Harry Kelber

Harry Kelber, founder and editor of LaborEducator.org, has devoted his entire adult life to the labor movement as an organizer, strike leader, union printer, labor editor, pamphleteer, professor of labor studies and author of several books and booklets. His weekly column, The World of Labor, reports the struggles and victories of unions in countries around the globe.

Dec 102012

Labour stories from around the world.

Survey shows European outlook for growth in 2013 remains bleak

Europe faces rising unemployment for at least another year, amid the most painful convulsions to hit the Continent since it first set out on a path of economic and political integration  more than half a century ago, the European Commission reported December 4.

Europe's job crisis, which has left more than 25 million people without work, has stirred rising public hostility and has severely strained the social fabric of several European countries,

including Greece, Spain, and Portugal, where unemployment has soared to over 25 percent.

The economic outlook is bleak and has worsened in recent months and is not expected to improve in 2013.  The EU is currently the only region in the world where unemployment is still rising, the report said.

First rally for workers' rights in Qatar

With a construction boom expected in the next ten years in Qatar to prepare for its role as host to the 2022 World Cup, and with billions of dollars of infrastructure projects already

underway, a major problem must be solved: what will be the status of the 1.1 million migrant workers, who will be part of the workforce?  Will they be guaranteed the right to form or join unions?

Sharon Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), said that  workers live in squalid labour camps, don't receive their wages on time, and have no independent arbitrator to handle workplace complaints.

A rally on December 1 was the culmination of three days of action in Doba to press the Qatari authorities to ratify and implement ILO standards.  The first union "picnic" was held in a local park under the shadow of Doba's towering financial district.

Volkswagen limits precarious work globally

The Volkswagen Group Board of Management and the European Group Works Council signed an agreement to limit temporary work globally at the Group's plants.  The ground breaking agreement, signed on November 30, sets principles for use of temporary work in the entire Volkswagen company.

Employers and employees have agreed that there should be moderate use of temporary work at Volkswagen as a "necessary tool of flexibility and it should not exceed 5 percent."  

Equal pay — equal treatment is to be put in place, and the wages of temporary workers should evolve, based on gained experience and qualifications similar to the regular workforce.

Workers will receive vocational training that will enable them to follow a third route to become permanent staff at Volkswagen.  It is not clear whether other carmakers will offer their temporary workers similar upgrading advantages.

Singapore to deport 29 mainland Chinese bus drivers

For taking part in the city-state's first strike since the 1980s, the government is deporting 29 mainland Chinese drivers and will prosecute five others, according to news reports. The work permits of the drivers had been revoked, and immigration officials "will be repatriating them" for involvement in a two day stoppage to demand better pay and working conditions.

If found guilty of involvement in an illegal strike, they could be jailed fora  year or fined a maximum of $1, 640, the equivalent of two months pay for a driver.

A total of 171 drivers launched the strike by refusing to leave their dormitories for work, with the number falling to 88 on the second day.  They issued no strike declaration or public statement.

Tunisian unions calls of strike in Silllena

A regional Tunisian labour union has suspended a nearly week long strike in a central impoverished town, after hundreds were injured during clashes with the police.  The regional

workers' union in Sillena announced a provisional halt to the strike, hours after agreeing to a deal with the central government in Tuniisia, the capital of this North African nation.

In the deal, the regional governor Ahmad Mahjoubi, of the moderate Islamist Party, Ennabida, was pulled from his post amid accusations that he had neglected public concerns and refused dialogue.  A union leader said the strike would resume if he returned.  

The economically downtrodden Tunisian town has faced days of protests and violent battles with the police that were reminiscent of the popular uprising two years agao that grew into Tunisia's revolution.

Unions accuse French President of betrayal

French trade unions accused President Francois Hollande of betrayal on December 8, after his government backed from a threat to nationalize ArcelorMittals's Florange steelworks.The Socialist government had said on Friday that it had won promises from ArcelorMittal to avoid forced redundancies and it would inject 180 million euros to develop the Florange plant, meaning it would no longer have to take over the site.

Hollande came to office, promising to create jobs and keep open the two furnaces at the site in northern France, which the company says are not viable in a  European steel sector suffering overcapacity.  ArcelorMittal confirmed the details of the deal, saying it would negotiate a voluntary redundancy contract with unions.

Workers are angry that the furnaces will remain idle rather than re-opened.  They expressed doubt over ArcelorMittal's promise to offer them alternative posts or early retirement packages for the 630 workers affected.  "We're on a war footing," say Edouard Martin, head of the CFDT's Florange chapter.

Oct 022012

Filipinos get raise; Karachi fire victims tallied; Tyson poultry pays $32M back pay.

by Harry Kelber

The European Commission (EU) has withdrawn proposed legislation limiting workers’ right to strike, amid a furor from trade unions and EU lawmakers in Parliament, who waved a "yellow card" to Brussels for stepping over national sovereignty. Lazlo Andor, EU Employment Commissioner announced the decision to abandon the proposal to members of Parliament on September 12.

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Sep 102012

Strikes loom in Ireland, Kenya; averted in Norway.

by Harry Kelber

South Africa drops murder charges against striking miners

Murder charges against hundreds of striking miners will be dropped, pending further investigation, the country’s top prosecutor announced September 2. The murder charge against the current 270 suspects, which was provisional anyway, will be formally withdrawn in court on their next court appearance.

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Jul 272012

Also: Botswana court orders reinstatement for public sector workers.

by Harry Kelber

With 50 million members, IndustriALL is set for action
A newly-formed global federation of industrial unions will be a force with the muscle to take on giant international corporations on behalf of workers, the president of the United Steelworkers (USW), Leo Gerard, said on June 19. The coalition, known as IndustriALL Global Union, is being formed by a group of 1,200 trade union representatives, meeting this week in Copenhagen, Denmark. It joins together three former global labor groups: the International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF), the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions ((ICEM) and the International Textiles, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF).

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Jun 062012

UK doctors, Brazilian dockworkers on strike.

by Harry Kelber

Feeble US job growth raises fear of a revived recession
For a third year, the economic recovery in the United States is floundering, raising fears of a global slowdown as the European crisis escalates. Last month, the nation's employers added the lowest number of jobs in a year, and the unemployment rate actually rose a fraction of a point, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The United States gained a net 69,000 jobs in May, for an average of 96,000 over each of the last three months. That is down from an average of 245,000 gain on average for the three month period of December-February. The unemployment rate rose from 8.1 percent to 8.2 percent.

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May 082012

And: strike continues in Amazon zone; Irish sit-in ends.

by Harry Kelber

Jobless rate reaches new high in Euro zone 
Unemployment in the Euro zone rose to a new high in March, according to figures released May 2. The data came a few days before the crucial elections in France and Greece, and it is likely to prompt more intense calls for an easing of Europe's austerity drive.

Unemployment in the 17 countries that constitute the euro zone rose to 10.0 percent in March. Last year, it was 9.9 percent for the same month. The monthly increase, the 11th in a row, translates into more than 17 million people, and is in line with other recent indicators that shoe the euro zone economy remains distressed. Manufacturing hit a 34-month low in April.

As growth has faltered, around the euro zone, some policy makers have begun to talk more about the need to balance budget-cutting with measures to promote growth. But it is not yet clear how they will do so, with investors reluctant to lend governments any more money, and citizens in wealthier countries like Germany, are not willing to subsidize their neighbors.

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Apr 222012

News from Indonesia, Kenya, Brazil and Bangladesh, as well as Australia and Belgium.

by Harry Kelber

Indonesia ratifies convention on migrant workers
On April 12, Indonesia's Parliament ratified a UN convention on the protection of migrant workers, in a move that will offer greater rights to millions of Indonesians working abroad. "The next step is to sign national legislation with the standards already set," said lawmaker Rieke Diah Pitaloka.

Ratification obliges countries to ensure workers' basic human rights, as well as the right to return to their home countries, the right to be informed of conditions before taking up employment, and the right to form unions.

Indonesia's foreign ministry estimates that at least three million Indonesians work abroad, but poor documentation suggests the true number is likely much higher.

Kenya's aviation union strikers ignore "return to work" order
More than 300 airport workers have struck the Kenya Airport Authority (KAA). to protest low salaries and demand an increase in meal allowances. Operations at the country's airports have been disrupted; local and international passengers have complained of delays. The strikers marched to Cobu's offices at Solidarity House to protest against the new NHIF rates.

