THE WORLD OF LABOR — April 16, 2011

By Harry Kelber

200 Million Chinese in Danger of ‘Workplace Disease’

Occupational disease has overtaken workers’ accidents as the biggest danger to Chinese workers, with 200 million potentially under threat, a senior trade union official warned. Tang Chun, an occupational disease expert with the labor protection department, under the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, estimated that about 200 million workers in some 16 million enterprises work in hazardous environments.

“The number of new cases concerning occupational disease has been rising in recent years and the 2010 figure due to be released by the Ministry of Health in April, will undoubtedly pass the 2009 figure of 18,128,” he told China Daily in an interview. A total of 722,730 cases were reported from 1949 to 2009, and 146,500 lives had been lost from occupational diseases.

Tang suggested that local governments should make spot checks of working conditions to monitor the input of work safety bureaus and encourage enterprises to improve working conditions. Amending the occupational disease law which dates back to 2001, is part of this year’s agenda of the legislative body, he said.

French Nuclear Group Signs Pact with Union on Training

The European Metalworkers’ Federation (EMF) and Areva, the Paris-based nuclear power and nuclear service provider, signed a protocol agreement on April 1, intended to facilitate power enhancement and employee competencies within the 13 countries where Areva operates.

The new agreement is intended to forecast and manage career development of Areva staff. It provides each of Eriva’s 35,000 workers in Europe with access to 30 hours of training, which can be allotted over three years.

Areva designs and builds nuclear reactors and components for nuclear power plants. It also supplies nuclear fuel, engineering maintenance and inspection of nuclear facilities. The company globally operates in 43 countries and employs 48,000 workers.

One-Month Strike at GM’s India Plant Continues

The labor unrest at General Motors India’s Halol plant in Gujarat ended one month on April 15 with no sign of respite, while the carmaker has estimated to have suffered a production loss of about 1,500 units so far. Talks between the management and striking workers have so far failed to yield any result, and even the threat to terminate jobs has not made the nearly 200 workers to return to duty.

“We will continue to cooperate with all authorities and work closely with our employees and their union bargaining representatives to find a resolution,” said General Motors’ India vice president, P. Balendran. However, he did not share any further details, saying that the company supported lawful resolution of any concern. The state government has declared the strike illegal.

Meanwhile, a group of about 200 employees have not joined the strike as yet, but have conducted a sit-in (“dharma”) in Vadodara. The company has a capacity of 65,000 units per year.

Bolivia Protesters Challenge President Morales

Protesters in Bolivia have blocked main roads and clashed with police on the ninth day of nationwide demonstrations against the government. Teachers and health workers are on strike to demand a 15 percent wage increase.

Police used tear gas to clear the main road south of La Paz, while protesters fought back with stones and slingshots. The unrest is the worst faced by President Evo Morales, who once led similar protests.

The protests are being led by Bolivia's main trade union federation, the COB, which is demanding a 15% pay rise for all workers. The government has already approved a 10 percent increase for teachers, soldiers and police, and says it cannot afford any more.

Striking Zurich Police Refuse to Hand out Fines

Police officers in Zurich, Switzerland, have refused to hand out fines for minor traffic offenses. They have been on strike for several days in protest against the city authorities’ cost- cutting measures and heavy work loads.

The Zurich Police Officers Association has called for a rise in salaries from 2012 and an increase in the number of officers. It is also protesting about extra night and weekend duties. “Police chiefs want to squeeze more out of us,” said Werner Karlen, the union’s president.

The Zurich city police action followed the lead of the Geneva police, who refused to wear their uniforms, shave or hand out disciplinary fines during a strike called by their staff’s union in February.

Swaziland Unions Call Off Protests, Fearing Violence

Labor unions in Swaziland, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy, vowed to keep pressure on the government to move to a democratic system after a police crackdown forced them to call off a third day of demonstrations.

The unions will call for targeted sanctions against the southern African nation’s leaders and try to persuade other countries to help bring change, Vincent Ncongwane, general secretary of the Swaziland Federation of Labor, told reporters in Mbabane, the capital. “Even if it calls for the loss of our lives, we are prepared to ensure that Swaziland change for the better,” Ncongware said. “We are not going to use any violent means to achieve our goal, because it is counter-productive.”

Union and opposition groups want change in the tiny mountainous nation, wedged between South Africa and Mozambique, after austerity measures to deal with a fiscal crisis stoked anger The government cut spending and plans to raise taxes and slash state workers’ salaries. The country’s unemployment rate is estimated at 43 percent.

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