IMF NewsBriefs No. 07, July 03, 2007

KMWU conducts strikes and protests against the Korea U.S. Free Trade Agreement, which was signed on June 30.

SOUTH KOREA, July 02, 2007: Members of the Korean Metalworkers’ Union (KMWU) kicked off a series of rallies against the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (Kor-US FTA) in central Seoul and regionally on June 29. In Seoul 20,000 workers, farmers and students, under the umbrella of the Korean Trade Union Confederation (KCTU) and the Korean Alliance against the Kor-US FTA (KoA), voiced their opposition to the agreement, which was signed by Korea and the U.S. on Saturday June 30.

The Kor-US FTA, which is yet to be ratified by the US Congress and Korean unicameral National Assembly, will pit both Korean and U.S. workers against one another in a race to the bottom, while enabling capital mobility and financial speculation. The agreement fails to include meaningful protection of fundamental workers’ rights and is based on a system where economic growth is achieved through the destruction of good jobs, increased casualisation of employment, and by undermining universal health care and other public services.

Prior to the rallies on Friday, the KMWU held a series of regional and national strikes against the Kor-US FTA, expressing its serious concerns about the impact the FTA will have on its members. Employers have since filed damages claims for economic losses, resulting in the government investigating 67 KMWU officers and issuing 27 arrest warrants against KMWU leaders, including its president, first vice president, general secretary, and 14 regional branch chairs.

On June 28, 110,000 KMWU members across the country downed tools, including KMWU Hyundai Motors Branch union members in Ulsan who halted production at 12.30. Workers at Hyundai Motors had been the focus of attacks by government, employers and press for striking against the FTA. To avoid a violent crackdown at a mass rally, the workers gathered in nine areas throughout the plant complex for smaller rallies near their lines.

About 9,000 KMWU members struck on June 25 in Chungcheong and North Jolla regions, and over 20,300 workers in Seoul Metropolitan region and Kwangju/South Jolla province took strike action on June 26, and 38,000 workers went on strike in Yeongnam region on Wednesday.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC), joined with the IMF and several of its affiliates and others in sending letters of solidarity to the KMWU on the occasion of its first national strike since becoming an industrial union.

IMF and affiliate AMWU signs an International Framework Agreement with Brunel, a global recruitment and service provider.

GLOBAL, July 03, 2007: The International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF) and the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) have signed an international framework agreement (IFA) with Brunel, a Netherlands-based international recruitment and service provider specialised in deploying skilled workers in the fields of engineering, ICT, legal, finance and insurance and banking.

By signing the agreement, Brunel formalised its commitment to ensuring fundamental human rights by working with labour and the IMF. The agreement, which initially applies to Brunel’s operations which fall within the scope of the IMF, includes specific reference to the core labour Conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, the right to equal pay, no forced or child labour and no discrimination.

The IFA provides for abstention from anti-union discrimination and commits on working against corruption. Brunel also commits to equal opportunity recruitment practices, continuous skills development and to ensuring that remuneration is better than, or at least equal to, conditions set forth in national legislation and collective bargaining agreements. Brunel also expects suppliers and subcontractors to adhere to the ILO conventions, with non-compliance resulting in sanctions, including withdrawal from future contracts.

The agreement came in response to the Howard Government’s use of temporary migrant labour to undercut wages and conditions in Australia. “Under the Howard Government, temporary migrant labour has been terribly exploited through large agency fees, excessive costs for poor quality housing, dismissal when workers become injured, threat of deportation if they join the union and poor wages and conditions,” explains AMWU president Julius Roe.

“While strongly supporting immigration on the basis that migrant workers have full citizenship and other rights, the AMWU has sought to expose the plight of these migrant workers and tried to reach collective agreements with companies that seek to use temporary migrant workers,” he said.

“The agreement with Brunel ensures that temporary migrant workers are only used where absolutely necessary and that they receive training, equal wages and conditions and union and collective agreement protection. Given the international nature of employment in this sector, an international agreement with the support of the IMF was essential,” he said.

A copy of the agreement is published on the IMF website.

Mobilizing workers against precarious work and communicating with trade union films and journals were just some of the topics discussed by delegates at the recent IMF Communicators’ Forum.

SWITZERLAND, June 22, 2007: Mobilising people against precarious work was one of the key issues considered by the 40 participants of the IMF Communicators’ Forum held in Geneva on June 20 and 21. At the meeting, delegates heard reports on how precarious employment increasingly affects metalworkers in many parts of the world and debated how trade unions can best mobilize people against precarious work.

