Around The World

with Harry Knowles*

Employee Free Choice Act:
The AFL-CIO is demonstrating rigorous support for the Employee Free Choice Act, which has the bipartisan support of a coalition in Congress. If enacted the legislation would enable working people to bargain for better benefits, wages and working conditions by restoring workers' freedom to choose for themselves whether to join a union. It would also:

• Remove current obstacles to employees who want collective bargaining.
• Guarantee that workers who can choose collective bargaining are able to achieve a contract.
• Allow employees to form unions by signing cards authorizing union representation.

The AFL-CIO is under no illusion that those in US political and economics circles who oppose workers' rights, freedoms and advancement will strenuously fight the Bill and expect their opponents to spend up to $US300 million on the campaign .


EU Level:
ECJ rulings on retirement age and discrimination law:
The issue of retirement in relation to age and gender discrimination was raised in two recent cases at the European Court of Justice (ECJ). In the first case, the ECJ ruled justifiable reasons for dismissing workers on account of their age can exist and that this would not necessarily infringe EU law. However, in the second case, the court ruled that different pension ages based on gender and length of service violates the principle of equal treatment.

United Kingdom:
Equality Bill targets gender pay gap:
Earlier this year, the Brown Government introduced an Equality Bill which, as well as seeking to harmonise existing equality legislation, proposed new measures including mandatory gender pay reporting requirements if employers fail to do this voluntarily. Employer organisations criticised the pay reporting proposal, whilst trade unions expressed disappointment that the government had not taken bolder steps to close the gender pay gap.

Gender pay gap in financial services twice the UK average: A report published in April 2009 by the UK's Equality and Human Rights Commission revealed a significant gender pay gap in the UK financial services sector and that this gap was wider in the highest paid positions. The Trades Union Congress has expressed concerns that an ‘impenetrable glass ceiling' still exists in this sector.


Economic crisis leads to extensive use of work-sharing:
The practice of work-sharing in Denmark is growing extensively, as a means of mitigating the significant increase in redundancies during 2009 as a consequence the economic recession. The social partners and companies have called for more flexible rules concerning work-sharing; however, the government has demonstrated a reluctance to address this. Although the government issued ‘Four initiatives to support employees threatened by unemployment' in March of this year, its action has generated considerable scepticism.


Controversy over measures to promote employment of older people:
The social security finance bill, adopted at the end of November 2008, included several new measures for keeping older people in employment. These provisions resonate with decisions made by the French government in the framework of recent social partner discussions on pension reform. However, the new legislation has met with strong negative reactions from most of the social partners, the political opposition parties and other relevant actors.

The boards of the National Employed Workers' Sickness Insurance Fund (Caisse nationale d'assurance maladie des travailleurs salariés, CNAMTS), the National Child Benefit Fund (Caisse nationale d'allocations familiales, CNAF) and CNAV all reported negatively on the draft Bill.

The amendment on the possibility of continuing to work until 70 years led to an outcry from trade unions and political opposition parties. However, the government considered that it was a matter of putting an end to ‘guillotine' retirement – that is, unilateral employer-instigated retirement at a certain age


Decline in trade union membership lowest in recent years:
According to the latest figures from the Confederation of German Trade Unions, the membership levels of its affiliated trade unions dropped by 1.1% in 2008. This is the lowest decrease since 1992–1993. The German Metalworkers' Union reported no decline and the German Union of Education even managed to increase its membership by 1.2% compared with 2007. The overall share of young trade union members increased slightly, from 7.2% in 2007 to 7.4% in 2008.


ILO Calls for an End to Repression of Migrants:
Earlier this year the Governing Body of the ILO endorsed a report made by the Committee on Freedom of Association supporting the right of migrant workers in Korea, regardless of status, to form and join labor unions and calling for an end to measures such as targeted arrests and deportations aimed at disrupting their union activities. This report was in response to a complaint submitted by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) concerning the case of the Migrants Trade Union and is a crucial victory for migrant workers seeking to organize, not only in Korea, but also around the world


Harry Knowles, Work and Organisational Studies, Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Sydney.

Posted 23 July 2009

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