THE WORLD OF LABOR — January 14, 2012

By Harry Kelber

Dutch Pension Fund Dumps Walmart

Leaders of the Making Change at Walmart campaign hailed the news that one of the largest pension funds in the world has decided to divest from Walmart stores. Algemeen Burgerlijk Pensionfonds (ABP) announced Jan. 14 that the retirement fund would no longer invest in the retail giant due to the company’s repeated violation of international standards.

The fund, which has over $300 billion in assets and is the third largest in the world, had over $147 million invested in Walmart as of Sept, 30, 2011. Last October, Walmart “associates” told the company’s shareholders during the annual meeting in Bentonville, Ark., about the unfair tactics employed by management against employees.

Walmart is one of only five American companies to be blacklisted by the Dutch pension fund in 2012. (The other four companies are engaged in the production of clusterbombs.) ABP also cited PetroChina, an oil company with holdings in the Sudan and Burma.

Niki Factory to Pay $1 Million to Indonesian Workers on Overtime

A Nike factory has agreed to pay $1 million in unpaid overtime to its Indonesian workers in a move that could force other suppliers of multinational companies to follow suit. Nearly 4,500 employees at one of the sportswear group’s suppliers, the PT Nakomis shoe plant in Banten province, will be compensated for close to 600,000 hours of overtime, clocked up over the past two years.

The out-of-court settlement, reached after nearly a year of negotiations, set a precedent for other workers, said Bambang Wirahyoso, national chairman of the trade union, Serakat Pekerja National. This has the potential of sending shockwaves through the Indonesian labor movement,” he said.

The union claims it is standard practice for Indonesian factory employees to work seven days a week without overtime or proper benefits. The union has since set up a text-phone system to enable workers to register their labor-related complaints.

Australia at Risk of White-Collar Recession

There are warnings that Australia is on the verge of a “white-collar recession,” with thousands at risk in the finance sector. Employment in the banking industry had rebounded after steep job cuts during the global financial crisis, but that trend has now reversed. The ANZ Bank is planning to slash hundreds of jobs and the Royal Bank of Scotland is putting its Australian Division up for sale.

There are 427,500 people in the country’s finance sector, where employment is still higher than a 3.5 yearly low set in May 2010, but several thousand lower than the previous quarter. The Bureau of Statistics data show that employment in the finance sector peaked in August before dropping in the November quarter.

Local banking workers are facing increased competition from overseas bankers, attracted by salaries that now look much more attractive, due to the rising Australian dollar. The futures of about 400 Royal Bank of Scotland employees in Australia depend on whether the bank can find a buyer for most of its local investments.

Egyptian Workers Discuss Entering the Political Scene

Egyptian workers, who played an important role in the Jan. 25 uprising, are turning their attention to the political scene, a year later. “There will categorically be no gain if the workers are not registered in the political equation, only when they form a real political party that advocates their demands, and challenges dictatorship and capitalism,” said Khalid Ali, president of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights.

The Egyptian workers’ movement suffered from two pieces of legislation, as it tried to organize in the first year of the revolution. One was the prohibition of strikes by the empowered military, with heavy fines for non-compliance. The second was widespread corruption, especially in attempts to privatize state-owned property.

A law allowing the right to form syndicates (unions) was not released, although some 150 syndicates have been formed. Hala Talasi of the Egyptian Teachers’ Union, said: “We are developing a strong union to stand against the corruption of the Ministry of Education, which is really a police ministry.”

Microsoft Is Probing Mass Suicide Threat at Chinese Plant

Microsoft is investigating a report that workers at a plant that manufactures its Xbox game systems have threatened mass suicide in a pay dispute, according to a statement by the company’s Hong Kong office. “Microsoft takes working conditions in the factories that manufacture its products very seriously, and we are currently investigating this issue,” the statement said.

The Chinese contractor acknowledged in a statement on Jan. 12 that 150 workers had protested at the Wuhan factory when they learned that all workers were to be transferred to an alternate production line. And though the dispute was later resolved “successfully and peacefully,” 45 workers have since chosen to resign.

Foxconn, the plant’s owner, raised the workers’ pay twice at its factory in Shenzchen in 2010 after a spate of suicides, Chinese media reported at the time. After the suicides, the company said it was taking measures to improve workers’ lives, including organizing recreational activities, calling in Buddhist monks to offer spiritual consolation, and setting up a 24-hour help line.

Nigerian Fuel Strike Begins Its Fifth Day

A national strike by Nigerian workers to have their fuel subsidy restored by the government entered its fifth day, after negotiations between Nigeria’s president and the union failed to show progress. The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association said Jan. 12 it would be forced to take “the bitter option” of shutting down oil and gas production if the government does not restore the subsidy, which was cut on Jan. 1.

Nigeria exports more than two million barrels of crude oil a day. Industry experts say that even a minor disruption could have an impact on the country’s economy and affect global oil prices. World oil prices have climbed over the news about the Nigerian shutdown.

Many businesses, shops and schools remain closed as demonstrations continue for a fifth consecutive day in the commercial capital of Lagos and other cities. President Goodluck Jonathan eliminated the oil subsidy, saying the nation can no longer afford the $8 billion program. Most Nigerians live on less than $2 a day. The fuel subsidy is one of the few benefits they received from the country’s oil wealth.

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