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2 November 2011
The Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC)has pledged to continue fighting against the government’s amendments, which it labels as a “return to slavery”, that were passed in early October. The MTUC is planning to conduct the actions on November 3rd at 20 sites across Malaysia, building on the October 3rd actions that were attended by hundreds of workers. The actions will bring workers out onto the streets to pressure the government and show the widespread discontent with the new law.
The MTUC has aired concerns that the new laws will give the “green light to investors to hire contract workers instead of permanent workers” and that the practical implications of the amendments will be to reduce trade unionism and the ability for workers to bargain collectively. Despite previous assurances from the government that there would be extensive debate and negotiation on the content and implementation of the bill, it was rushed through Parliament with only 5 hours debate, three days after the government stated it would delay the introduction of the bill until November.
The actions of the Malaysian government have raised concerns about their good-faith engagement with Malaysia’s workers and the trade union movement. With the mass action scheduled to go ahead on November 3rd there are hopes that the government will back down and introduce fairer and more reasonable labour laws. …Back to top
1 November 2011
In a new development in Burma’s halting steps towards opening up, the Burmese Government has signed a law allowing workers to form trade unions and to go on strike. Following this announcement, the Agriculture and Farmers Federation of Myanmar (AFFM) submitted their registration to be recognised by the trade union Registrar on October 25.
The BWI joins the FTUB in welcoming this latest step and hopes it signal’s a move towards more open and fair treatment of Burmese workers and trade unions. “We welcome this move by the Burmese government, but believe there is still much more to do” said Ambet Yuson, BWI General Secretary. “Trade unionists remain imprisoned for political activities, trade unionists are still intimidated by authorities and there have not been concrete actions which show that things are changing on the ground for trade unionists and workers”.
While the new law is a positive step towards giving workers the right to join trade union, collectively bargain and be represented by unions the spotlight will still need to be shone on Burma to ensure the new law is respected and trade unions are given the freedom and opportunity to organise and represent workers.
The BWI will continue working with the FTUB to monitor the progress of the AFFM’s registration efforts and the implementation of the new law. …Back to top
30 October 2011
Forests continue to be degraded in Africa because of unsustainable practices that result to low wood recovery rates mainly because of poor technology and inadequacy in tools and equipments. While recognizing importance of skill training, United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) Document on Non Legally Binding Instrument (NLBI) adopted in April 2007, support education, training and extension programmes involving local and indigenous communities, forest workers and forest owners, as part of developing resource management approaches that will reduce the pressure on forests, particularly on fragile ecosystems like Congo Forest Basin. In addition it recognized the need to strengthen the capacity of countries to address forest –related illegal practices according to domestic legislation, through enhanced public awareness, education, institutional capacity building, technological transfer and technical cooperation, law enforcement and information networks.
Noting that in a situation where a tree feller is not adequately trained, wood wastage is higher therefore contributing to increased forest degradation, while on a positive note in the case of skill development as reported in Tanzania, about 33% of forest workers trained got motivated and were able to establish their own mini forests or farm forests to supplement their incomes.
Given how little it costs to train an experienced forest worker in Reduced Impact logging (RIL) techniques, the continuing degradation of forests because of lack of training, use of obsolete tools and equipment in the sector is unfortunate. Irrespective of the plenty of benefits of training, such as safer working conditions, more retention of biodiversity and better protection of riparian areas, discussions on REDD+ initiatives are yet to capture importance of training and skilled workforce in the sector. In addition new skills that can benefit forest and wood workers in regard to wood ability to reduce carbon sources as well as increase carbon sinks are yet to be addressed, especially in discussion on REDD+ preparedness forums.
While recognizing importance of training on Reduced Impact logging (RIL), there is need to mainstream and integrate training on safety at workplace and awareness raising about hygiene, health and environmental safety, the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), safety protection for chemicals, safety and fire control . Fire is increasingly seen as a major factor in forest degradation.
According to International Labour Organization (ILO), Circle of Prosperity, if workers are in good health and well equipped, if they are adequately trained, if work is properly organized and supervised and if there are adequate working conditions, workers will reach a high level of production, good wages and be able to afford good nutrition and housing, and enjoy a decent life. They will be able to improve their standard of living and work on a sustained basis over the day, the year and the whole working life and in addition young people will be attracted by employment in forestry.
