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|WITH THE DEMISE OF THE ON-OFF DEAL BETWEEN US car manufacturer General Motors and a Russian-Canadian consortium who offered to buy GM’s European subsidiary Opel, unions, governments and workers were anxious to find out where the inevitable axe was now going to fall. Their wait has now ended as Opel executive Nick Reilly announced the closure of the Antwerp factory and an intention to cut 8.300 jobs, 4,000 of them in Germany. Angry IG Metall union official, Armin Schild denounced the move as ‘declaration of war’ on European workers while John Monks, General Secretary of the ETUC described it as ‘is a massive blow to manufacturing in Belgium’. Peter Scherrer of the European Metalworkers’ Federation explained that he believed the decision to be a political one as the ‘small SUV, which GM promised would be manufactured in Antwerp, is now going to be produced in South Korea’. Also thought to be part of the company’s restructuring plan is a €2.7 billion support package from various European governments and an agreement on wage cuts with trade unions amounting to €265 million a year. So far the European Commission has not received any notification of financial support from a Member State and no deal on wage cuts is likely to be forthcoming as long as factories are closed according to German works council leader Rainer Einenkel: ‘We will not pay for the closure of Antwerp’ he promised. Meanwhile, across Europe, two other ailing vehicle manufacuters, one of them another GM subsidiary, seemed to be about to go down the alternative route of takeover.||
|Agreement was reached to sell Saab to Spyker, a Dutch luxury car maker. After months of negotiation, which at times involved otherbidders including Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone,the deal eventually included a €400 million loan from the European Investment Bank backed by the Swedish government as well as a payment of $74 million to former owner GM. Saab’s 3,400 workers were expected to be joined by others in dependent companies to make a total of 8,000 redundancies, some in factories in Germany and Austria but mainly around its headquarters in southern Sweden, as GM were already winding down its operations when the car-maker was bought. Down the road in Gothenburg Sweden’s other volume car manufacturer Volvo looks likely to be saved, this time by a Chinese company. Geely started out making parts for refrigerators but now operates six car factories across China as well as plants in the Ukraine, Russia and Indonesia. It is reported to be willing to pay Volvo’s current owner Ford between $1.5 and $2 billion by May. Unions representing the 22,000 workers travelled to Shanghai to ask Geely management about fears that new technology will not be shared with the Chinese company for fear of it being copied. ‘We also want a promise that development and manufacturing will remain in Gothenburg’ added Mikael Sällström, chair of Volvo’s IF Metall chapter.|
German Opel workers support their Belgian colleagues while Saab fans protest in Detroit
IN BULGARIA TRADE UNIONS HAVE RECENTLY EXPERIENCED varying degrees of success in negotiation with employers and the government. Disputes in the railway and paper sectors were satisfactorily resolved while a Turkish road-building firm proved more obdurate. The economic slump was blamed by both the National Railway Infrastructure Company and paper-making firm Kostenetz for non-payment of wages which had led to workers’ families being without water and electricity, according to the forestry union federation. After strikes at both enterprises, back payments were secured as well as other benefits such as food vouchers and pension insurance. Employees of Mapa Cengiz constructing a motorway near Sofia found that they were expected to work extra hours and on national holidays with no additional wages while sanitary facilities and health and safety precautions were non-existent. After forming a union last August they were subjected to harassment by the company which was eventually found to have committed over 80 violations by the Labour Inspectorate. Further accidents in November resulted in serious injury and the involvement of the Prime Minister as the project was 75% financed with EU money.
SLOVAKIAN UNIONS FOUND THEMSELVES CLOSER to government than the employers when discussions on increasing the minimum wage extended over the summer. They asked for 9%, similar to that agreed in 2008 but employers’ organisations, citing a fall in the demand for labour as unemployment increases in the economic downturn, wanted to maintain the rate at the 2008 level or even to decrease it to that of 2007. The mechanism agreed for calculating the rate indicated a rise of 8.1% taking it to €319.50 a month. This increase was therefore proposed by the government but rejected by the National Union of Employers. The Confederation of Trade Unions, KOZ-SR, accepted and the Federation of Employers’Associations counter-proposed 3-4%. Meanwhile, due to the economic slump, salaries in the public sector look set for much lower rises than in recent years. Three union confederations have agreed on a 1% increase compared with the 5-7% enjoyed by public servants and 8% for civil servants in 2009.
SPANISH AIRLINE IBERIA, WHICH PLANS TO merge with British Airways, has managed to open talks with unions on a cuts package after agreeing a deal on pay for cabin crew whose rates had been frozen since 2005. After strikes in October and November had led to the cancellation of around 800 flights, the company settled for a 4% rise for 2009. Now they will press the two largest independent trade unions in the sector to agree to a salary freeze for the next two years, a halt to recrutiment until 2012, voluntary redundancies and compulsory early retirement.
THE EFFECTS OF THE ECONOMIC slump in Europe came closer to home for the EU authorities in December and January when staff employed by the European Commission, Parliament, Council and Court of Justice staged a strike. Although an increase of 3.7% was awarded according to a long standing mechanism which takes into account salary rises in eight EU Member States and the costs of living in Brussels, EU governments felt that it was too large when workers were taking pay cuts and losing their jobs all over the continent. They voted to grant a rise of 1.85%. The six unions representing the staff held a demonstration outside the Council of Ministers building and promised more actions to come. Renzo Carpenito, local rep. for the FFPE union, said, ‘The personnel here work very hard, often late into the evening, to solve European problems’. Simon Coates, of the same union expressed satisfaction with the number of people attending the demonstration, adding that ‘most desks in the building were empty’. However there may be a white knight riding to the rescue of the staff as the European Commission regard the governments’ decision as illegal and plan to challenge it in the European Court of Justice. Although this judgment will be complicated by the fact that the court staff are also in line for the pay rise, the Commission would appear to be on firm ground as they won a similar ruling in 1973.