THE WORLD OF LABOR — March 19, 2011

By Harry Kelber

Global Unions Send Condolences and Funds to Japanese People

The International Transport Federation (ITF) is to donate 200,000 English pounds (U.S. $320,400) to relieve the effects of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, in order to spearhead an appeal among its 781 member trade unions for assistance. The federation will also approach other global union federations and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) to help coordinate trade union aid for those affected by the quake and tsunami.

As soon as appropriate, the ITF’s general secretary, David Cockroft, and president Paddy Crumlin, will travel to Japan to see how best to provide additional help. ITF president Crumlin said: “Every day more devastation is discovered, revealing just how important it is that help gets through. Just a month ago, the same Japanese trade unions that are today trying to re-establish the trade union links that are vital to the rescue effort were sending financial aid to the victims of the Queensland (Australia)) flooding. We in the ITF worldwide family are able to do all we can to help them in their great need.”

ITF General Secretary Cockroft commented:”We’re in constant touch with our colleagues in Japan, and they identify funds and aid as immediate priorities. I am glad to report that we have been moving on these since the first news of the quake, ,and today, we’re taking that even further.”

For more details of solidarity with those affected by the nuclear plant crisis in Japan, please go to

Malaysia Reveals It ‘Caned’ 30,000 Foreign Workers Since 2005

Malaysia has drawn widespread condemnation from human rights groups by its admission that it used the barbaric practice of “caning” on foreign workers. Amnesty International says that caning has hit epidemic proportions in Malaysia, where the beatings are administered with a long stick that leaves permanent physical and mental scars.

Rights groups were outraged after it was revealed that the government said in a statement to Parliament last week that a total of 29,759 foreign workers had been caned between 2005 and 2010 for various immigration offenses. Foreign workers were usually picked up during large-scale crackdowns on illegal migrants. While most countries have abolished judicial caning, Malaysia has expanded the practice. Parliament has increased the number of offenses subject to caning to more than 60,” a human rights spokesman said.

Union Lawyers from Various Countries Meet in Cuba

The imminent challenges and prospects of labor law in times of economic crisis were the focus of debates of the 200 delegates from 16 nations that attended the 5th International Meeting of Labor and Trade Union Lawyers in Havana, Cuba. Participating at the three-day event were experts from Latin America, the United States, Spain and England.

Among the main topics were the social responsibility of the State and enterprises toward workers, and problems of labor health and safety, according to information provided by Antonio Raudilio Martin, president of the organizing committee. Martin, who is also vice president of the American Association of Jurists, said the participants at the meeting exchanged their experiences in defense of workers against the aggressiveness of capitalist employers.

Lidia Guevara, general secretary of the Latin American Association of Labor Lawyers, pointed out that the struggle to achieve efficient, productive employment “in which trade union rights are acknowledged” is one of the main challenges of professionals in the organization.

Public Workers’ Nationwide Strike Paralyzes Italy

A nationwide strike of Italy’s public employees shut operations from the Milan subway to the Prime Minister’s office in Rome on March 15. “Many cities are gridlocked,” said Pierpaolo Leonardi of the USB union. Hundreds of workers marched through Rome to defend national contracts against the trend of separate negotiations set in the private sector when Fiat forced plant-by-plant deals on its autoworkers.

Friday’s walkout included workers in mass transit, airports, utilities, universities, local and provisional governments, social services, tax offices, clinics, ferries and even Prime Minister Silvio Burlosconi's office. The unions are also demanding a crackdown on tax evasion by the rich.

Several unions agreed not to strike public transport in Rome, but many of their members defied them and walked out. Both of Rome’s subway lines closed and trains were drastically slowed down, Rome’s travel authority said.

U.S. Workers Expand Their Ranks in Fight for Bargaining Rights

Tens of thousands of American workers under attack from Republican governors in 12 states received some high-level support and encouragement in a virtual town hall meeting. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis told the workers that the Obama administration will stand with them and make sure their rights are protected.

Biden told the labor audience: “You built the middle class. This fight is not about wages and benefits. It’s about trying to break unions. We absolutely, positively need collective bargaining.” Solis also said our leaders should be focused on creating good jobs and helping working families get back to work. “That’s important to remember,” she said, “now that states and cities are grappling with enormous fiscal challenges.”

Speaking at the Council of Foreign Relations, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka spelled out a “comprehensive vision” for global trade and investment policies to create a world economy that is good for working people, the middle-class and democracy—both here in the United States and around the world.

Norway’s Labor Inspectorate Scrutinizes Staffing Industry

Adecco Helse, the largest private company responsible for running chains of nursing homes in Norway, admitted on Feb. 17 that it had violated the law at five of its homes by letting its employees work long shifts. Personnel at Oslo’s Ammerudllunden nursing home worked 84 hours a week without overtime and had to sleep in an old bomb shelter, Dagsavisen reported.

Director of Adecco Heallth, Bard Kristians, resigned from his position six days later, admitting he was aware of the employees’ working conditions. The Norwegian Labor Inspection Authority subsequently filed complaints with the police against the company

“It’s the first time we are running such an organized campaign against the staffing industry,” said Pal Lund, the head of the authorities’ department in Oslo The health sector, which includes nursing homes, home care and hospitals is the first one to be investigated for long shifts and unpaid overtime. There will also be inspections of the cleaning and construction industries, as well as restaurants.

The Taxi Strike in Western Cape (S. Africa) Will Go On, Union Vows

The taxi strike will continue until the Western Cape government resolves issues with taxi drivers, the SA National Taxi Council (Santaco) said March 14. Santaco Secretary-General Philip Taaibosch said at a conference that there were many issues that needed to be resolved between the council and the local government, but the problem of vehicles being impounded and the permanent backlog were the main obstacles to the suspension of the strike.

Taaibosch said the Western Cape government had no regard for the taxi industry, and was the only province where these problems were being faced. “I’m in the Western Cape to intervene between the local industry and local government. We need to find a sway forward and stop blaming. At Santaco, we are disappointed to have a government that doesn’t respect its people,” the union leader said.

In reply to Santaco, Robin Carlisle, an officer of the Transport and Public Works agency, said: “My position is clear. I want to see the strike ended but only Santaco can end it. Before the strike, Santaco, the city and the province set up a joint task force to ensure a better future for members of the taxi industry, he said.

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