While demanding for more training, special target groups should include women and youth who have huge potential in shifting the unsustainable practices that have dominated the forest and wood sector. There is no doubt that catalyzing transition to green economy through afforestation programmes requires attention in capacity building and training of forest and wood workers. …Back to top
27 October 2011
“I extend BWI’s solidarity with this historic conference meeting at a most challenging period in the history of the trade union movement,” said Ambet Yuson general secretary of the BWI. The conference met at a most challenging period with the collapse of many strong governments due to lack democracy, of strong economies due to mismanagement and individualism, lack of distribution of resources, lack of sustainable jobs and development for the youth and women. For the 112 members attending the event held on 26 October 2011 in Nablus, it is crucial to build a democratic, independent labour movement to improve the terms of economic, social conditions of all workers to live with dignity and to have decent work.
Several recommendations regarding its strategic plan were made for the next four year including among others:
The General Conference of (PGFTU) will be held in December 2011.
BWI had missions to various countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Bahrain and Palestine and will come up with a policy strategy guiding the organisation in this regard. …Back to top
27 October 2011
Trade Union Work When Disaster Strikes
The Japanese Trade Union Confederation Rengo has been one of the major organisations involved in the relief work after the big tsunami that hit the eastern part of Honshu in March this year. Tatsumasa Yoshino is Vice President of North Japan Plywood Workers’ Union, UI ZENSEN and the General Secretary of Kesen Division of Kennan sub-regional Rengo office in the Iwate prefecture, one of the areas the hardest hit by the disaster.
The Great East Japan Earthquake, which took place on March 11, had a magnitude of 9.0 with the epicenter in the sea, about 70 km from the coast. It was so powerful that it moved the whole island Honshu twenty centimeters to the east and shifted the Earth on its axis by estimates of between 10 cm and 25 cm. There were approximately 20,000 victims of the disasters, about 15,000 found dead and another 5,000 still missing.
Tell us about what happened that day, March 11, when the earthquake happened, and was then followed by a major tsunami.
It was 14.46 on March 11 this year. I was on top of a fork-lift in the plywood factory where I work. Then the world started to shake all around me. I realised there was an earthquake. And then came the tsunami warning.
I wanted to take my car and drive away, but all the workers in the industry area seemed to have gotten the same idea. There was a huge traffic jam. So I started to run instead. Just in front of me a car driver panicked and started driving on the pavement, just running over a lot of people walking there. Another car hit a bike, and the bike stuck to the front of the car, but the driver kept driving off with the bike attached. I just kept on running.
I started running uphill towards a hospital. Just when I thought I was safe, I looked back and I saw houses and cars floating by, so I kept running. Finally I reached safety, and I thought my lungs were about to burst.
What did you see from the top of the hill when you finally reached safety?
I watched out over the factory where I work and saw it was surrounded by water, and a gate floating on top of the factory. I saw a car and a lady inside. I tried to break the window and to open the door, but I couldn’t help. The water had shortcut the electricity, and the glass in the doors were safety glass. I saw maybe 30 cars just like that.
I then looked at the bay area and saw a rooftop with 20 people. Things in the water started hitting the people, and they all floated away. I am still having nightmares about the things I saw during the tsunami.
What has been the role of Rengo following the disaster?
Rengo has more than six million members. We started our first voluntary work 16 years ago when there was a big earthquake in Kobe. This means we now had both the experience and the knowledge to immediately start helping the stricken areas. Within a couple of weeks, there were voluntary centres in both Sendai and Iwate. The Sendai one has now closed, but we are still working in the Iwate prefecture. Rengo set up our own relief work centres, and we coordinate the relief work with the official voluntary centers. More than 30,000 man-days have been put in so far from Rengo alone. Thousands of people have been participating in the relief work: union employees, elected union officials and ordinary members – thousands and thousands of people are taking leave days to help in the clean-up. As much as ten % of the total voluntary work has been done by Rengo.
What has been your role in this relief work?
I am the General Secretary of Kesen Division of Kennan sub-regional Rengo office in the Iwate prefecture and Vice President of North Japan Plywood Workers’ Union, UI ZENSEN. After the tsunami, I helped the municipality in the clean-up and I found 40-50 bodies, many of them missing body parts. The job was so hard I had to ask to stop doing it. I couldn’t take it anymore.
