bargaining covers 280,000 workers in the retail sector, and Verdi is demanding an increase to the monthly salary of 4.5 percent plus 45 euros.

German NGG union calls off strikes after reaching deal with Riesa Pasta

The German Food, Beverages and Catering Union (NGG) called off a strike planned for Wednesday at the last minute after it signed a deal with Riesa Pasta, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung. The deal provides for a one euro per hour pay rise for the 150 employees of the plant in the town of Trochtelfingen in Baden-Württemberg.

During the dispute, begun in July, the NGG said it aimed to close the €700 difference in wages between East and West Germany. The union held numerous one-day stoppages, requiring machines to be shut down and bringing production to a halt.

Wildcat strike over pay and conditions continues at D’Ieteren garages in Belgium

On September 2, workers at the garages of D’Ieteren walked out spontaneously after cuts to wages and working conditions were announced. The stoppage has affected most of the company’s garages in the Brussels region, particularly in Ixelles, Drogenboos and Anderlecht.

The company, which imports Volkswagen vehicles to Belgium and provides repairs and services and employs around 400 workers, announced the cuts despite large profits in the first half of this year.

Nieuwsblad reported the strike continued into this week, but the unions met with management on Wednesday. Strikers speaking to RTL said, “They want to take away our social gains… So, we stopped everything because we are not happy with their decisions.” Another added that the company made 288 million euros in profits in the first six months of 2021. The financial paper De Tijd reported that the company intends to acquire more subsidiaries, on top of the four takeovers it made this year.

Serbian teachers protest in Belgrade against large class sizes

On August 31, hundreds of teachers protested in the Serbian capital of Belgrade to demand the reduction of class sizes. The Union of Education Workers of Serbia (SPRS) also advanced the demand for the introduction of fair pay grades, reported Nova.

At another protest in June, the SPRS reported classes regularly had between 30 and 33 students, and called for their reduction to between 18 and 20. A petition it launched to decrease class sizes was signed by over 30,000 people, according to Politika.

Norwegian cultural workers begin strike for pension changes

Workers in the cultural sector in Norway walked out from September 3, as part of a pensions dispute, called by the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO).

Last week, 220 workers in theatres and orchestras across the country went on strike after mediation between LO and the employers’ organisation Spekter did not lead to an agreement. More joined this week, taking the number of strikers to 435, according to FriFagbevegelse.

The news site reports LO accepted a “temporary pension scheme” in 2016, which was claimed to be necessary for the financial sustainability of the cultural institutions, but workers are calling for improvements. The main issue is that pensions are “defined contribution,” so the pension workers receive on retirement depends on the value of the fund and decreases over time, unlike “defined benefit” pensions, where they receive a certain percentage of their salary as a pension. LO is calling for a “hybrid” model.

LO and Spekter’s arguments have centred around whether a defined contribution can be considered “gender neutral,” as LO says the employer previously promised, given that women typically live longer than men. The union also accused the Norwegian Opera and Ballet of attempting to break the strike by rearranging shifts of non-striking workers to ensure concerts go ahead.

Zaragoza tram and bus drivers in Spain begin partial pay strikes

On Wednesday, Spanish tram drivers in the Aragonese capital of Zaragoza began a series of partial strikes, coinciding with the campaign begun by bus drivers last week.

According to Europa Press, the bus drivers began partial strikes of two hours in the morning and two in the evening on each Thursday and Saturday in September starting from September 2, after arbitration between the works council and the private AvanzaBus operator did not reach a new collective agreement.

el Periódico de Aragón reported that the tram drivers will strike from 6:45am to 9:15am and 1pm to 3:30pm every weekday beginning Wednesday. The Zaragoza Railway Union also met the private operator at the Aragonese Mediation and Arbitration Service, where the two could not negotiate a replacement for the lapsed collective agreement. The union pointed out the offer from the company would leave tram drivers earning 30 percent less than bus drivers, and denounced the regular long hours drivers had to work.

On Tuesday evening, the tram and bus drivers joined a demonstration in the centre of Zaragoza, but the strike committees have not coordinated the strike hours to coincide.

Special needs teachers in Montpellier, France begin indefinite strike over school conditions

Teachers at Erea de Montpellier in France began an indefinite strike on Monday over worsening conditions for the 120 disabled students at the school, according to France Bleu. Problems at the school reported by the teachers include a lack of security, with children wandering out during the day and even one trespasser entering the school.

The 40 strikers demand promised repairs to the school and improvements to low staffing levels.