Delegates were then issued with a challenge to submit photos and short texts that show the faces and tell the stories of precarious workers in the metal sectors in their country. Details of the Precarious Work Photo/Journalism challenge can be found on the IMF website here.

Earlier in the meeting, Elizabeth Lukin from Essential Media Communications reported on the strategy and effectiveness of the Australian trade union movement’s “Your Rights at Work” campaign, which includes extensive media relations efforts, television advertising and grass-roots activism.

Using short films as a medium to communicate with trade union members and others on trade union issues was included in the meeting’s agenda and was followed by a special evening presentation of Labour Film Shorts at a local cinema.

A lively discussion was also held on trade union journals and on the future of trade union access to mainstream news media. Delegates also provided feedback on revitalizing the IMF quarterly journal, Metal World.

Delegates of IMF affiliates in 17 countries from every region around the world participated in the meeting, along with communication representatives from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ International (ICEM), Building Workers’ International (BWI), International Transport workers Federation (ITF) and the European Metalworkers’ Federation (EMF).

Rheinmetall management refuses to meet with the International Metalworkers’ Federation on the implementation of the international framework agreement.

GERMANY, June 19, 2007: On June 12-13, 2007 union representatives from Rheinmetall facilities and union officials from Austria, Brazil, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland met in Neckarsulm, Germany, to discuss implementation of the Principles of Social Responsibility (International Framework Agreement) agreed between Rheinmetall, the IMF and the European Works Council.

In spite of the IMF’s and IG Metall’s endeavours to open a dialogue in good faith with the company on IFA’s implementation, management refused to support the IMF and IG Metall in organising this meeting and addressing the participants.

In an article published by the German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau, Jürgen Peters, President of the IMF and IG Metall criticized this lack of support as “a breach of the agreement concluded”. He considered that management had violated democratic rules of the game and showed itself to be “contemptible”. A copy of the article (in German) can be seen by clicking here.  

The meeting provided an opportunity for an exchange of information on the current situation at several locations of the corporation and for establishing an international network and a global communication platform for workers and unions within Rheinmetall. The Brazilian representatives reported in particular serious breaches concerning health and safety standards at the Rheinmetall plant in Nova Odessa, São Paulo and urged IMF to intervene with management. It was agreed that the IMF jointly with IG Metall and the EWC would seek to approach management again in an effort to initiate a constructive dialogue on implementation of the Agreement at the company’s facilities and its supply chain throughout the world.

Rheinmetall is a German-based a manufacturer of automotive components, weapons equipment and electronics. The framework agreement was signed in late 2003 and covers about 25,000 employees at more than 20 production facilities around the world. More information on the IFA can been seen here.  

A national public service strike of around one million public service workers took place in South Africa, June 13.

SOUTH AFRICA, June 18, 2007: After eight months of negotiations between unions and government without reaching any agreement on demands, public service unions went on strike on June 13.

The strike involved municipal workers, taxi and bus drivers, and electricity and cleaning staff, officials from border posts and airports, teachers, nurses and other court servants.

Workers demands included:

  • 12 per cent wage increase
  • Reform of pay structures
  • Medical Aid increase
  • Better recognition of their upgrading of qualifications
  • General review of condition of services

According to the Public Service Administration Department, the government put on the table an immediate 7.21 per cent increase and a rise next year. In addition the government offer included increases to bring salaries of nurses and professionals closer to those of their private sector counterparts. Nurses and lawyers would see this increase under the current proposals from July 1. School teachers and principals salaries would be adjusted from January 1 next year and other education workers from April next year. Some categories of workers will get this additional increase from July 1 next year and other in 2009.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) supported the strike. A special Central Committee appealed to its members working night and afternoon shifts to participate in the march. This was in spite of labour legislation restrictions on secondary strike action. The union also urged members who were not forbidden from participating in the strike to hold protests at lunch time. The media reported on violence and intimidation during the strike and unions complained about the harsh treatment by police during picketing.

The public service strike mainly affected the education and health sectors leading to the closure of most schools and obliging the army to provide emergency cover in hospitals.

Issue focuses on Zimbabwean workers and building sustainable unions in Africa.

GENEVA, June 14, 2007: This issue of Metal World turns our attention to Africa where Zimbabwean metalworkers working full-time, live on the streets unable to afford transportation home.