The union work is also messy, just like everything else connected to the tsunami. One of my biggest problems is that President of my Company is missing. He used to be the one who knew what to do in urgent situations. He has been swept away by the tsunami when he was checking up the factory, but not yet declared dead because they have not found him yet. Can I elect somebody new? What are the rules around things like this? We needed to find someone to replace him as soon as possible.
We from the local union also tried to visit families who lost somebody, especially retired union members. There are no official numbers as to how many people lost their jobs due to the tsunami. Rough calculations estimate that maybe 500 or 800 people lost their jobs in Ofunato city (the city was estimated to have about 41,000 inhabitants before the Tsunami); if other coastal cities are added, the number easily reaches 2,000 to 3,000 people.
What is the situation now for the people in the tsunami stricken areas?
Next to the factory where I work, there is a fish factory. A big freezer hit our factory; the freezer broke, and there was the smell of rotten fish for a very long time afterwards. Small fish can still be seen in and around the factory. 100,000 tons of fish were preserved in the factory but were released all over the city of Ofunato during the tsunami. The stench was awful for a long time!
Especially the days just after the tsunami were rough. People tried to break vending machines, not for the money, but for the drinks. They had very little food to eat. My son and I found unopened food floating by near our house. It came from a supermarket somewhere. My son said, “Look dad, we have food here.” And I answered, “No son, this is not right, we have not paid for it, and it doesn’t belong to us.” It is like stealing from the supermarket. But we did not have the choice. We took the food, and I still feel guilty about it.
Those who now live in temporary housing and are well enough to work are helping with the clean-up.
I have been lucky. My family is OK, my house is OK, and the employment contract is still there.
What happens now to the business in the region?
Companies in the tsunami stricken area can get employment adjustment allowance that covers 60-80% of the salaries of the employees until the factory is in such a state it can be reopened again.
The plywood factory where I work, for example, counts on starting its production again in January or February 2012. The factory was washed away. Some machines are still there, but demand some three billion Yen in maintenance. It took us more than a week after the disaster to gain access to the factory.
After the tsunami, the first step was to clean up the factory and the next step to relocate the plywood that floated away and to count the stock. Next step is to see what machinery can still be used or needs to be replaced.
Employees from the factory have been walking all over Ofunato, trying to locate logs and plywood from the factory. The logs are mainly cedar wood.
Because the wood is now mouldy, it needs to be cleaned up. There is also the problem of getting the approval of the agriculture standards since the wood has been wet.
The problems we have at my work place are quite typical for most of the industries in the region.
How about your house and your family?
When I finally reached my house on the day of the tsunami, I was happy to see that my wife and son were doing fine. The teacher in my son’s school urged him to bring a female friend from school with him home. The teacher sent the children home in groups so they could look after each other. She stayed the night, and the next day I took on the task of bringing the girl home. No roads, rubble and houses, cars and trees everywhere.
What I saw on that day was so shocking I can’t even begin to describe. Unfortunately, we also discovered that the mother of the girl had died in the disaster.
Already at 7 p.m. the same day, five hours after the tsunami, the water started to retreat. I was so lucky: the water stopped just metres from my house.
A lot of people in the area are still severely shocked and damaged by the disasters. They react every time there is an earthquake, and the fear of tsunamis comes instantly. There have been so many aftershocks, especially in the beginning. People have started walking different routes just to avoid the worst tsunami-stricken areas.
Interview by Kristin Blom from the ITUC …Back to top
27 October 2011
The recession threatening the entire European economy might further darken the picture in the coming months. It is in this context that BWI Committee on Europe was held in Madrid Spain on 21 October 2011 to extend solidarity with Spanish affiliates and workers in these difficult times. Workers are paying a very heavy bill in terms of job losses, precarious work and wage dumping. “It is only the implementation of an alternative economic and social policy, based on solidarity of the rich with the poor, of capital with labour, of the “surplus countries” with the “deficit countries”, that can lift Europe out of the current impasse and re-open the road to a “social Europe”,” said Vasco Pedrina, vice-president for Europe. A resolution was adopted on a joint project to overcome the Euro crisis and to restart the development of a Social Europe.