On Monday, nursery assistants in Montpellier also walked out on an indefinite strike after the city government announced they were given additional duties and workload. One assistant speaking to Actu said they already worked 10-hour days, and “the City is putting our head underwater with this increase.”

Public transport workers begin partial stoppages over pay and conditions in Metz, France

French workers in the Metz Métropole network were called to a campaign of partial stoppages by four unions for a range of demands including a salary increase, and to denounce the extension of working hours.

France Bleu reported one of the major complaints is that new bus routes in the north-eastern French city leave drivers without a dedicated toilet. A one-hour stoppage will take place each day in September.

Eight-hour stoppage called by Italian unions in Apua-Versilia following workplace death

A number of Italian trade unions called an eight-hour strike in the marble-working sector in Apua-Versilia after a worker was killed on the job. ADN Kronos reported that a 44-year-old worker died and another was injured in the town of Pietrasanta, after a marble slab they were cleaning fell onto them.

In their response to the death, the unions recognise that so-called “white deaths” are on the rise. According to data from the National Institute for Insurance against Accidents at Work, there were 185 workplace deaths in Italy between January 1 and March 31, 2021, more than two per day. ADN Kronos reported two more deaths on the same day, one construction worker and another in the agricultural sector.

Despite the widescale problem, and their latest militant-sounding declaration that “It not possible to go on like this!”, the unions have done nothing to fight for safer conditions across the country. They defuse the anger of workers by calling for short strikes of a single day, or even several hours, and refuse to mobilise workers in a wider struggle.

ScotRail workers, Scotland continue Sunday strikes over pay as conductors vote for further stoppages

Several hundred train conductors and ticket examiners at ScotRail, Scotland walked out again on Sunday over pay. The conductors’ Sunday strikes began in March, while ticket examiners joined the dispute at the end of April.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union (RMT) members held the strike as part of the original ballot.

On September 12, the conductors will take the first of a further six consecutive 24-hour strikes each Sunday. A reballot of the train conductors was required under anti-trade union laws as the dispute hit its six-month mark. They voted by an 80 percent majority to continue the walkouts.

They are demanding equal overtime pay with train drivers. The dispute is one of the UK’s longest. The ticket examiners are currently being reballoted over further proposed strike action.

The RMT said ScotRail is endangering safety by drafting in managers to replace the strikers, as they lack safety training and knowledge. The union warned the dispute could continue throughout summer and called on the Scottish government to intervene.

The team managers (Transport and Salaried Staff Association members), voted to strike in protest at being deployed as strike-breakers.

Train cleaners at ScotRail began an overtime and rest day working ban on July 13.

The RMT noted publication of a report by Abellio, ScotRail’s parent company, outlining job and service cuts. The plans include closing 140 ticket offices and cutting 85,000 rail services, leading to a loss of 1,000 jobs.

From August 11, ScotRail gateline workers, also RMT members, began an overtime ban, refusing to act up or work rest days to protest overtime rates. They will only work Sundays already booked.

Separately, the RMT is negotiating with ScotRail over a pay increase, but the company has not tabled an offer. In response the RMT is holding a referendum of its members. According to the Scotsman newspaper on September 2, the questions in the referendum will be as follows.

'1. Are you prepared to take strike action during the whole duration of the Cop26 conference? 2. Are you prepared to take action short of a strike during the whole duration of the Cop26 conference?”

The RMT National Executive Committee is recommending a yes to each question. The Cop26 conference, the international summit on climate change is due to take place in Glasgow between November 1 and 12.

The RMT betrayed the five-year struggle of rail workers against the introduction of Driver Operated Trains at numerous private train operators, reaching agreements that undermined the safety-critical role of conductors.

Strike vote by ScotRail engineers over pay

Around 250 engineers responsible for maintaining and repairing trains on the ScotRail system, Scotland voted by 78 percent on a near 69 percent turnout to strike.

The Unite union members are seeking a pay rise, no compulsory redundancies and restoration of the rest day working agreement.

A Unite press release announcing the vote stated strike action may begin from the middle of this month.

Further strike by workers at East Midlands Railways company in England over safety concerns

Train managers and senior conductors at the UK’s East Midlands Railways company held a further 24-hour stoppage Sunday.

The dispute of senior conductors is now in its fourth month. The workers are involved in separate disputes over safety concerns about operating the four-carriage Class 360 trains.

The four-carriage units can be coupled together to make eight or 12-carriage trains. With no connecting passage between each carriage unit, it represents a danger to safety with only one manager or senior conductor on board. Further strikes are planned every Sunday until September 26.

