THE WORLD OF LABOR — July 16, 2011

By Harry Kelber

Unions Call on Japan to Stop Nuclear Energy Use

Japan’s National Confederation of Trade Unions has released a draft proposal calling on the Japanese government to exchange nuclear energy for natural and renewable resources. Japan’s disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant was the second worst nuclear catastrophe in history, following Chernobyl in 1986, and is the main reason behind the labor union’s proposal.

On July 2, the labor coalition was responsible for more than 20,000 people gathering in Tokyo’s downtown Meiji Park to protest against the continued use of nuclear power. The Great Earthquake, as the March 11 disaster is known in Japan, has shed light on the growing dangers nuclear power poses, the labor coalition said.

Japan’s Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, said at a May press conference, “Under the current energy policy, by the year 2030, 50 percent of Japan’s electricity will come from nuclear power generation and 20 percent from renewable energy resources.”

East-West Wage Gap Persists in Germany

Workers in eastern Germany receive significantly less pay than their counterparts in the nation’s west. Weaker industry and collective bargaining are being blamed for he westward migration of skilled workers.

Soon after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the Federal Republic of Germany and the economically emaciated German Democratic Republic were merged. More than 20 years later, eastern German workers still earn as much as 33 percent less than their western counterparts.

Of the 100 professions surveyed by the Hans Boekler Foundation in Dusseldorf, only eastern Germany’s hairdressers and letter carriers earn more money than their western counterparts. Experts say that limited collective bargaining in eastern Germany is a major factor for the discrepancy. In the eastern part of Germany, only every other employee’s pay is based on a collective agreement, as compared to 63 percent elsewhere.

Egyptian Strikers Threaten to Shut Suez Canal

On July 2, someone broke into an electricity control room and threw a switch. Suddenly, Port Tawfiq, the vast shipyard that marks the entrance to the Suez Canal, went dark. Ten minutes later, the lights came back on, but in that short time, disgruntled Egyptian workers, who have been on strike for the last three weeks had made their point. Suez Canal, one of the world’s busiest transportation hubs, could be paralyzed with very little effort.

“We did not cut the cables, although we could have,” said Emad El Sadeq, a technician for the Suez Canal Shipyards, one of seven subsidiary companies run by by the Suez Canal Authority. He added: “We had to give them a taste of what we can do.”

As for the electricity outage, strikers say it could have been worse. “This time it was peaceful. But next time, we will block the floating docks totally, a striker said. That could be disastrous. An average of 50 ships cross the Suez Canal in both directions each day. Strikers are insisting on a wage increase. Their average pay is about $130 a month.

Starbucks Workers Are on Strike in Chile

The Chilean Labor Agency reported on July 15 that Starbucks’ unionized employees have been on strike in Chile since July 7, seeking pay and benefit increases. Of the 700 workers the coffee retailer employs in Chile, at least 200 are said to be union members.

Chile has seen a growing wave of strikes in recent weeks, led by students demanding cheaper and better education, as well as environmentalists and copper miners. In Chile, for a strike to be legal, at least half of the unionized workers must not show up for work. The Starbucks workers met the requirement.

Starbucks operates roughly 17,000 stores in more than 50 countries around the world. Entry salary is about $3.50 an hour. The strike in Chile is the first in the company’s history.

90% of New Korean Unions Remain Unaffiliated

For 10 days since the multiple trade union law took effect on July 1, 2011, 167 new unions have been formed in Korea with almost 90 percent not joining either of the umbrella unions, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU).

Under the revised labor law, employees can freely set up labor unions no matter how many there are at a work site. The measure is expected to guarantee workers’ freedom of association on a broader level and lead to the expansion of union membership, which stood at about 10 percent last year.

Most of the new unions are small, with 70 percent of them at small companies with 300 employees. The unions with at least half of all union members at a company can exercise a bargaining right as representative of multiple unions.

Taiwan’s Teachers Set Up First Legal Trade Union

After a long wait, teachers in Taiwan officially established their national trade union on July 15, after a legal revision that took effect on May 1 finally allowed teachers to unionize. In its inaugural statement, the National Teachers Union (NTU) said it would open up a new era in the country’s education system, while seeking better protection for teachers’ rights.

However, the amended Labor Union Act does not allow teacher unions to stage strikes, unlike unions in other professions and industries. Jennifer Wang, Council of Labor Affairs Minister, said the provision against strikes was mainly to ensure that the right to education for students was not compromised.

The NTU was seen as the first major step in protecting the rights of teachers and that the union can resolve its disputes with management through arbitration.

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: and