The Committee asked the European authorities as well as the employers in the construction, timber and forestry industries to stop economically and socially destructive policies and to consider the “New Deal” programme. The programme includes among others:
All Pan-European affiliates are now encouraged to raise awareness among their members on this New Deal and to engage in the necessary political lobbying of their political authorities and participate in national and European trade union mobilisations in the next period.
The committee also examined the Pan European Action Plan 2012-2013 and discussed the ongoing EURO 2012 and BWI Connect Europe migration network campaigns. Mercedes Landolfi, President of the European Women’s Committee, also reported on the European Women’s Committee.
You can download the Resolution here from BWI’s website. …Back to top
24 October 2011
Today, over 2,600 workers in both the public and private sectors have been dismissed, and hundred more have been suspended from public sector jobs. The government has failed to reinstate the vast majority of these workers. Some of those few that have been reinstated have had to agree to unacceptable, indeed illegal, conditions to get their jobs back, including agreeing not to join the union. The dismissals have not yet stopped. Workers continue to be suspended or fired for their actual or suspected participation in trade union and political activity earlier this year. Numerous trade union leaders are also now facing criminal prosecution. On 17 October 2011, all Global Unions sent a joint letter to the Crown Prince of Bahrain calling for an end to repression against trade unionists.
All workers wrongfully dismissed must be unconditionally reinstated, criminal charges dropped and legal reforms repealed. The joint letter urges the Prince to begin a serious process of reform and reconciliation which responds to the demands of Bahraini trade unions and civil society, including the full guarantee of free association and expression.
The support of the international trade union movement is vital to help protect the workers who are courageously carrying out trade union activity in that country.
The letter can be found here. …Back to top
24 October 2011
“We need a more complex strategy to address the issue of organising in multinationals and infrastructure projects since we have many players multinationals, governements, capital and also FIFA,” said Ambet Yuson, general secretary of the BWI at a special conference-debate on “Organizing in multinational companies and infrastructure projects” hosting 230 trade unionists from 42 countries in Madrid Spain on 19-20 October 2011. Among the items discussed international framework agreements between trade unions and companies, global company networks and infrastructure projects such as the Panama Canal, road and railway corridors in the Balkans, the 2012 EURO Football Cup in Poland and the Ukraine, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and hydroelectric power stations in Africa.
BWI has developed many tools to engage multinationals in social dialogue and sign global agreements promoting workers’ rights. Participants debated the effective use of BWI 16 global company agreements, as well as global networks and global campaigns. Discussions highlighted the various campaigns conducted by the BWI, including the one against IKEA in the USA, which succeeded in compelling the giant Swedish furniture manufacturer IKEA Swedwood to recognise its workers in Danville, Virginia, as it does in IKEA’s home country, Sweden. And against Holcim, where BWI is calling for an end to the discrimination against its temporary workers in India, most of whom have been employed by the Swiss cement multinational for many years.
In developing countries more and more public infrastructure projects are employing thousands of workers. Many of these projects are funded by multilateral development banks. BWI and its affiliates have been using them to engage with the companies and organise many workers like on the Panama Canal, road and railway corridors in the Balkans, projects linked to the 2012 EUO Football Cup and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and hydroelectric power stations in Africa. Partcipants looked at ways to achieve better union representation and collective bargaining agreemements on these sites by using labour clauses in public contracts, inter-trade union cooperation and other tools.
There was also a debate on multinationals from emerging economies based in Brazil, China and South Africa. Participants discussed how to enhance trade union influence.
Different sessions were also held on strategies for Latin America, Spain and Portugal; the cement industry; the building of trade union alliances within global companies in the construction industries, including Skanska, ACS-Hochtief, Odebrecht, and FCC, and in the wood and forestry industries, including IKEA-Swedwood, Arauco in Latin America, Rai-Ply in East Africa, and Samling RHG in South-East Asia.
In his concluding remarks, Yuson stressed: “Our objective is to have thousands of collective agreeements and members and use international framework agreements as one of our tools to reach this objective. We also need militancy within European Works Council to raise issues in order to influence the multinationals we have agreements with.” Yuson concluded: ” We have to build our capacity on online solidarity campaigns to mobilise quickly, build greater alliances and networks and elaborate new ways of organising.”
You can download the following presentations from BWI’s website: