THE WORLD OF LABOR — August 27, 2011

By Harry Kelber

U.S. Postal Service Seeks Concessions, from Union or Else Congress

What the U.S. Postal Service can’t win at the bargaining table, it hopes to get in the halls of Congress. If it is successful, it would set a new stage in labor relations that would send shivers to labor organizations far removed from the post office.

Even as the USPS is negotiating with the unions, it has unveiled a proposal to have Congress eliminate the “no-layoff” provisions in postal union contracts. Postal negotiators raised that provision during talks that concluded last spring with the American Postal Workers Union (APWU).

The layoff clause will probably come up again during negotiations with the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), which began last week, and during discussions with the National Postal Mail Handlers, Union, which begins this week. USPS is in critical condition because of a drastic drop in the volume of mail, and also facing stiff competition from private delivery companies.

British Unions Plan Targeted Strikes over Pensions

British trade unions are planning a rolling series of targeted strikes by public sector workers this autumn, instead of mass walkouts, if talks over pension reforms fail. On Aug. 24, unions representing workers from across the National Health Service (NHS) agreed to form a powerful new campaign group to establish plans for the possibility of an NHS-wide strike over the government’s pension plans.

Sources close to those talks suggested that they could adopt “smart” strike action that would disrupt swaths of the NSH, potentially canceling all elective surgeries and non-crucial appointments, but maintaining minimum levels of service and guarantees of patient safety

Separately, Unite, which has members across the public sector, met its key shop stewards to discuss future actions if the current talks over pensions collapse. Gail Cartmail, the union’s assistant general secretary, said that they needed to use more strategic industrial action, claiming that the days of mass strike action were over

Forced Overtime Causes Mass Fainting in Cambodian Factory

More than 100 workers at a Cambodian garment factory fainted on the morning of Aug. 23, after being forced to work for up to six hours of overtime to manufacture knitwear for global brand H&M. “The factory boss forced workers to work an extra four to six hours a day during the past two months,” union representative Norn Leakhena said., adding that, from January to March, they were forced to work until 11 p.m.

She also said that fainting was commonplace at the factory, especially in areas adjacent to the laundry room, which emitted fumes that made workers dizzy. An executive with M&V International Manufacturing Ltd. denied allegations of forced overtime and a toxic working environment, saying the fainting was caused by a” strange psychological phenomenon.”

Workers are paid $61 a month for a workweek of 48 hours. The factory is run by a Macao-owned company that produces items for several global brands, including Benetton and H&M, in factories in China and Cambodia.

ITUC Statement Urges Support for Democracy and Justice in Libya

The international trade Union movement is gravely disturbed at reports coming out of Libya of summary killings and other acts of revenge, and is particularly concerned for the safety of the many migrant workers who are still in the country.

“The establishment of legitimate interim authority and full respect for the rule of law are crucial and urgent steps must be taken, with the support of the United Nations and the international community as a whole. “The people of Libya finally have the chance to build a democratic and just society, which delivers economic and social progress,“ the statement by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) said.

“Many countries have been complicit in sustaining the Gaddafi regime in the past, and many multinational companies have made huge profits out of their dealings with the regime. The primary responsibility of the international community at this time is to act for †he welfare, safety and rights of the people of Libya,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

Eurotunnel Braces for French Employee Strike

Eurotunnel SA, the operator of the undersea rail tunnel linking Britain and France, is bracing for a strike after talks over wages with French labor unions failed. The unions have met to determine a course of action after their demand for an additional monthly wage payment a year was rejected by the company.

In all-day negotiations on Aug. 26, unions asked for a bonus of 3,000 euros ($4,350) per employee, which was turned down by management Fabienne Lissak, a spokeswoman for the Paris-based company said, “Their demands are unrealistic in the current economic climate,” she added. Eurotunnel offered a bonus of 200 euros per employee, which the unions rejected.

Eurotunnel services transport passengers, cars and trucks throughout the tunnel on shuttle trains between terminals at Calais, France and Folkestone, England. “We are doing everything we can to ensure that clients are not penalized,” Ms. Lissak said,

Sweatshops in Haiti Are Among the Worst

Importers and marketers have a good thing going in Haiti and Washington is not doing much to change its sweatshop garment industry, with its poverty-level minimum wage. Former President Bill Clinton is expected to chain Haiti’s economy to serfdom status by creating a giant new free trade zone.

More than ever, U.S. companies will be able to take advantage of Asian factory operators and cheap local labor to produce garments and other goods that can seriously compete with Chinese exports. American consumers will be able to buy goods at lower prices — at the expense of the Haitian workers.’

Secret U.S. State Department cables, revealed by Wikileaks, showed how Levi’s, Hanes and Fruit of the Loom worked with U.S. diplomats to prevent an increase in Haiti’s minimum wage to just five dollars a day, from applying to the textile industry.

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: https://www.laborsvoiceforchange.org and https://www.laboreducator.org.