THE WORLD OF LABOR — October 29, 2011

By Harry Kelber

Egypt Police Storm Government Building, as Thousands Strike

Protesting policemen in Red Sea city of Hurghada stormed security headquarters, as around 30,000 low-ranking Egyptian policemen held sit-ins for the second consecutive day. The policemen are demanding better pay and to rid the ministry of thousands of remnants of the ousted Mubarak regime.

Police disappeared from the streets at the start of the uprising that toppled Mubarak, and have since made a partial comeback, according to knowledgeable sources. The police have vowed to continue their protests until their demands are met, an official said

The strike comes amid a wave of industrial actions that have crippled the country’s economy since February, when Mubarak was ousted. Egypt has around 350,000 police.

Quantas Grounds Global Fleet over Labor Dispute

Australia’s Qantas Airways grounded its entire fleet Saturday over a labor dispute, prompting the government to ask a tribunal to stop the conflict out of concern that it is putting the airline and economy at risk.

Tens of thousands of passengers and almost 20 international labor leaders were affected by the unprecedented decision, which came a day after a stormy shareholders meeting that clearly took the government by surprise. It came as an embarrassment to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who was hosting a summit of Commonwealth leaders in the western city of Perth, 17 of them booked to fly out Sunday with Qantas.

Unions, from pilots to caterers, have taken strike action since September over pay and to oppose Qantas plans to cut its soaring costs, as it looks on selling two new airlines in Asia and cutting back financially draining long-haul flights.

Unions Call for Comprehensive ILO Action on ‘Precarious’ Work

Over 100 representatives from trade unions around the world took part in a symposium on precarious work, organized by the ILO in Geneva on Oct. 4-7. Over 3 days, unions described the role of precarious employment relationships in undermining worker rights, the scope and coverage of collective bargaining, organizing and negotiating wages and working conditions around the globe

As one of the keynote speakers opening the symposium, IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald identified one of the key issues facing the ILO with respect to precarious work. “For many millions of people, life and work have always been precarious and continue to be so,” Oswald said. “It is because labor today is under assault, including what were once assumed to be the fundamental rights to organize and bargain collectively.”

The final day of the symposium — the World Day for Decent Work — allowed participants to rally at the United Nations at a demonstration organized by the Swiss Union, UNIA, to highlight the ongoing lack of adequate legal protection for Swiss trade unionists.

Portugal’s Unions Ready to Challenge Austerity Measures

Manuel Carvalhio da Silva has spent the past two weeks trying to teach the people of Portugal how to say “No.” The message is suddenly everywhere, plastered all over the city on posters printed up by the CGTP, the country’s largest labor union.

“No” is what the CGTP is hoping the majority of the Portuguese people will say to the increasingly severe austerity measures being imposed by both the right and left under pressure from the so-called “Troika,” formed by the Central European Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). “The measures weigh heavily on workers who are not at all to blame for the crisis,” says Da Silva. Even worse, the austerity strategy could end up being counterproductive, Da Silva insists.

Is Portugal really ready for a third independent government to take shape? Da Silva is convinced it is. What’s not clear is if he’ll be able to convince the rest of the country. For most Portuguese, the country’s inclusion 12 years ago in the euro zone is a major source of pride. In Lisbon, one hears over and over again how Portugal ought to be a “model student.”

Meeting of New Zealand Port Unions Vows to Fight Job Cuts

A mass “stop work” “ meeting of the two main waterfront unions has unanimously supported a call to fight proposals by Port Otago to slash jobs. Members of the Rail and Maritime Transport Union of New Zealand demanded that the company work with the unions to develop alternatives to job cuts.

“We plan to engage the company on two fronts: across the table during consultations on what we see as a short-sighted proposal to reduce the workforce, and in the public arena, to drive home the message that Donedin and Otago needs to support employment in the region,” said an organizer, John Kerr.

The workers are being threatened with loss of their jobs, despite Port Otago paying a record dividend of $12.5 million to its owner, the Otago Regional Council. Phil Adams, secretary of the Port Chalmers branch of the union, said: “Our joint membership is prepared to do whatever it takes to make the company understand every job is precious, and the reasons behind this move by the company doesn’t stack up,” Adams said.

India’s Trade Unions Threaten Strike Against Rising Prices,

Kolkata trade unions, regardless of political affiliation, threatened on Oct. 28 to hold a countrywide general strike against price rises, corruption and anti-labor policies of the state and central governments.

The trade unions have also called for organizing protests on Nov. 8. “In case our demands are not met by then, we will consider the option of going on a nationwide strike,” the labor leaders said

The unions’ main demand is against the price increases and corruption. They are also opposed to the privatizing and pension policies of the government. Some unions are pressing for an increase in the minimum wage and an end to the contract system of employment.

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