THE WORLD OF LABOR — May 26, 2012

By Harry Kelber

Burmese Migrant Workers Double Their Wages after Strike

More than 500 migrants on the Thai-Burmese border took collective action to demand that their employer improve wages and working conditions in a garment factory where they were earning less than 25 cents an hour for an 11-hour shift. As a result of their two-day strike, the workers succeeded in doubling their wages and winning important gains in their workplace conditions.

More than two million migrants, mainly from Burma, are working in Thailand, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO). These workers have no legal right to form a union. Their basic human and worker rights under Thai law are constantly violated. Their wages are even less than half the Thai minimum wage.

After sending a petition to the authorities that produced no tangible results, the workers decided to strike the day after the May Day celebration. Following extensive negotiations with representatives of the workers, factory managers agreed to raise wages for day and piece workers, shorter work shifts and improved working conditions.

75,000 Teachers in Mexico Launch Militant Strike

Since May 22, some 75,000 teachers in Mexico have been on strike in the state of Oaxaca against the so-called “Education Reform, ” that they say will lead to the privatization of education, compulsory examinations of all teachers, and clarification of the disappearance and murders of militant teachers.

The striking teachers on May 24 took over TV and radio stations, tax offices, the Civil Registry and a train route on the Isthmus. In 2006, the teachers of Oaxaca, together with neighborhood groups, took over the city for five months until the Mexican Army sent troops to crush the movement, with the killing of at least 26 people.

Irish Unions Say New Investments Could Produce 100,000 Jobs

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions on May 23 outlined details of a major new investment program that could create up to 100,000 jobs and significantly boost prospects of economic recovery.

The Congress program proposes the investment of over 3 billion euros (U.S. $ 3.7 billion) per annum for the next three years, and it is intended that this cost would be “kept off the state’s balance sheets.”

Congress General Secretary David Beggs said: “Ireland desperately needs to create jobs, boost domestic demand and generate growth if there is to be any hope of recovery. This program can help spark growth after years of unrelenting austerity.”

Beggs said it would be possible to fund the program from a mix of private, public and European sources, including private Irish pension funds, the National Pension Reserve Fund and the European investment Bank.

Qatar to Establish First Labor Union

Qatar is set to establish the country’s first labor union to improve workers’ rights ahead of the hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, according to local reports. “Planning for the World Cup is not restricted to construction and infrastructure improvements, but includes addressing workers’ rights,” Hussein al Mulla, deputy minister of labor stated.

Qatar is planning to form an elected and independent workers’ union to protect workers’ rights, regardless of their nationality. The move comes as global trade union authorities called on Qatar to implement reforms to its labor laws. In a letter to the to football’s governing body, the International Confederation of Trade Unions (ITUC) asked that the gas-rich Gulf state be stripped of its hosting rights for the 202World Cup if it failed to improve its labor laws.

An estimated three million migrants send back about $175 million in remittances annually to their homelands. The six Gulf states employ some 15 million guest workers, according to World Bank figures. In Kuwait, there is approximately one migrant domestic worker for every two citizens.

A Rare Strike by Norway’s State Workers

Tens of thousands of Norway’s public sector workers have gone on strike in a dispute over pay, the first walkout by state employees since 1984. Schools, kindergartens and prisons were all affected as up to 30,000 local and national government workers walked off the job.

The unions want pay rises of more than 4 percent, arguing that wages are not keeping pace with the private sector. They are also looking for improvements in working conditions. A number of other public services were hit on May 24, including nursing homes, tax offices and the police force.

Unlike other European economies, Norway’s has continued to grow, buoyed by its oil wealth. Growth in the first three months of 2012 reached 1.4 percent, with a government projection of 3.75 percent for the year.

New Caledonia Employers Upset at Reform Process

New Caledonia. a territory of France , located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, has a population of about 250,000. But as small as it is, it is not immune from labor disputes. The territory’s employers are upset at the way the unions and the government have gone about trying to curb the rising cost of living.

An accord on a range of measures are about to be signed and the employers say they wonder how any economic deals can be reached without them being consulted. The employers organization, Medef, says it wants a commission to be set up that includes all stakeholders in the economy.

Roch Wamyton, the president of the territory’s Congress, has called for the removal of the indexed top-up salaries as a way of curbing the high cost of living. He also proposed a tax on top properties and a cap on the salaries of business leaders. On May 22, about 1,000 people took to the streets in a protest march, with more action threatened if no substantive measures were announced in a week.

It may be helpful to you if you know how workers and their unions are responding in foreign countries to the same problems that are troubling you. Read our weekly “The World of Labor,” posted here and on our two web sites: and