World of Labor for January 5, 2013

By Harry Kelber


Singapore Strike Highlights Workers' Problems

After 26 years without a strike, labor unrest over low wages and appalling living conditions have caught up with Singapore, drawing attention to the country's exploited migrant worker community. Over the past month, several groups of Chinese migrant workers have expanded their protests against the unpaid salaries and the awful food they are served by their employers.

In response to a strike of 171 Chinese bus drivers in November, the Singapore government deported 29 people and imposed $2,000 fines and jail terms for several others for instigating "illegal" actions. Singapore's acting Minister for Manpower, Tan Chuan-Jn, said: "We have zero tolerance for such disruption of essential services."

Singapore is home to many migrants who provide cheap manual labor in the construction, shipyard, transportation and garage refuse industries, positions often shunned by affluent citizens.

More Than 1,600 Cambodians Fainted in 2012, Report States

A total of 1,686 workers in garment and shoe factories in Cambodia fainted last year, due mainly to overwork, poor health, exposure to chemical substances and hysteria, a government report stated last week The mass fainting had occurred in more than 20 factories in 2012.

The report was unveiled after the Free Union of Workers, the kingdom's largest trade union, issued an annual statement that 2,107 workers in 29 factories had fainted in 2012. The causes of the fainting spells included too many hours of overtime work, chemical substances in cloth material, the smell of insecticide, malnutrition and heat.

The union statement said that about 84,320 workers in 101 factories had staged protests to demand a pay rise and better working conditions. The garment industry represents about 90 percent of Cambodia's total exports. The sector comprises more than 300 factories, employing some 335,400 workers—91 percent of them are female.

U.S. Intervention in El Salvador by Privatization Scheme

Unions in El Salvador are fighting a bill that would auction off everything, from highways, ports and airports to municipal services and higher education to private companies—mainly foreign multinationals. The United States government, which helped to draft the bill is pushing hard for its passage.

If the Public-Private Partnership law—or P3, as it is known—is approved, workers in those areas will be vulnerable to the massive layoffs, wage cuts and anti-union persecution that already characterizes private sector work in the tiny Central American country. In the 1980s, the U.S. funded, armed and trained the military forces of the Salvadorean dictatorship to the tune of a million dollars a day in a brutal civil war against a popular liberation movement.

The core of the opposition to the P3 privatization law are the public sector unions, who, for decades, have been on the front lines in defending the Salvadorean people. When the government proposed to privatize healthcare, 200,000 public healthcare workers and their supporters took to the streets and forced the government to abandon the effort.

Walmart Strikers Plan New Strategies for 2013

On Black Friday, the nation's biggest shopping day, customers who buy at 1,000 Walmart stores were urged by striking employees to do their holiday purchases elsewhrer to protest the low wages and poor treatment the company's employees receive.

Walmart, the world's biggest private employer, has heavily influenced a large part of the American economy from retail, logistics to manufacturing over several decades. In taking on the retail behemoth, OUR Walmart, a new group, supported by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and its labor community allies will be testing unconventional strategies. The organization is looking backward for inspiration to the neglected union strategies of the 1930s and the socially disruptive actions of the civil rights movement, and forward to the possibilities opened up by the Internet and the social media.

Such innovation is sorely needed. For two decades, the UFCW has crossed swords with Walmart in unsuccessful attempts to unionize its employees. The union recognition process under the NLRA permits employers to aggressively campaign against unions. In the rare cases when the union won a Labor Board election, Walmart retaliated by shutting down the store. The social unrest that is growing around the world should help Walmart workers to advance their campaign.

Nurses to Rally Against Graduate Scheme

Two nurses unions are to hold a joint rally the morning of Jan. 6 to protest against the proposed health graduate scheme, which will see 1,000 agency staff people displaced. Under the new plan, the positions would be filled by new graduates at a significant drop in salary. Both the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organization, as well as the Psychiatric Nurses Association, are calling for a boycott of the program.

Graduates recruited under the scheme would be paid the equivalent of 80 percent of the minimum wage on the staff nurse scale, which the union says has been cut by 24 percent in recent years. It believes that young nurses and midwives have already "contributed more than their fair share towards the country's recovery."

There are no new jobs attached to this initiative. Its new introduction will simply put 1,000 experienced nurses and midwives out of work, while giving transient work to the new graduates," said INMO general secretary Liam Doran.

Unions under Attack by Bashneft in Russia

Bashneft is one of the largest oil companies in Russia with revenues in the tens of billions of dollars and a workforce of over 8,000 employees. The huge company is in the process of reorganizing its subsidiaries, making them part of the overall structure and at the same time escalating an anti-union policy. The company is refusing to renegotiate labor agreements with Russian local unions, creating its own Labor Council instead.

The company's new Labor Council keeps pressuring its employees to join, under threat of dismissql if they don't join. But 76 percent of the company's workforce is aleady unionized and is working under a collective agreement that both the union and the employer had previously signed.

"When the legal status of our company changed, we had to renegotiate a new collective agreement. However, my authority to represent the workforce in negotiations was challenged for the first time in 14 years," said Zumara Ganieva, president of the RCWU local at the Bashneft plant in Ufa. The union has responded by picketing Bashneft's plants.

To keep informed about workers and their unions in foreign countries, we suggest you read our weekly "World of Labor," posted here and on our two sweb sites: www.laboreducator.org and www.laborsvoiceforchange.org.

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