Republicans Agree to Two-Months Extension of Jobless Benefits
Facing intense pressure not only from widespread public criticism but from many of their own colleagues, the Republican leadership finally agreed on Dec. 22 to accept a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut and continue unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for long-time jobless workers.
Under the agreement, the employees’ share of the Social Security tax will stay at the current rate of 4.2 percent of wages through Feb. 29. In the absence of congressional action, it would revert to the usual 6.2 percent next month. The government will also continue paying unemployment insurance benefits under current policy through February. Without congressional action, many long-term jobless would begin losing their benefits next month.
In addition, Medicare will continue paying doctors at current rates for two months, averting a 27 percent cut that would otherwise occur on Jan.1. The present outcome seems to be a clear victory for President Obama and the Democrats.
Strikes over Austerity Hit Europe Holiday Travel
Holiday strikes to protest austerity measures paralyzed ground traffic in Belgium delayed flights in Paris and promised days of headaches for Christmas travelers around Europe. Workers were walking off the job to show their anger at budget-slashing measures by their governments to tackle debt and high deficits, and officials were scrambling to try to mitigate delays and cancellations.
The French government was looking at options to get police to replace security personnel and make sure Christmas Sunday is as undisturbed as possible. In the Netherland, doctors engaged in a wildcat strike in protest against salary cuts. In Greece, strikers planned a five-hour work stoppage; in Spain, more airlines and transport facilities are expected to be shut down next week at the height of the holiday travel season.’’
Unions are especially angered that the government is trying to push through pension reform, sidestepping the traditional worker-employer negotiations that have become a cornerstone of the nation’s welfare state system. Another day of action is planned for Jan. 30 when a summit of EU government leaders is planned and further wildcat strikes are expected.
Turkish Transport Union Signs Historic Pact with United Parcel Service
The ITF’s Turkish road transport affiliate, TUMTIS, signed its first collective bargaining agreement with UPS, the international logistics company. The agreement is nationwide and covers over 3,200 union members and is retroactive to August 2011 when TUMITS- UPS negotiations began.
The contract provides job security for workers, regulates UPS use of subcontracting, and makes 187 subcontractors into direct UPS employees. Provisions on social benefits and bonuses give a 50 percent rise in food allowance, education stipends for families’ education, and assistance for marriages, maternity periods and deaths in families.
Kenan Ozturk, TUMTIS General President, said: “This is a victory for the global working class and a tribute to the strength of international solidarity.” The agreement was signed with the full approval of the union membership.
Freeport Striking Miners Return to Work in Indonesia
Thousands of workers at Freeport-McMoRan’s giant gold and copper mine in Papua will be going back to work Dec. 24 to end a three-month strike that shook labor relations in Southeast Asia’s largest economy. The union will also lift a road blockade that prevented other workers from accessing the Grasberg mine.
The three-month strike is the longest on record in Indonesian history. It represents the first major attempt by workers to reap greater financial returns in one of the world’s hottest emerging markets.
Union officials say the deal to end the strikes fell short of their expectations, but still represented a significant advance that could galvanize other unionized sectors of the economy of the world’s fourth largest country by population.
Italian Government Workers Strike over Taxes and Pensions
Thousands of government workers staged strikes on Dec. 19, joining demonstrations across Italy to protest tax and pension changes that are part of the government’s austerity package. The strike disrupted services in hospitals, post offices and government agencies for the entire day. Unions guaranteed emergency services in hospitals.
Union leader Susanna Camusso told a rally in front of the Parliament building that the reforms put an unfair burden on the working class and do little to fight tax evasion. “It is not acceptable for the workers. It is not acceptable for the pensioners. It is not acceptable for those who already struggled to get to the end of the month,” she said.
The government package of 30 billion euro (U.S. $39 billion) in new taxes and pension reforms has already been approved by the lower house of Parliament and final approval by the Senate is expected later in the week.
Cambodian Unions Threaten Strike over Short-Term Contracts
Union leaders have been meeting in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, this week to look at ways to curb the garment industry’s widespread use of temporary or short-term contracts for hiring workers and have warned they could resort to strike action if changes aren’t made.
The unions are uniting to put pressure on the government, factory owners and buyers to take steps to put an end to the practice, which they say is illegal. The short-term contracts, often renewed by the owner, can lead to increased insecurity for the worker, denying them with benefits they are entitled to, including maternity leave.
By Cambodian law, factory owners are required to provide female employees with maternity leave if they have worked at the factory for at least one year. A six-month contract for an employee frees the owner from that obligation.
To keep informed about workers and their unions in foreign countries, read our weekly column, “The World of Labor,”which we post here every weekend and on our two web sites: http://www.laborsvoiceforchange.org and http://www.laboreducator.org.