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| AFTER A YEAR OF FEVERISH NEGOTIATION, speculation and jockeying for position the giant US-based motor vehicle manufacturer General Motors has announced that it has changed its mind about selling off its European subsidiaries that include Opel in Germany, Vauxhall in the UK and Saab in Sweden. Unions and workers reacted differently in the countries affected, according to what they believed the U-turn meant for jobs. Unite joint General Secretary Tony Woodley said he was ‘absolutely delighted with this news’ and described GM plans as ‘a far better deal for Britain’ than the previous proposal to sell off the company to a Canadian car parts manufacturer and a Russian bank (see our last issue). However German trade unions were less impressed as 15,000 workers walked out at the four Opel plants across the country, fearing that two of them would now close, and Jürgen Rüttgers, leader of the region that includes the Bochum factory, called GM's decision ‘the ugly face of turbo-capitalism’. The company confirmed that they intended to cut the jobs of about 10,000 of their present 54,000 staff in Europe, roughly the same overall number as that proposed by would-be new owners, Magna, if the takeover had gonethrough.
but the Finance Minister disagreed stressing that 'we feel a responsibility toward the people and the plants' whatever the ownership of the company. Regional governments in the areas where the factories are located are also thought to be keener to help. Even the cost of the necessary restructuring is disputed: GM reckon that €3 billion should do it but Armin Schild of the IG Metall union thinks that 'a restructuring that also lays the foundation for future development would cost over 6 billion euros'. For all its improved position and the repayment of government loans the company still lost $1.2 billion in the third quarter of this year and is owned by government and unions in the USA. Despite this the US government is not believed to have been involved in negotiations although German chancellor Angela Merkel wants to consult President Obama on the next moves in the crisis. The reversal of the takeover also affected Russia through the involvement of Sberbank in the proposed new company and its plans to expand into the Russian market. Prime Minister Putin described the American company's approach as 'scornful' and continued 'GM did not warn anyone, did not speak to anyone - despite all the agreements reached and documents signed'.
German demonstrators make clear their views on the future of GM Europe
However it is thought that the GM plan will be harder on Germany. Having already received several about €900 million in aid from the German government the company's executives cited improved business conditions as the reason for GM hanging on to its European branch. Although the company is believed to have paid back some of the loans that it received from both the US and German governments it is not clear how much, if any, further subsidy it will ask for. GM Chairman Ed Whitacre was quoted as assuring the German government that 'If Mrs. Merkel declines help, we will pay for it ourselves' though somecommentators believed it a 'a mystery where GM would get the money for Opel' without subsidy. Later the company stated that financial support would be necessary 'from all stakeholders, including employees and governments'. There have also been contradictory signals from .German politicians as to whether it will get any. The new centre-right coalition Economics Minister took Mr. Whitacre at his word and said that previous pledges of money under the now rejected deal no longer apply
ROMANIAN UNIONS HAVE FORMED a new alliance to fight proposals to re-organise the public sector. Faced with a budget deficit of about 7% of Gross Domestic Product, and the need for loans from the EU and the International Monetary Fund totalling €20 billion, the government opened negotiations on a new salary framework to replace 39 existing laws. A reduction of 40%, to be phased in over the period 2010-2015, was announced by the Minister of Labour. Although it came with a promise that no employees would have their salary reduced during this phase there was dissatisfaction among trade unions over this and other issues such as the elimination of fringe benefits, a compulsory, unpaid 10-day leave, redundancies and working conditions. This was heightened by the government’s intention to get the new laws through parliament without debate. As well as the national union confederations who had been in negotiation, a new Alliance of Budgetary Employees was formed to represent health, education, civil service, police and prison workers amounting to approximately 1.4 million employees. They organised a campaign including a picket of parliament, a one-day general strike, a protest march and a petition. Almost immediately the government resigned due to the loss of a confidence vote in parliament and the resolution of the dispute awaits the election of a new President.
THE POLISH STATE AIRLINE LOT has breached national law and ILO conventions, according to trade unions, in attempting to avoid negotiations on redundancies amounting to 15% of the workforce. Facing union opposition to this and another proposal which would reduce pay and worsen working conditions, management sacked two senior officials and suspended the existing collective agreement. The unions have brought a court action against the company and taken their case to the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) and the European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF) who have launched an international solidarity campaign. Gabriel Mocho, the ITF civil aviation section secretary, commented ‘LOT workers cannot be blackmailed into accepting redundancies. LOT ... should reinstate the dismissed union leaders and start a positive social dialogue so that an agreement can be reached and LOT's survival ensured’.
FINNISH TECHNOLOGY UNIONS HAVE settled for a modest 0.5% pay increase in 2009 in a sector which accounts for 60% of exports and 75% of research investment.. However this was still an advance on the employers’ offer of zero. Worried about loss of jobs in the economic slump, the Metalworkers’ Union agreed that the state of the economy in the second and third years of the deal would determine the outcome of negotiations in the future and that individual companies could opt out of any rise if they could show that employment would be jeopardised.