In the days leading up to a national stay away on April 3 and 4, IMF staff moved underground in Zimbabwe interviewing workers and union leadership who were willing to risk their lives for a living wage. This issue’s feature is dedicated to those brave unionists, and provides a first hand account of the shocking daily life of metalworkers teetering on the brink of survival.

Metal World’s Special Report takes a closer look at the IMF’s work on building sustainable unions in Africa and addresses the serious challenges facing these unions. The report argues that sector unions do not have a future in Africa, but rather “workers, their unions and the IMF must focus our resources and efforts into building self-sustainable unions that are not dependant on outside sources of funding and are better able to demand changes that will result in the sustainable development of the region.”

This issue’s news covers Mexico’s partial victory, the first Boeing World Conference, GM-Europe’s day of action, Turkey’s bloody May Day, and much more.

The magazine will soon be getting a new look. Please participate in the IMF Metal World survey at

Metal World is published four times a year and is available free of charge. To be added to the Metal World mailing list, email: Metal World is also available on the IMF website for download.

IUF publishes trade union guide on private equity buyouts–what it is, the dangers it represents to workers and possible strategies to tackle the issue.

GLOBAL, June 10, 2007:  With private equity funds spending over US$725 billion on company buyouts in 2006, the International Union of Food and Agricultural Workers (IUF) has published a booklet entitled “Workers’ Guide to Private Equity.”

The 36 page A5 brochure is aimed at trade unions and their members around the world and sets out in accessible language what private equity is, how it operates and the dangers it represents to workers and unions.

The IUF points to possible strategies in bargaining with the private equity funds who are becoming increasingly significant players as owners and employers.  It explains how a specific political environment of deregulation has made it possible for the funds to expand globally, and how political action can contain the funds.

Available in English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese and Swedish, a pdf of the booklet is available on the IUF website.

Alternatively, single and bulk orders for copies of the booklet can be purchased from the IUF with details on prices available on the IUF website

The IMF works with the IUF and other global union federations on the issue of private equity, including organising a conference on the issue with IUF and Union Network International (UNI) on November 16, 2006. 

The President of the Taubaté Metalworkers Union has received a death threat after a bomb exploded at the union office on Tuesday night.

Brazil, June 07, 2007:  At 10.50 p.m. on the night of Tuesday 5 June, a homemade bomb was thrown at the offices of the Taubaté Metalworkers Union, in Brazil, in a terrorist act.

The bomb exploded against a wall of the building and, fortunately, there were no casualties. However, after the attack, the union president Valmir Marques da Silva, alias Biro Biro, who is also the leader of the Sao Paulo Metalworkers Federation, received a death threat in the form of an anonymous telephone call on Wednesday morning, at approximately 11 a.m.

The telephone call was answered by one of the union’s telephonists. The caller, who did not identify himself, said the bomb was only a warning, and that Biro Biro and his family would be the next target.

The National Confederation of Metalworkers, affiliated to the trade union central CUT, issued a press release expressing its ”repudiation of all acts of violence, especially terrorist attacks such as this one, which recall the times of the dictatorship that terrorised and destroyed the lives of thousands of Brazilian workers.”

The Confederation added that it ”offers its solidarity and total support to our Taubaté colleagues.”

Source: National Confederation of Metalworkers (CNM)

IMF urges Indonesian president to intervene on workers’ behalf.

INDONESIA, June 05, 2007: 1,300 workers from the IMF affiliate, Federasi Serikat Pekerja Metal Indonesia (FSPMI), are fighting PT Livatech to pay outstanding wages of four months salary and termination bonuses, as stipulated under Indonesian labour law.

PT Livatech owner, Mr. Goh Sing Hing, has closed the factory located in Batam, Indonesia and moved to Malaysia. He is refusing to settle any outstanding balances with the workers.

The International Metalworkers’ Federation sent a letter of appeal to the Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Malaysian Prime Minister Mr. Abdulah Badawi, urging them to use their considerable influence to resolve the issue.

“The IMF is deeply concerned for the welfare of the workers and their families, and asks that you urge Mr. Goh Sing Hing to settle all outstanding balances immediately and fairly,” stated Marcello Malentacchi to the heads of state.

The IMF has learned from the FSPMI that PT Livatech has used police and military forces to attack and intimidate workers rather than settle their debts. This is in direct conflict to a decision handed down by the Indonesian labour court ruling that workers receive the four months salary and bonuses.

The FSPMI plans to continue fighting with scheduled demonstrations in front of the presidential palace in Jakarta this month.