The RMT said the use of scab-operated trains resulted in safety breaches, citing doors being opened on the wrong side of the train, for example. The union says strike-breakers are given one day’s training and a £270 bonus for the shift.

The RMT refuses to unite the growing disputes in the rail industry.

Strike by teachers at London school over claims of bullying

Around 80 teachers and support staff at the Oaks Park school in Redbridge, London began a three-day strike Tuesday.

The National Education Union (NEU) members accuse school management of bullying, and demand the reinstatement of an NEU union rep who was sacked.

The teachers and support staff held 12 days of strikes in June and July this year in support of four teachers victimised for raising safety concerns over COVID-19. The four used Section 44 health and safety legislation to ask to work from home. They were not given jobs after being interviewed for permanent posts.

The teachers are due to hold a three-day strike next week beginning September 14.

On June 22, London bus driver David O’Sullivan joined striking teachers outside the school. O’Sullivan was sacked with the connivance of the Unite union by his employer Metroline for raising safety concerns over the pandemic.

Scottish local government workers indicative ballot rejects inferior pay offer

In a consultative ballot of Scottish local government workers, refuse collectors and school cleaners voted by a 95 percent majority to reject a pay offer.

The employers’ body the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities offered local government workers earning up to £25,000 a £850 increase. This was rejected by the GMB members. As a percentage it falls below the current rate of inflation of 3.9 percent, and represents a cut in real terms. The GMB will move to ballot 10,000 school cleaners and refuse collection workers for a possible strike.

London lorry drivers at Booker Retail Partners vote unanimously to strike over pay enhancement

Lorry drivers at Booker Retail Partners, a wholesale company delivering to around 1,500 convenience stores in the UK capital and southeast of England, voted unanimously to strike.

The 40 Unite members at Booker’s Thameside depot demand to be paid the £5 an hour temporary pay increase given to drivers at the Hemel Hempstead depot. The Hemel Hempstead drivers were awarded the temporary increase in response to the nationwide shortage of Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) drivers.

Booker, owned by Tesco, tried to head off industrial action by offering concessions, including a £70 a week increase for HGV drivers and bonuses in December and March next year. Unite said the bonuses have so many strings attached it is unlikely they would be paid.

Despite the unanimous vote to strike, Unite has yet to announce any strike dates. A press release September 6, announcing the vote, noted, “Unite the union is poised to issue notice to the employer for strike action, but wants to allow time for crunch talks with the bosses on 21-23 September.”

Cement supply drivers at UK firm ballot over below-inflation pay offer

Around 200 UK lorry drivers employed by Hanson Cement in Birmingham to deliver dry cement products are balloting over pay.

The Unite union members rejected a 2.5 percent pay offer. The ballot runs from Friday until September 23. With inflation at 3.9 percent, the offer is a cut in real terms. The drivers are also disgruntled at the high-handed management style of the company. According to Unite, action could begin in October.

Hanson supplies around a quarter of the cement to the UK construction industry, including major projects such as Hinkley Point, HS2 and the Thames Tideway sewer tunnel.

Bus drivers at UK firm to take industrial action in fight for pay increase

Bus drivers at the Mansfield and Worksop depots of Stagecoach in the East Midlands, England will take part in an overtime and rest day working ban between September 17 and October 1, and again between October 8 and 22.

The RMT members are seeking a substantial pay rise. An RMT press release of September 2 is calling for “professional pay rates for professional drivers.” RMT members working for Stagecoach Yorkshire, South West and Wessex are balloting over the same issue.

Ballot of bus workers at company in northwest England over pay

Several hundred employees at bus company Ribble Motor Services Ltd, England are balloting to strike.

The Unite union members, mainly drivers but including cleaners and engineers, began balloting on Monday. They are demanding a substantive pay offer and improved sick pay provision. The ballot closes September 20.

The company, part of the Stagecoach chain, has depots at Chorley, Gilmoss and Preston. Parent company Stagecoach’s latest financial results showed a profit of £58.4 million with liquidity of £875 million.

UK grocery retail chain delivery drivers indicate willingness to strike over derisory pay offer

In an indicative vote by UK Sainsbury’s delivery drivers, 98 percent voted in favour of taking industrial action.

Around 200 Unite members employed by logistics firm DHL, which runs the Dartford distribution centre in southeast England on behalf of Sainsbury’s, rejected a one percent pay offer. Following the consultative vote Unite will hold a ballot for industrial action.

UK lecturers industrial action threat following pension talks

Talks on the pensions of university staff in August ended with a decision by employers to push ahead with cuts to pension provision for university staff.

Following the talks, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU) Jo Grady stated, “Employers represented by Universities UK (UUK) have today (August 31) voted to implement a set of regressive USS pension proposals that will reduce member benefits, discourage low paid and insecurely employed staff from joining USS, and threaten the viability of the scheme as a whole.”

A vote by delegates at the UCU conference in June called for industrial action if employers did not rethink their pension proposals.

A UCU press release noted, “The union has today (August 31) emailed over 50,000 members in USS institutions calling them to a mass member meeting, where the union will outline what next steps will be, and how they should start to prepare for balloting and strike action.”

The UCU played a treacherous role in the ongoing fight in defence of pensions by academic staff. Following the sell-out of nationwide industrial action in 2018 over the attacks on pensions, the union was accused at a protest of UCU members outside its HQ of being “objectively on the side of the employers.” The UCU demobilised mass resistance on the part of workers and students to establish a corporatist Joint Expert Panel on pensions with the employers.

Workers at plastic bottle manufacturer in Wigan, England ballot over pay offer

Around 150 workers at the Alpha UK plastic bottle factory in Wigan are balloting over a two percent pay offer.

The ballot of Unite members begun Wednesday will close September 22. Other staff working for Alpha were offered three percent. The workers are also demanding Alpha make good on a 2020 pledge to increase employer pension contributions.

Alpha makes plastic bottles and containers for leading brands such as Arla Foods, Coca Cola, Johnson & Johnson and Lever.

UK driving test examiners to ballot for industrial action over proposal to increase workload

A ballot of UK driving test examiners begun Monday closes on September 24.

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union members face an increase in workload, having to carry out eight driving tests each day rather than the current seven. One concern is that the extra pressure would lead to an increased risk of accidents. In a survey of driving examiners carried out by the PCS, 450 said they would leave rather than submit to the increase in tests.

Weapons technicians at Scottish nuclear naval base to ballot for industrial action over pay

Around 70 technicians at the Royal Naval Armaments Depot in Coulport nuclear naval base, Scotland will ballot over a pay claim.

The Unite union members are employed by AWE plc, Babcock Marine (Clyde) Ltd and Lockheed Martin UK Strategic Systems Ltd. The workers, who formerly worked for the Ministry of Defence, were transferred to the companies in 2013 under Transfer of Undertaking (Protection of Employment) rules, supposed to protect contract conditions between employers.

Unite put in a 3.8 percent pay claim that was rejected. The ballot begun September 10 will close September 20. Any industrial action is expected to start at the beginning of October.

Beer delivery drivers at UK firm vote to accept revised pay offer

Around 1,000 UK draymen at GXO Logistics Drinks Ltd voted by an 80 percent majority on a 94 percent turnout to accept a new pay offer.

The Unite union members previously voted by a 97 percent majority to reject a pay offer of 1.4 percent. A planned strike for August 24 was suspended by the union as it recommended acceptance of the offer.

The strike would have strengthened the hand of drivers against the company. GXO delivers an estimated 40 percent of beer to pubs and hospitality venues across the UK from its 26 depots. The new accepted offer of four percent, just above the current rate of inflation at 3.9 percent, means a real term pay increase of just 0.1 percent.

Threat of industrial action by British Labour Party staff recedes as unions accept voluntary redundancy

The British Labour Party agreed not to impose compulsory redundancies as 80 staff took voluntary redundancy.

The party was looking to cut its 360 full-time paid staff by around a quarter, some 90 posts. An indicative vote by Unite and GMB members was overwhelmingly in favour of striking against compulsory redundancy. With the acceptance of voluntary redundancy deals agreed by the unions, their role will be to help members deal with the “leaving process” over the next months.

Unite union calls off further strikes at Shropshire, UK wheel factory after new pay deal

On Tuesday, a Unite union press release announced workers at the GKN Wheels and Auto Structures based in Telford, Shropshire in England had voted to accept a new pay deal.

Around 200 workers are employed at the factory, which makes wheels for off-road vehicles such as tractors and diggers. The union press release gave no details of the pay offer but called it a victory. The workers held a one-day stoppage in July, following a vote in June.

The company was acquired by private equity firm Aurelius in 2020.

GMB union suspends strike over bullying allegations by refuse collection workers in Sandwell, England

The GMB union suspended the strike of refuse collection workers inn in Sandwell, England over allegations of bullying at outsourcing company, Serco. Serco was contracted by Sandwell council, West Midlands.

Following a walk out on August 31, the GMB suspended strikes planned for September 7, 14 and 21 following “successful talks” between Serco and the GMB.

