Around The World

with Harry Knowles*

United States
Unions in Michigan have failed to gain voter support for legislative protection of workers rights. A proposal to enshrine the rights of public sector workers in the state Constitution has been defeated in a referendum in November. The defeat is likely to lead to pressure by the Michigan legislature to enact a 'right to work' law.

The worker rights proposal came in the wake of a series of battles in a number of States (Wisconsin and Ohio were cases in point) against Republican endorsed measures by the Administrations to restrict collective bargaining and diminish union power, particularly in the public sector.

Michigan's Republican Governor and business interests claimed that the referendum proposal would have eroded business confidence and undermine the authority of the governor and the legislature. (

Union density is presently down to 11%, a trend likely to intensify with almost half of the 50 states enacting anti-union legislation. (

United Kingdom

After 3 years in the courts, the UK Supreme Court ruled in late October that more than 170 women previously employed in low paid positions with Birmingham City Council and were paid less than their low paid male colleagues were entitled to have their discrimination case heart by the courts.

In essence, the decision means that historical equal pay cases can be heard in civil courts. These cases were formerly confined to employment tribunals which could only had jurisdiction in cases brought within six months of leaving employment.

The solicitor for the women, Chris Benson said:
"This has been a huge result for our clients, but I also know that it will be an important decision for many other underpaid women all over the country".


Public workers in Swaziland have been on strike since June over a pay dispute After demanding a pay rise of 4.5 per cent, well below the rate of inflation in Swaziland and a mere fraction of the 30 per cent pay rise that Swaziland's parliamentarians have awarded themselves.

The Government has responded with dismissals, riot police and armed forces' intimidation and beatings, tear gas and rubber bullets. Twelve peacefully demonstrating unionists, including members of the Swaziland National Association of Civil Servants (SNACS) and the Swaziland Nurses Association (SNA) were hospitalized in July after being fired upon by police.

Since August, the government has also dismissed hundreds of teachers across the country, including the entire executive of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT). (

Striking Indonesian workers won an impressive victory after more than 2 million of them took to the streets in major cities on 3 October. The strike ended when Indonesian Manpower and Transmigration Minister Muhaimin Iskandar said a regulation on outsourcing system of recruiting workers will be issued by the end of this month. The strike crippled production in a number of industrial centers.

The workers demanded abolition of outsourcing system, better pay and health security.

Under the new regulation, the outsourcing system may not be used for workers for the essential part of work. It can only be used for non essential part of the business including cleaning service, security, catering and mining supporting jobs. (

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

Posted 22 November 2012

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