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ISSUE 57 page 2

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Robin Hood tax gains support despite UK objections as EU targets rating agencies

POWERFUL ALLIES APPEAR TO HAVE BEEN MADE IN THE continuing campaign for a Financial Transactions Tax (FTT), often referred to as a ‘Robin Hood Tax’ (see Issue 54 page 5). After the Council of Ministers seemed to back away from the proposal to institute a very low rate of tax on deals between financial institutions in the EU, the Commissioner for taxation, Algirdas šemeta, came out with a proposal to tax exchanges of shares and bonds at 0.1% and other complicated financial products such as derivatives at 0.01%. Everyday financial activities by citizens and businesses would be exempt and the proceeds of the tax, estimated at €57 billion, would be split between the EU and Member States who would collect them. The European Parliament also reiterated its support, passing a resolution by a large majority callling on World leaders to conclude discussions ‘without further ado’ on the details of an FTT. At the December EU summit both Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy pushed for the tax but Germany and France encountered opposition from the UK which prevented an EU-wide agreement, Citing a perceived threat to the operations of the City of London, the British government vetoed  any Europe-only tax, However the euro+ agreement that was finalised is likely to mean that an FTT is introduced among the 17 Member States that use the euro currency, and most likely to the other 9 Member States, leaving Britain as the odd man out. This move is likely to  cause contradictions for the UK government’s avowed commitment to a Single European Market with consistent rules.
Credit rating agencies are another topic on the reform agenda of the European Commission. They are blamed by bodies such as Europeans for Financial Reform, a coalition of trade unions, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academics and politicians, for  exacerbating the sovereign debt crisis of countries such as Greece and Italy by lowering their assessment of the safety of lending to them. In a joint declaration the organisation criticises the domination of three ‘private, profit-led and democratically unaccountable corporations’ over 97% of the  market which saw their profits increase by 900% in the ten years before 2008. Conflicts of interest: companies choose and pay the agency that rates them, overlapping of ownership: all three agencies have essentially the same shareholders, and over-reliance on them by governments have contributed to their rôle in ‘destabilising the world economy’ according to the declaration. Now the European Commission has proposed measures such as temporary suspension of sovereign debt ratings, forcing companies to change their agency every three years,  banning shareholders from investing in more than one agency and requiring banks and other financial institutions to obtain two ratings and publish the fees that they are paying. The Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament broadly agrees but also wants to see the establishment of an independent European ratings agency ‘whose financing is not dependent on the economic interests of those requesting the rating’ in the words of group leader Martin Schulz.


Bargaining round-up

THE BULGARIAN TOBACCO INDUSTRY HAS LONG been in the public sector. Even when it was turned into a holding company in 1993 after the fall of communism various attempts at privatisation failed, sometimes due to a lack of buyers, sometimes due to a  failure to reach agreement or a court ruling that the proper procedures had not been followed. Now it looks as if a deal has been done, unions are not happy about the one remaining bidder in the process. BT Invest is owned by  Russian bank VTB and suspicions were aroused when tender specifications put forward by the Privatisation Agency seemed to fit the company profile rather too well. Unions held a joint demonstration in the capital Sofia protesting against the lack of transparency and the speed with which the transaction had been concluded. They called it ‘wild, ruthless and in the interests of the only bidder’. The government maintains that the agreement maintains employment levels and guarantees investment.
BUS DRIVERS IN LUXEMBOURG CHOSE A NOVEL form of protest in a long-standing grievance about working conditions. While negotiations went on to renew a collective agreement the drivers arrived at work with beards or wearing green wrist bands. ‘Operation la barbe’ plays on the double meaning of the word in French which can be ‘fed-up’ as well as ‘beard’. Although this action could be seen as a signal that the trade unions are weaker than they were in social dialogue with employers, the idea was to draw attention to the long shifts and lack of access to lavatories that they were enduring without antagonising the public.
A NORWEGIAN TRADE UNION REPRESENTATIVE HAS found herself at the centre of a global struggle between an employer and the International Transport Federation. Monica Okpe, a DHL supply chain worker in Oslo was dismissed in May. Unions believe that her sacking was related to the fact that she was an effective shop steward for the ITF-affiliated Oslo Transport Workers’ Union. After a rally in Oslo in September the ITF held an international road transport action week in October together with other worldwide union federations such as the service sector union UNI. First vice-president of the Norwegian Transport Workers’ Union Lars Johnsen said ‘Experience of the ITF and UNI shows that DHL is one of the worst employers … A common global action day can show the global resistance against DHL's anti-union activities’.

Woman pilots more numerous in Germany as airlines try to avoid discrimination
‘A WOMAN HAS A BETTER CHANCE OF BECOMING A World heavyweight boxing champion than an airline captain’. Fortunately this quote is from the nineteen-sixties but the gender barrier at commercial airlines has proved extremely resilient. Even now a company such as Aer Lingus is thought to have a good record with 8.5% of its pilots being female compared wtih the dismal figure of 0.5% at Japan Airlines. In Germany Lufthansa, whose then head of training uttered the infamous quote above, has progressed from employing its first woman pilot in 1988 to having nearly 300 on the books now, still only 5.5% of the total. This compares with 36% of judges and 40% in Angela Merkel’s cabinet. Although there are no quotas Captain Jörg Handwerg, a spokesman for the airline pilots' association believes that ‘When (women) apply for a job, airlines are happy. They want to get rid of the stigma they discriminate against women’. The main problem in taking on more female pilots is the lack of applications; currently only 8% are from women. Lufthansa sponsors an annual ‘Girls’ Day’ when teenagers are encouraged to consider the occupations of pilot, flight engineer and mechanic. Pilots’ hours do not run from nine to five but flight rosters can be adapted to part-time work and flight simulators used to keep up skills during maternity leave. Despite these measures and the good pay, it seems that many girls lack female rôle models and still see such work as too technical and airlines as sexist workplaces; numbers of women in training are steadily growing however.



Air forces have led civilian airlines
in recruiting women pilots

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