Middle East

Port of Beirut drivers in Lebanon continue strike over wage demand

Drivers at the port of Beirut, Lebanon walked out on Monday for higher wages.

The National Federation of Trade Unions and Employees in Lebanon and the Drivers’ Syndicate members say their current wages do not cover basic requirements. According to reports, the strike was continuing as of Wednesday.

The drivers held a similar strike protest on August 31, using their trucks to blockade the port and restrict access.

Lebanese teachers to strike over pay and travel allowances

Lebanese teachers were due to walk out on Wednesday. The strike was to include a protest outside the Ministry of Education in Beirut.

The Public Primary Schools Teachers League are protesting the authority’s refusal to increase wages and travel allowances. The strike call was supported by the Union Coordination Committee, which represents secondary public-school teachers. Lebanese schools are due to reopen to pupils on September 27.

Israeli medical staff end partial strike over lack of funding

On Sunday, the heads of the seven Israeli public hospitals announced the partial strike of medical staff would end.

The medics and other health staff began their action on August 25, providing only emergency cover. They were protesting the underfunding of the seven public hospitals, which includes two emergency hospitals in Jerusalem.

An agreement was reached to provide NIS 960 million jointly between the ministries of finance and health to end the underfunding.


Nigerian doctors' pay strike sabotaged by union as other health workers ready to strike

As the strike over pay arrears by more than 300,000 resident doctors in Nigeria begun August 2 entered its sixth week, the Nigeria Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) is telling doctors in Lagos state to return to work. This would isolate strikers in other states just as other sections of health workers are poised to walk out.

The NARD members are owed from four to 19 months' arrears by state employers after the introduction of a new payment system. They also want payment of the COVID-19 inducement allowance and increased hazard allowance.

The Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) and other unions issued a 15-day “ultimatum” that they will call an indefinite strike unless withheld salary and COVID19-related payments were made and salaries adjusted. A meeting with health minister, Chris Ngige, took place on September 7. The outcome has not been reported yet.

South African teachers in KwaZulu-Natal protest over staff shortages

Teachers in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa are threatening to picket over the shortage of teachers in the province, and the lack of response from the premier and the council member responsible for education.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) members protested August 17 outside the education department offices in Pietermaritzburg, demanding all vacancies are filled, substitute teachers given permanent appointments and temporary teachers receive backpay.

The teachers have since worked to rule, and SADTU wrote to the premier’s office demanding answers to the teacher shortage issue–2,000 posts are unfilled and over 200 schools have fewer than four teachers.

South African day-care centre workers in stoppage over pay

Care workers at the Tswelelopele Special Care Centre in Atteridge, South Africa stopped work Monday, in protest over pay and conditions.

Workers at the centre for children with special needs, run by a non-governmental organisation, the North Gauteng Mental Health Society, want to be paid at least the official minimum wage.

They complain that supplies have run out, and food for the children and other items are paid by workers. The parent of one child accuses the director and board members of misusing funds.

South African metalworkers strike threat forces further wage negotiations

The threat of a strike by workers in South Africa’s engineering and steel industry caused the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (Seifsa) and other employers’ bodies to extend wage negotiations until September 14.

The National Metalworkers Union of South Africa members demand an eight percent salary increase for 2021, and the rate of inflation plus two percent for the next two years. Seifsa and others offered 4.4 percent for 2021, inflation plus 0.5 percent in 2022 and inflation plus one percent in 2023. Employers also want an exception to allow “struggling” companies to pay less than the national minimum rate.

Striking African National Congress staff demand action on pay grievance

African National Congress (ANC) staff protested outside the party headquarters, Luthuli House, in Johannesburg Monday. Workers have been on strike since August 26, over late wages, unemployment insurance and hospital fund arrears and four years without salary increments.

The ANC blame their current poor financial position on the COVID-19 pandemic, but staff complain that politicians brought in to work full-time at Luthuli House are paid high retainer fees.

Gambian nurses return to work after promise of payment

Nurses and midwives in Gambia returned to work on September 3, after taking part in a two-day sit-down strike to demand payment of their allowances.

Their union accepted a promise they would be paid by September 7, telling members to return to work while admitting the promise was likely to be broken and strike action would resume.

Staff at Liberian House of Representatives promised 16 months’ pay arrears after lock-in protest

After months of protests, staff members at the Liberian House of Representatives were told they will be paid 16 months’ salary arrears when their employment has been validated.

On August 31, staff locked the main entrance to the Legislature building to stop lawmakers from leaving the building.