THE WORLD OF LABOR — April 9, 2011

By Harry Kelber

U.S. Government Shutdown Averted by Budget Deal

A last-minute budget deal between Republicans and Democrats on April 8 averted a shutdown of the United States government. The compromise agreement cuts $38 billion from the 2011 federal budget. (The Republicans had originally asked for $32 billion in cuts). Democrats said that the agreement would not include provisions to limit environmental regulations and to restrict financing Planned Parenthood.

House Majority Leader John Boehner, who negotiated for the Republicans, was able to convince his conservative caucus, including Tea Party members, to accept the deal. Negotiating for the Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid won approval from his caucus. President Barack Obama, speaking from the White House, said that some of the cuts will be painful. “Programs people rely on will be cut back,” he said, adding that Americans had to begin living within their means.

An extended shutdown of the U.S. government would cost a loss of income for federal workers and contractors of about $6 billion a week, economists estimate. Families of our soldiers would see a delay in their government checks. Passport offices would be closed, upsetting people’s travel plans. Museums, parks and other public facilities would be closed. And most serious, it could return the country to an economic recession.

300 Immigrant Hunger Strikers in Greece Win Struggle

The 300 immigrant workers, who started a hunger strike on Jan. 25 in Athens and Thessalonika achieved their goal, when the relevant ministers of the Greek government met with representatives of the strikers and the Solidarity Initiative that supported them. The victory for the immigrants’ hunger strikers came on the 44th day and after the transfer of over a hundred of them to hospitals.

The 300 immigrants were provided with a “six months’ stay of tolerance” (This corresponds to residence and legal rights), which is renewable until full legal recognition is granted. Permits were issued, which would allow travel to their home countries, with the right of return every six months—and more time for health reasons.

The government agreed to reduce the residency required for immigrants from 12 to 8 years. It also reduced the number of working days required for the renewal of a residency permit from 200 days to 120. Medical care will be avail to immigrant workers after 50 working days; previously, it was 80 days.

Russian Unions Skeptical About Labor Promises

Trade unions are skeptical that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will be able to deliver an improvement in pay and conditions in the workplace. Medvedev pointed to appalling figures about deaths and injuries in a meeting on April 5 and fumed about an on-going rise in accidents and breaches in labor laws.

As he gave the order to improve conditions before the May Day workers’ holidays, the president listed the grim statistics of suffering on the factory floor. “About 8,000 people were left disabled,” he said.” In processing plants, 537 people were killed last year; 279 died in mining enterprises and 82 were killed in metallurgical plants. And this is in 2011, not during some period of primitive grasping for profits,” he said

While many incidents are linked to workers’ behavior, Medvedev insisted that it was up to employers to promote a safe environment and inspire greater discipline. But Galina Yurova, a representative of agricultural union Profagro, said she did not expect any changes, and the state should “establish the rules of the game.”

Finnish Salaried Workers Opt for 2-Week Strike in Paper Industry

One thousand salaried employees working for the forest industry company UPM-Kymmene, began a strike on April 7. Pro, the trade union of salaried employees, believes that most of the company’s factories in Finland will stop production this week.. The strike is planned to continue for two weeks.

The major disagreement between Pro and the employer organization, Finnish Forest Industries Federation, concerns the salary system. Salaried employees of the paper industry want to have a system that is similar to the one that is applied in most industries where Pro represents salaried employees. That system takes into account both work requirements and personal skills. The employers had promised to implement the Pro system at three previous bargaining rounds, but had failed to do so.

Another point of disagreement is the model that is used in determining salaries. Pro proposes. a mixed model whereby lower salaries are paid in euros and higher salaries in percentages. This would mean a relatively higher increase in salaries at the lower end of the scale. In the paper industry, it would improve pay equality, as female employees clearly earn less than male employees.

Workers at Jordan Water Company Stage Sit-in to Back Demands

More than 500 Jordan Water Company employees staged a sit-in on April 7, the second in a month, demanding that management improve their living conditions. The employees who took part in the sit-in in front of the company’s headquarters In Jabal Hussein, called for raising their salaries and re-employing more than 40 workers who were laid off several months ago.

The employees urged the company to replace the annual bonus with fixed 13th and 14th monthly salaries and grant them the pay raise given to public employees this year. “We call for restructuring the salary scale according to job titles, academic qualifications and years of experience. Some employees working as plumbers with no qualifications have higher salaries than engineers with long experience,” one of the employees told the Jordan Times..

Meanwhile, Muneer Oweis, the secretary-general of Jordan’s Water Authority, who is chairman of the company’s board of directors, said that the management will meet with representatives of the protesting employees to listen to their demands and possibly agree to the 13-and 14-month pay proposal. The company has operated the water and sewage system of Amman, Jordan’s capital, since 2007.

40,000 Honduran Teachers Back at Work after Month-Long Strike

After a month-long strike, 40,000 Honduran teachers are reported to have returned to heir classes after the government last week declared their walkout illegal. Lorenzo Sanchez of the Union of Professional Teachers says the remaining 32,000 teachers may be back in schools by next Tuesday.

Sanchez says that teachers decided to begin a dialogue with the government over the claim that as many as 6,000 teachers are owed unpaid salaries. The government insists that salary payments are up to date.

Honduran President Porfurio Lobo said he has suspended 5,000 teachers for three months for not showing up to work and could suspend or fire more if they are not back in classrooms by Tuesday.

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