The Aviation and Allied Workers Union has rejected the new NHIF rates and has refused an order to end their strike and return to work that would lead to their discharge if they failed to comply. Cobu Secretary-General Francis Atwoli blamed KAA for the continuation of the strike A KAA statement called the strike illegal and said that under the Employment Act, desertion of duty may lead to dismissal from service.

Over the last few weeks, the KAA has been negotiating with the union on ending the strike, but thus far no agreement has been reached, even after the courts ruled that the strike was illegal. A letter from the Ministry of Labor, dated April 2, advised the union to withdraw the strike notice and give dialogue a chance.

Labor organizer who exposed dangerous conditions is tortured and killed
A labor organizer who helped ABC News expose dangerous working conditions at garment factories in Bangladesh was tortured and killed last week, according to authorities. "All indications are that Aminul Islam was murdered because of his labor rights work," said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Commission, an American group working to improve conditions at factories abroad that make clothes for US companies.

Islam had been serving as a senior organizer for the Bangladeshi Center for Worker Solidarity. . He had most recently been involved in efforts to organize workers at garment factories owned by a company called the Shanta Group. According to shipping records, the company makes clothing for numerous well-known American companies, including Tommy Hilfiger, Nike and Lauren.

Bangladesh is currently the cheapest place in the world for garment manufacturers to make clothing. Workers can make as little as 21 cents an hour. According to organizers, many workers are kept under locked gates, despite highly inflammable garment material.

Australian steelworkers meet in a bid to save their industry
The Australian Workers Union (AWU) will hold an emergency meeting of steelworkers from across the country in Melbourne on April 12 to address the worsening crisis facing the steel industry. More than 80 steelworkers from all major steel plants will meet with representatives of federal and state governments as well as heads of industry, to discuss and plan strategies to save the struggling Australian steel industry.

AWU National Secretary Paul Howes said the crisis facing the steel industry had worsened in recent months and that more was needed to be done to save the strategically vital sector. "We have already seen over 1,000 jobs go from BlueScope's Porr Kemble and Western Port plants, and Onesteel has confirmed that it will shed up to 430 jobs by the end of this financial year."

"Steel is an important strategy resource," Howes said. "Without a steel industry," there is no manufacturing industry. Key issues to be discussed at the meeting include illegal dumping from overseas markets; lack of action from the Reserve Bank, and the impact of the mining boom.

Brazil's World Cup construction sites disrupted by strike over wages
Workers building a World Cup stadium in Northeastern Brazil decided to remain on strike to demand better pay and improved benefits. The strike in Fortaleza entered its second week after workers rejected an offer made by the construction companies involved in the project.

Workers in the northeast city of Natal also refused to return to work despite losing a court decision ordering them to halt their 10-day work stoppage. Employers said that if the strike continues, it would jeopardize the construction of the stadium. Workers said they would not return to work until they got a better offer.

Employers have offered wage increases of from 14 percent to 21 percent, depending on skills, but strikers have rejected the offer as insufficient. World Cup organizers said that work on the Castelao stadium was 60 percent completed. It will host six World Cup matches.

Brussels transport strike extended after fatal attack
Brussels public transport workers decided to extend their strike by at least two days, keeping buses, trams and metros idle for almost a week after a colleague was fatally beaten. The work stoppage, which was on its fourth day, will continue until the same day as the funeral for a supervisor who died after being punched in the face, following an accident between a bus and a car.

The government has announced plans to deploy 400 extra police officers in Brussels and recruit 50 agents for the public transport system, following Saturday's assault, but it will take months to materialize. Unions have demanded quicker action to stem what they see as an alarming number of attacks on public sector transport workers.

The supervisor, 56-year-old Iliaz Tahiraj, was punched in the face by a friend of the driver of the car and died later in the hospital. A suspect, Alexandre Vander Elst, 28, was remanded in custody after giving himself up to police.


Harry Kelber, founder and editor of LaborEducator.org, has devoted his entire adult life to the labor movement as an organizer, strike leader, union printer, labor editor, pamphleteer, professor of labor studies and author of several books and booklets.

His weekly column, The World of Labor, reports the struggles and victories of unions in countries around the globe. Go to their website linked below.

Website: http://www.LaborEducator.org