IMF NewsBriefs No. 11, October 16, 2007

Umicore pledges to respect human and workers’ rights in international agreement on sustainable development.

BELGIUM, September 28, 2007: Umicore, a Belgian metals group specialising in metal technology, chemicals, and catalysts systems, today signed an international framework agreement jointly with the International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF) and the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM). The agreement, initiated by the Belgian union, Centrale Chrétienne du Métal de Belgique (CCMB), is for a four-year period and contains language establishing a joint committee to review and monitor the agreement.

The agreement contains six articles: Human Rights, Working Conditions, Environment, Implementation of Agreement, Monitoring, and Validity of Agreement.

Under Human Rights, Umicore pledges to adhere to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, as well as adherence to International Labour Organisation (ILO) core labour standards, specifically referring to ILO Conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining, and other Conventions regarding child labour, forced labour, and non-discrimination and equal opportunities practices.

Under Working Conditions, the company agrees to ILO Convention 100 on fair and adequate remuneration, and pledges not to compromise on safety and health conditions in any workplace. The Environmental principles include a six-point plan centred on sustainable development issues.

“We are pleased to join with the IMF in establishing global standards with Umicore,” said ICEM general secretary Manfred Warda. “Umicore is a company that crosses into a number of sectors, including those both in ICEM and IMF’s range.”

 “We are confident that both the IMF and ICEM, through our affiliates, will uphold the very best in social practices at Umicore,” said IMF general secretary Marcello Malentacchi.

The framework agreement was co-signed by Belgian labour unions/federations Metaal/FGTB-ABVV, CGSLP-ACLVB, and CSC-ACV, the federation which affiliates CCMB.

Brussels-based Umicore employs 14,000 staff in 35 countries. It began in 1906 as a Belgian mining company in the Congo, and in 2001 changed its name from Union Miniére to Umicore.

copy of the agreement is published on the IMF website.

Collective agreement reached with GM covers more than 400,000 U.S. active workers, retirees and surviving spouses.

USA, October16, 2007: Members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) employed at General Motors’ plants in the U.S. have voted in favour of ratifying a new four-year contract that commits GM to produce new products at existing US facilities and bans plant closings and outsourcing of work for the life of the agreement.

The new agreement was approved by 66 per cent of production workers and 64 per cent of skilled trades workers.

Other contract details include:

  • Workers will receive a $3,000 signing bonus followed by a lump sum bonus of 3% or 4% for each year of the contract in lieu of a wage increase.
  • GM will make about 3,000 temporary employees permanent at the current assembly wage.
  • Retirees will receive both an increase in basic pension benefits and a lump-sum payment in the first year of the agreement.
  • Entry-level workers at GM in non-core job classifications such as material movement, general stores management, and kitting and sequencing, will be paid under a new, lower wage and benefit structure.
  • GM will contribute more than $35 billion to a new Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association (VEBA), to be managed by the UAW, which will establish an independent trust fund to pay retiree health benefits. The trust will cover current retirees and current active workers.
  • GM will contribute $15 million towards the establishment of the National Institute for Health Care Reform, a joint labour-management effort to improve the affordability, accessibility and accountability of the U.S. health care system.

The new contract covers more than 73,000 active workers at GM and more than 269,000 GM retirees and 69,000 surviving spouses. It will expire on Sept. 14, 2011.

The UAW has yet to reach a contract agreement with the other two American automakers, Chrysler and Ford. The union and Chrysler reached a settlement Oct. 10 after a six-hour strike, however the agreement must still win approval from the rank-and-file. Talks with Ford continue.

As November deadline looms, Cochlear workers fighting for union representation are in the spotlight in a new TV ad.

AUSTRALIA, October 16, 2007: Cochlear workers fighting for the right to union representation in Sydney, Australia are the latest group of workers to tell their real stories on camera for a television ad showing the devastating impact the government’s anti-union industrial laws have had on workers.

Produced by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) the ad debuted before the television show Meet The Press on October 14 and began airing in metropolitan New South Wales the following day.

“The company wants us on individual contracts, but we want the union to represent us,” says one of the Cochlear workers to the camera. “We’ve been told, if we don’t like the contract, don’t show up for work.”

For the past decade, 260 Cochlear workers who manufacture state-of-the-art hearing devices have been represented by the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union. This year, the company, Cochlear Ltd, initiated a union-busting drive and used Australia’s unfair workplace laws to force employees into a non-union agreement, conditions the workers have repeatedly rejected. These unfair working conditions will come into effect on the 6th of November.

“The laws have taken away our right to choose,” adds a Cochlear worker in the 30 second ad.

