THE WORLD OF LABOR — February 18, 2012

By Harry Kelber

U.S. Congress Retains Payroll Tax Cut and Jobless Benefits for Workers

The Senate and House voted on Feb. 17 to continue the two percent payroll tax cut for the nation’s workers. At the same time, it extended unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for nearly 13 million jobless to the end of 2012. Those benefits were set to expire Feb. 29.

In a letter to congressional lawmakers, the AFL-CIO noted that under the new law, the number of weeks of UI benefits for the unemployed is reduced, and federal employees are unfairly penalized. “Shared sacrifice should start at the top with a surtax on millionaires, not with unemployed workers,” the letter said.

Until a week ago, congressional Republicans held up the payroll tax cut proposal on the grounds that money must be found from existing programs to pay for it. They abandoned that position, when they realized that voters would see them as obstructionists on a popular issue.

Rally in Netherlands Calls on Unilever to Save U.K. Pensions

Some 250 trade union militants turned out on Feb. 17 at Unilever’s Rotterdam headquarters in the Netherlands to protest the world’s third largest consumer products company’s unrelenting shut-off of a final salary pension scheme for 5,200 U.K. workers.

For three months now, Unilever has been trying to bully U.K.’s unions into accepting a final salary pension plan that would replace an average career earnings pension scheme, effective July 1, 2012. for their future. The Unilever pension plan would mean a drop in retirement income for U.K. retiring workers.

The demonstration, under the banner, “Unilever, Don’t Make Workers Pay for Your Profits,” saw representatives from 23 European trade union organizations in support of the U.K. retirement plan. A statement from the demonstration read: “We believe that Unilever workers in Europe and around the world have good reason to fear for their futures. We have noted that (CEO) Paul Polman’s pledge to double Unilever’s revenue over the next 10 years while promoting ‘sustainable living’ but he says nothing about sustainable employment.”

Iraqis Demonstrate for Jobs at Shell’s Oil Fields

More than 400 people demonstrated at the entrance of a massive oil field in Iraq on Feb. 16, calling on oil giant Shell to give them jobs, before police intervened and made two arrests. The protesters held signs that read: “No, no, no to Shell” and “No, no, no to foreign employers.”

“Gas and oil are killing our farms, and we are sitting here with no jobs while they agree to bringing in workers from East Asia and Pakistan,” said Salah Matar, 45, to Agence France-Press. “We have priority in this land,” he added.

A Shell Iraq spokesman replied: “We have provided 1,100 unskilled jobs to people in Nashwa, Dyeer and Thager, out of the estimated 1,500 people working in the oil field today. We understand unemployment is the largest problem in our communities, and we are doing our best to help.”

Turkey Repression Against Women Trade Unionists

Harassment of public trade unions in Turkey has this time targeted women. On Feb. 13, 15 women leaders and activists preparing for International Women’s Day (March 8) were arrested and taken into custody.

Their houses, as well as the offices of the municipal workers’ union, Tum Bel Sen, and the Confederation of Civil Servants Trade Unions (KESK) were raided and searched on Feb. 16, after four days in custody, the women were charged with being members of an illegal organization. Pending trial, 9 of the15 were detained and 6 were released.

Several global trade unions are urging the Turkish government to take all necessary measures to stop this repressive campaign against trade unions. They call on the government to conform to the standards of the ILO on freedom of association and the right to organize.

Improved Industrial Agreement for 240,000 Danish Workers

Job security and job creation were the foundation behind a new two-year national labor agreement between social partners in Denmark. The agreement favorably affects 240,000 Danish manufacturing workers, who are employed in 6,000 enterprises. The agreement will run from March 1, 2012 to March 1, 2014.

The framework agreement, negotiated by a coalition of eight major unions in concert with the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), grants training at full pay during business downturns and when reductions in work time occur. It also allows older workers to reduce their working within five years of retirement by continuing their income levels through salaries and partial pension benefits.

The new pact is also kinder to lower-income workers and gives better payouts when such workers are laid off. Parental leave was made more flexible. The agreement has been widely praised by the Danish people because it restores thousands of manufacturing jobs that have been lost in the country because of the global economic crisis. .

Strike at Yemen Oil Company Endangers Ïragile Economy

Workers, engineers, accountants and all the staff of the newly-established national oil company, Petromasila, have been on strike since Feb.16, demanding previous owed payments from the former operator of the company, Canadian Nexen, which left Yemen in December,

The halt of exports from the Masila oil fields has dealt a serious blow to the Yemen economy as oil exports account for more than 75 percent of the public budget’s revenues. A second major oil field in Mareb province has been non-operational for six months due to repeated attacks on its pipelines from tribesmen.

The union of Petromasila workers attributes the company’s bad shape to the rampant corruption at the Ministry of Oil and Oil Exploration Authority, according to a senior engineer who did not wish to be named.

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