THE WORLD OF LABOR — January 7, 2012

By Harry Kelber

Total Unpaid Overtime is equal to a Trillion Extra Jobs, Says TUC

The two trillion hours of overtime worked last year would be enough to create over a million extra full time jobs, the British Trade Union Congress (TUC) said on Jan. 5, as it announced the date for "Work Your Proper Hours Day 2012."

The total amount of unpaid overtime worked last year was 1,968 million hours — worth a record 29.2 billion British pounds. If workers who regularly put in unpaid overtime worked all their hours from the start of the year, the first day they would get paid would be Friday, Feb. 24. The TUC has named that date as "Work Your Proper Hours Day.’’

The number of workers doing unpaid overtime has increased by more than a million, since records began in 1992. The proportion of workers doing overtime has grown from 19.7 percent in 1992 to 21.1 percent in 2011.

Sudexo Signs Union Contract for 391,000 Worldwide Employees

The giant food service corporation, Sudexo, has finally signed a global union contract for its 391,000 employees (18,000 in the United States) with the International Union of Food Workers (IUF). The agreement commits Sudexo to respect the fundamental rights of workers, including freedom of association and collective bargaining.

Known as an "international framework agreement," it provides for a continual and progressive dialogue between Sodexo management, its employee representatives and the IUF. It is the first of its kind in the industry, says IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald. The agreement calls for mediation in case the parties cannot resolve their differences on issues.

Debbie Anderson, director of the international department of UNITE HERE, which represents workers at many U.S. Sodexo operations, called the IFA "a very positive step." UNITE HERE has always had good relations with Sodexo, according to union sources.

Hong Kong HSBC Workers to Lose 1,000 Jobs

Employees at Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation have been thrown into despair as the city’s biggest lender prepares to slash about 1,000 jobs after the Lunar New Year, a key industry union said Jan. 5. The Hong Kong Banking Employees Association said that frontline HSBC workers engaged in retail operations are the most vulnerable to lose their jobs.

Small departments are likely to be consolidated as part of a plan to restructure some of the bank’s operations. The inevitable result of such a move will be the firing of many middle managers. Last September, bank officials announced it would cut 3,000 jobs in the next three years, sparking a public outcry.

HSBC is expected to poll its employees in the coming week for what suggestions they could offer the company to deter further layoffs. The union is expected to offer the bank some concessions, including a wage freeze, to halt the layoffs.

Dutch Cleaners Take National Strike Action

Cleaners in the Netherlands have launched a campaign of industrial action that began with strikes at 10 railway stations and will spread to a number of banks, schools and offices. The cleaners are striking for a better collective labor agreement and greater respect from employers and customers.

They want to be paid from the first day of sick leave and more time to carry out their work. Employers in the cleaning sector have dismissed union demands as unrealistic in times of economic recession. They argue that labor costs will rise by 12 percent if they agree to the strikers’ demands. They say they are not prepared to offer more than a 3 percent pay increase.

The union says about 2,000 are willing to join the strike, more than the major cleaners’ walkout in 2010. Employers appear unwilling to settle the strike on a compromise over wages and benefits.

ITF South East Asia Begins a Week of Action

Teams of seafarer and docker trade unionists will accompany inspectors on ship visits to enforce decent pay and working conditions. It will be the first week of action for ITF’s South East Asia for 2012, and will run from Jan. 9 to Jan. 13. Vessels docking in ports in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand will be inspected.

The action week will be coordinated from the ITF’s Asia Pacific office in New Delhi, India, from where regional secretary Mahendra Shama commented: "We’re pleased to welcome Thai unions in this latest action, whose participants intend to do everything possible to ensure that decent pay and conditions are applied on ships across this region."

Shama added: " Chinese and UAE-based shipping companies will be on the radar, and strict actions will be taken against them if they are found ignoring the application of internationally accepted standards of work and wages on board their ships."

Argentina’s Subway Workers Threaten to Allow Free Rides

The subway workers union announced it would protest the increase of the subway fare by lifting turnstiles in several stations in order to let passengers travel for free in rush hours on Friday. The union listed the stations where there would be no collection of fares from 7 to 10 a.m. and from 4 to 7 p.m.

A new subway fare, which will cost 2.50 pesos (about 55 U.S. cents) a ride, was announced by the government. It has caused widespread protests, not only from regular passengers, but from subway workers.

There has been no formal government response to the union’s unorthodox action. The smartest thing may be for government officials to meet union representatives to settle the dispute quickly before it gets out of hand.

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