The IMF and PSI have launched an international campaign in support of Cochlear workers and their right to be represented by the AMWU.  Find out more information about this campaign.

The international mission aims to bring about health and safety improvements for Indian ship breaking workers.

UK, October 15, 2007: A delegation of Indian trade unions, including the Steel, Metal and Engineering Workers Federation (SMEWFI), will travel to the UK to meet with union officials from the GMB and tour a local shipyard.

The mission, organised by the GMB, is an effort to improve health and safety standards in Indian ship breaking yards by providing the opportunity for Indian union leaders representing ship breaking workers to learn more about best practices standards in shipyards in other parts of the world.

Shipyards in India are notorious for being unregulated and lacking even the most basic health and safety protections for the workers. There, it is common practice for men, women and children to dismantle equipment by hand, often in bare feet, exposing themselves to a number of toxic materials, including lead, mercury and asbestos.

The delegation will visit the A&P Tyne yard in Hebburn and discuss health and safety procedures the company follows when repairing and refitting ships on the Tyne. Yards in the UK follow strict regulations to protect workers, the environment and the surrounding community.

“A&P Tyne has decades of experience working in the shipbuilding industry and with input from GMB safety representatives its health and safety record is outstanding. The yard provides the perfect showcase for our Indian colleagues to see best practices,” said Tom Brennan, regional secretary for the GMB. “This visit will equip our Indian colleagues with useful knowledge to go back to the Indian Government and employers to fight for better working conditions,” Brennan added.

The delegation will also meet with Ian McFall from the trade union law firm Thompsons Solicitors to discuss the dangers of asbestos exposure, the devastating effect this has had on communities in the North East, and the need for prevention and compensation.

GMB and SMEWFI are both affiliates of the International Metalworkers’ Federation.

IMF affiliate REPAM could soon face additional difficulties with organizing workers in Belarus, if the new draft Law of Trade Unions is adopted by Lukashenka’s regime.

BELARUS, October 15, 2007:  The Belarusian Parliament is ready to discuss a new Law on Trade Unions in a move that will give a monopoly on power to government-sponsored trade unions in Belarus.

According to a public declaration by the deputy head of Belarusian President Aleksandr G. Lukashenka’s Administration, Natalia Petkevich, a new bill is already developed and will be submitted for consideration by the Parliament during its autumn session, which started on October 2, 2007.

According to REPAM, an affiliate of the International Metalworkers’ Federation, the new bill will only allow trade unions to affiliate workers from similar industrial branches and of similar professions. However the law does not provide a clear indication of who and on what basis the level of similarity is determined, thus creating the possibility of misuse and misinterpretation of the new law. Gennadiy Fedynitch, REPAM chairman, said the new law will deprive workers from joining a union of their choice.

In addition, the draft law also contains a requirement for trade union organizations to have a minimum number of members when seeking national trade union status. At present, REPAM does not qualify for the specified size and is concerned that the new law is a targeted attack to strip the union of its legal status.

REPAM has been a vocal critic of the Belarusian government’s horrible record on human and trade union rights and has filed a complaint against the government with the International Labour Organization.

In a letter to President Lukashenka, IMF general secretary Marcello Malentacchi urged the Belarusian leader to end his government’s attack on independent trade unions in Belarus and called on the president to “start respecting human and trade union rights in accordance with international obligations assumed by Belarus.”

Unions in Belarus contend that the new law violates international norms and standards and is in breach of the Belarusian constitution.

The new company will be the world’s largest zinc group employing 4,500 workers.

AUSTRALIA/BELGIUM, October 12, 2007: Zinifex of Australia and Umicore of Belgium have created the world’s largest producer of zinc by combining their smelting and alloying operations. Nyrstar, the name of the joint venture, will employ 4.500 workers.

The company will be incorporated in Belgium with its operational headquarters in London. Nyrstar will surpass Korea Zinc and Xstrata as the biggest zinc company with an annual production of 1.2 million tons of zinc as well as 250,000 tons of lead.

Umicore, which used to be called Union Minière, was built more than 100 years ago on the copper resources of the former Belgian Congo, and has in recent years changed its strategy towards precious and specialty metals (e.g. take-over of the German OMG, a world leader in car catalysts).  Umicore employs 14,000 workers in 35 countries and has a strong trade union presence (more than 80% of the staff and almost all of the blue-collar workers are unionised), and a well-established social dialogue with a longstanding European Works Council.

In September the International Metalworkers’ Federation, together with the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM) signed the first International Framework Agreement for a Belgium multinational company.

PGFTU asks international trade union movement to support their effort to rebuild a democratic and strong trade union able to guarantee respect of metalworkers’ rights.

