THE WORLD OF LABOR — July 23, 2011

By Harry Kelber

Germany Looks to Greece and Spain for Workers

German authorities, desperate to fill empty jobs needed to keep the economy upswing going, are targeting professionals in crisis-hit countries like Spain, Greece and Portugal. There is great potential in Spain, where thousands of engineers are unemployed, said Monika Vamhagen, director of the foreign and specialist section of the German Labor Agency.

One important problem is that only one in ten job applicants know the German language. Although they are willing to learn, this can slow up the production process. “Alternatively, the employer in Germany accepts that someone who has little German knowledge but good English can join the company,” Ms. Vamhagen said.

She reported that her staff had already accompanied a number Of German employers on a recruitment drive to Spain, and that the first work contracts were being signed, with a further trip planned in September. The next countries to be targeted will be Portugal and Greece.

IBM Unions Form Global Alliance

A network of IBM unions worldwide met in Nyon, Switzerland at the headquarters of the Union Network International (UNI) in May to form the IBM Global Union Alliance, with 40 trade unionists from 15 countries in attendance. This past year, IBM unions have been formed in Bulgaria, Argentina and Chile.

The new organization will be affiliated with both the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF) and UNI. Its objectives will be to (1) engage IBM in dialogue on a global level; (2) pursue global agreements with IBM to improve working conditions, and (3) to increase union membership at IBM.

The global alliance will also take concrete action to enlarge the network by improving contacts with workers in countries where employees are unionized, and make every effort to organize non-union plants. IBM celebrated its 100th anniversary on June 14.

Kenyan Dockers Begin ‘Go-Slow’ over Privatization

Unionized dock workers at the Kenyan port of Mombasa, East Africa’s biggest, began a partial strike on July 22 to demand the government confirm it won’t sell the facility to investors. Workers are conducting a ” go-slow” action and may begin a full-scale strike in two days unless the government publishes a notice in the Government Gazette confirming that the privatization plan has been halted.

The Dock Workers Union also wants 3,128 people who have worked at the port for the past three to fifteen years to be made permanent staff, said Simon Sang, the union’s general secretary.

Kenya is the world’s largest exporter of black tea. The port of Mombasa also serves as a conduit for goods imported and exported from countries that include Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

Thousands of Oil Workers Protest in Colombia

Some 10,000 oil workers in eastern Colombia went on strike on July 18 over the dismissal of hundreds of contract workers. Violence erupted during the work stoppage that left at least six people injured and seven trucks and other vehicles ablaze, according to a union spokesman, who said that the workers are “very dissatisfied” with current conditions in the oil industry.

The current labor dispute was triggered by the firing of 1,100 oil contract workers by Cepcolsa, the Colombian subsidiary of Spanish multinational CEPSA. which partners in the region with state-controlled Ecopetrol and other companies.

Tarcisio Mora, president of CUT, the labor federation, said the contract workers were fired after unionizing to demand pay increases, better working conditions and social benefits.

Unions Accuse Thai Government of Migrant Abuse

The head of a Thai union umbrella group has accused Bangkok of violating international law on the rights of millions of migrant workers who are regularly denied protection in the workplace.

Sawit Keawan, who heads the State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation, an umbrella group of 43 Thai unions, has petitioned the International Labor Organization (ILO), to allow migrant workers to have access to the Workmen’s Compensation Fund, which is the usual method of compensating those injured in the workplace.

Thailand’s labor force is currently made up of about 5 percent of migrant workers who contribute about 7 percent of the country’s GDP, with the majority of workers estimated ti be from Burma. As a result, Thailand’s economy is heavily reliant on migrant labor, which enables the country to maintain competitively cheap prices.

Poland’s Solidarity Union to Sign Paper Deal

Trade union Solidarity says it will sign an 8 percent wage offer with the paper, pulp and sawmilling industries after settling a deal with employers in the National Bargaining Council for the wood and paper sector. The new wage offer would be retroactive to July 1.

Employers will also look at the expected impact of the reduction of employees’ work hours from 45 a week to 42. Not all of the trade unions in these industries have accepted the 8 percent wage offer, but any improvements in other contracts will also be implemented for Solidarity members.

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