THE WORLD OF LABOR — January 21, 2012

By Harry Kelber

16 Million Indonesian Workers May Benefit from Changes in Law

A revision of Indonesia’s labor law that paves the way for outsourced workers to have equal benefits with permanent employees is expected to improve the lives of millions of workers. The amended law should also reduce conflicts between laborers and employers in Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

On Jan. 17, the Constitutional Court declared outsourcing unlawful under the country’s Constitution, because it would create uncertainty over the faith and livelihood of the workers. Timbul Stregar, chairman of the Indonesian Workers Association (OPSI), said the revision of the law was a victory for 16 million outsourced workers, or roughly 40 percent of the country’s formal labor force of 41 million.

“The contract system will remain only if it is improved with benefits, such as overtime bonuses and severance pay,” Timbul said. The unions had been fighting in the courts for an improved law since 2003. The court’s ruling stated that Indonesian workers had “the right to a decent job and a decent life,” which should be the basis of the country’s labor law.

Mass Dismissals at Municipal Council in Guatemala

One day after he was elected mayor of the municipality of San Jose el Rodeo, Juan Francisco Aguilar Diaz, announced he would dismiss all unionized employees in his administration. He took this action with the approval of the Partido Patriota.

The mayor had called all the workers to a meeting in municipal hall on Jan. 16 and asked, in an intimidating voice, who wanted their severance pay. Those employees who did not belong to the newly-formed union, accepted the severance pay and the loss of their jobs. The general secretary of the municipal workers’ union, speaking in behalf of those who had refused, explained that they had decided to form a union in February 2011 in order to defend their rights and job security.

The mayor’s response was to immediately dismiss all workers at the meeting, a clear violation of worker rights that are enshrined in the Political Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala. A strong protest letter by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has been sent to Guatemalan president, Otto Perez Molina, demanding that all dismissed workers be reinstated to their jobs, and that Guatemala becomes a country where workers’ rights are respected.

Big Victory for Turkish Metal Workers after Three-Year Court Fight

Workers, fired for joining the Turkish metal union, Birlesik Metal-IS, finally won justice after a three-year bitter struggle that exposed the country’s debilitated legal system as much as the company’s anti-union behavior. The struggle began in December 2008 when all 378 Sinter unionized blue-collar workers were illegally dismissed. Weeks later, an additional 16 employees were fired by the company.

Immediately after, the workers and their union launched a legal case for their reinstatement and a call for international global action. The International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF) sent several delegations to the Turkish government to press Sinter to rescind the dismissals.

The Supreme Court confirmed the ruling of a lower court that the workers were dismissed because of their union affiliation, not for economic reasons. Sinter Metal was ordered to reinstate the dismissed employees or to compensate them with 12 months wages and an additional 4 months pay for the judgment process.

Ghana’s University Teachers Stage Sit-Down Strike over Back Pay

Teachers and Educational Workers Union (TEWU) at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana have embarked on a sit-down strike over delayed payment of salary arrears. The workers expect to receive 20 months in arrears from the government under a special structure.

The Public Services Joint Standing Negotiating Committee concluded a 10 percent pay increase across the board for all public servants, effective January 2010 The committee agreed that the payment of the new salary levels will be effected in “franches” (portions). However, TEWU members are unhappy with the franche of payments for the first five months of arrears promised last December that has not been carried through.

Local TEWU chairman Charles Artur says members will resume work only after the five months in arrears have been paid. Barely a week into the new academic session, teachers have not returned to their jobs.

Over $105 Million is Won for Former British Woolworths Workers

The shopworkers union, Usdaw, has won compensation worth up to a massive 67.8 million British pounds (about US $105 million) for over 24,000 former employees of Woolworths made redundant when the company collapsed at the end of 2008.

Woolworths was subject to penalties because administrators had failed to inform the union before the redundancies took place. By 2009, they had closed all of Woolworths stores, offices and distribution centers and made nearly 30,000 people redundant in the process.

In a judgment released on Jan. 20, the Employment Tribunal in London awarded 60 days’ pay for the dismissed workers at a wage approximating $500 a week. John Gorle, Usdaw general secretary, said: “While the award is never going to fully compensate them for losing their jobs, I’m sure members will welcome the money and appreciate the effort Usdaw made to secure the compensation for them.”

Karachi Electrical Workers Stage Sit-in Near ‘Red Zone’

Employees of the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) on Jan. 19 staged a sit-in protest outside the Government House, demanding implementation of a July 26, 2011 accord between the company and the union.

The Solidarity Workers Union (SWU) wanted to submit a memorandum about the wage agreement to the governor, when they were met by baton-wielding police, as activists tried to cross the banned “red zone.” The strikers vowed to continue their protests.

However, the Sindh governor, Dr. Ishratul Ibad Khan, met with a delegation of union leaders, and assured them the issue would be resolved within a week. On the governor’s assurance, protesting workers dispersed peacefully.

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