PALESTINE, October 12, 2007:  The General Secretary of the IMF went to Nablus in the first week of October to meet with the leadership of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU). The visit was meant to express the solidarity of the IMF to its affiliate metalworkers’ union in Palestine.

The lives of all Palestinian workers and their families are severely hit by the increasing restrictions on movements of people and the dramatic isolation of the Gaza strip and the West Bank. As a consequence unemployment has reached the level of 55 per cent in Nablus (from an 11 per cent before the year 2000), and possibly more than 65 per cent in Gaza. Most productive activities – particularly in metal working industries – are paralysed or severely undermined by restrictions on the import of raw materials and components. Unless developments take place in the peace process with the lifting of barriers and the provision of work permits in Israel there do not seem to be real prospects for development and unemployment will remain the key problem for Palestinian workers.

In Gaza the present situation makes the protection of the workers’ basic needs extremely difficult. Workers lack any assistance on fundamental issues such as health insurance. The metalworkers of PGFTU are re-organising their structures to overcome the obstacles linked to the present political situation. Their main request to the international trade union movement is for support in their effort to rebuild a democratic and strong trade union able to guarantee respect of the metalworkers’ fundamental rights and minimum wages.

An issue of special concern for PGFTU is the lack of any juridical protection for Palestinian workers employed in Israel where they can only be represented by Israeli lawyers, with costs that are unaffordable for them. For this reason their key priority remains the implementation of the agreement signed with the Israeli trade union congress, Histadrut, in March 1995. They would welcome the assistance of the IMF in setting a clear agenda for dialogue with the metalworkers’ union of Histadrut around the fundamental issues of concern for Palestinian workers.

Like other Global Union Federations, the IMF is committed to support the Palestinian trade union movement to defend workers right, improve organising and employment conditions, create jobs and strengthen democratic unions.

It was agreed that the IMF will assist its Palestinian affiliate in drawing up a strategic plan for metalworkers and will appeal to the solidarity of metalworkers‘ unions in all regions in support of their Palestinian sisters and brothers.

The IMF is discussing with the metalworkers of Histadrut the scheduling of a delegation of the IMF Executive Committee to visit the metalworkers of both countries to help re-open a dialogue between them in the interest of all their members.

CNM/CUT and CNTM/FS to monitor conditions at suppliers of multinationals with IFAs and approach leading Brazilian multinationals about signing an IFA.

BRAZIL, October10, 2007: IMF director of union building, Fernando Lopes, met representatives of multinational companies in Brazil that have signed International Framework Agreements (IFAs) in São Paulo, on October 1- 2.

The meeting discussed how these agreements are being implemented by the companies. In addition, the IMF-affiliated metalworkers’ confederations of the two union centrals, CNM/CUT and CNTM/FS, signed a cooperation agreement to monitor conditions at the suppliers of multinational companies with IFAs. Suppliers of these companies have a contractual obligation to comply with all the provisions of these agreements.

Twelve foreign companies operating in Brazil have signed IFAs, in which they agree to respect human rights and core International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions. Companies and their suppliers who want to be seen as “socially responsible” must take steps to ensure, for example, that they do not:

  • use child labour (ILO Convention 138)
  • use slave or forced labour (ILO Conventions 29 and 105)
  • discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion, nationality, physical condition, age or sexual orientation (ILO Convention 111)
  • hinder freedom of association and collective bargaining (ILO Conventions 87, 98, 135)

At the meeting CNM/CUT and CNTM/FS also agreed to work together in approaching six Brazilian multinational companies about signing an IFA with the IMF.

The new Swedish union will represent 500,000 members making it the largest union in the private sector.

SWEDEN, October 4, 2007: The Salaried Employees’ Union (HTF) has merged with the Swedish Union of Clerical and Technical Employees in Industries (Sif) to form Unionen, the largest union in the private sector with approximately half a million members.

The new union, approved by HTF and Sif congresses on October 3, 2007, will take affect on January 1, 2008, becoming the country’s second largest union representing members in 66,000 workplaces throughout Sweden. Unionen will be comprised of 45,000 elected representatives and operate regional offices at 27 locations around the country.

Mari-Ann Krantz, currently president of Sif, will become the president of Unionen until the new trade union’s congress is held in October 2008 and Bengt Olsson, now president of HTF, will become Unionen vice president. Stefan Carlsson, Sif, Cecilia Fahlberg, HTF, and Peter Hellberg, Sif, will become Unionen deputy vice presidents.

Sif is an affiliate of the International Metalworkers’ Federation.

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