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ISSUE 62 page 7

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Giant Italian steel plant stays open despite pollution, accidents

 THE SOUTHERN ITALIAN CITY OF TARANTO IS HOME to the largest steel mill in Europe. The giant ILVA plant is responsible for  75% of total economic production in the province and employs 12,000 people directly and up to 20,000 including its supply chain. Unfortunately it is also a major pollutant believed to be responsible for a death rate that is 11% higher than in nearby districts, above-average sterility levels, 90% of babies suffering from asthma and high levels of beryllium, lead and poly-chlorinated bi-phenyl found in the ground. Doctors advise parents not to let their children come into contact with the soil and to shower daily to remove the black dust that pollutes the atmosphere. After 2,000 sheep were slaughtered in 2008 because they contained dangerous dioxins an emergency law forbade the grazing of animals within 20 kms. of the plant but, as the ‘Women of Taranto’ group pointed out to Italian President Napolitano, ‘we live in those 20km and so do our children’. As well as pollution the factory seems to have problems with general workplace safety. In October a worker was found dead near a locomotive engine, the incident later sparked a strike by a rail union, and the following month a tornado caused one death and dozens of injuries. .
ILVA plant

Only three months later two workers fell 15 metres when a gangway collapsed in the coking plant, killing one of them.
Last year a court in the city ordered the arrest of five managers from the factory plus two members of the Riva family whose company bought ILVA from the government in 1995. It also seized finished steel worth €800 million which led to the company shutting down the entire plant. However the Italian government, mindful of the estimated €8 billion cost of permanent closure, passed an emergency decree which authorised its re-opening on condition the Riva Group signed up to an environmental cleaning programme to which they have already allocated €330 million of state funds. At the moment over 6,500 employees remain laid-off on compensatory payments from the government pending a hearing on the legality of the decree. The CGIL union, which wants the government to take charge of the factory if the company does not keep to its commitments, commented that ‘The employment situation of the plant has a strong impact on the social side, but we must not forget the subtle balance between work and health’.

The ILVA steel mill dominates Taranto



Volkswagen unions ban BlackBerry burn-out

UNIONS AT VOLKSWAGEN IN GERMANY have negotiated time limits on the use of BlackBerry smartphones. Faced with pressure on workers to respond to emails twenty-four hours a day Heinz-Joachim Thust of VW’s works council said ‘The operating agreement provides that the server is for the BlackBerrys of union employees for half an hour before and half an hour down at the end of flextime’. Flextime at Volkswagen is between 7.30 in the morning and 7.45 in the evening.  The 1,100 employees who are involved are now less likely to be affected by the burn-out that is believed to cost Germany 10 million sick days a year.  There is some evidence of a retreat from the ‘always-on’ corporate culture: chief executive of French firm ATOS, Thierry Breton, has banned staff emails altogether from next year, replacing them with Instant Messages during work hours only. ‘We realised they found 15% of the [emails] useful, and the rest was lost time’ he explained.

Russia restricts smoking in public
 PRESIDENT PUTIN OF RUSSIA has signed a new bill into law which will enact strict curbs on tobacco use in the country. About 40% of Russian adults are estimated to be regular smokers by the World Health Organisation (WHO), one of the highest rates in the world. On June 1st. smoking will be banned in workplaces, stations, airports, ports, playgrounds and beaches. One year later restaurants, bars, cafés shops and markets will be deemed smoke-free together with ships and long-distance trains. A minimum retail price will also be introduced; a WHO survey in 2011 found that the cheapest pack of 20 cigarettes were on sale for 11 roubles (£0.23) Western brands sold for about £1. Advertising of tobacco products will also be restricted. In a recent opinion poll 79% of respondents supported a total ban on advertising and sponsorship and 76% approved the outlawing of smoking in public.  RussiaSmoke

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