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ISSUE 63 page 2

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EU leaders confirm youth guarantee money but unions want new ‘social compact’
 LAST MONTH’S SUMMIT OF THE HEADS OF GOVERNMENT of EU Member States, also known as the European Council or the Council of Ministers, agreed to raise its allocation to the ‘Youth Guarantee’ (see our last issue) from €6 billion to a possible €9 billion to try to ameliorate the terrible position of many young people who are neither in education nor employment. However European trade union leaders are still lookng for more action in a situation they describe as the ‘worst crisis faced by the EU since its birth in 1957’. Various measures are proposed such as a new ‘Marshall Plan’, the spending programme that rebuilt Europe after the Second World War, a revision of the EU treaties to include a ‘social dimension’ and ‘large scale investment plans equal to at least 1 % of the EU’s economic output (GDP) annually to promote sustainable growth and jobs’. Compared to these proposals the summit outcome looks like a drop in the ocean as the only other agreement that was publicised was to regulate the winding-up of busted banks and that will only come into operation in 2018.
Sommer, M.Segol, B.Toxo, I.F. & Mendez, C.

side of the account is distinctly threadbare says European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) leader Bernadette Ségol: ‘No social program in recent years, no health and safety program, no initiative on restructuring’, instead ‘Political leaders view social regulation as an obstacle to competitiveness’. Michael Sommer, president of the German DGB trade union confederation, believes that the very aims of the EU authorities are undermined by these policies as citizens lose faith; well over half of the respondents in a recent Eurobarometer poll say that they are distrustful, even in such normally pro-EU countries as Italy and Spain.
THE ETUC slogan concerning the June summit of EU leaders was ‘High Noon for social Europe’ referring to the 1952 film in which Gary Cooper faces down the baddie alone after the townspeople refuse to help him; if the fight is between the unions and austerity, it seems that EU leaders are irrevocably cast in the rôle of the cowardly onlookers.

Union leaders: Sommer, DGB, Ségol, ETUC, Toxo, CCOO, Mendez, UGT

The unions point to not just cuts and decreased investment due to the austerity policy followed by national governments and the ‘troika’ of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Central Bank (ECB) and the EU in recent years, but the weakening of collective bargaining, lessening of labour rights and attacks on pensions and wages.  Many of these have been imposed by ‘non-democratic systems’ according to the general secretaries of the main Spanish union federations, Cándido Mendez and Fernandez Toxo and ‘the increase in poverty and inequality rates has reached a level unseen since 1945’. The positive



Bargaining round-up

COLLECTIVELY AGREED WAGES IN THE STEEL AND ELECTRONIC industries in Slovenia are lower than the statutory minimum.. This situation has come about because Slovenian law separates pay into basic, performance and extras. The minimum rate includes all three of these elements but unions only negotiate the basic component. In these sectors the SKEI trade union is demanding an increase ranging from 6.5% to 9% to solve the problem. After deductions the lowest monthly take-home wage will be €624 which would still leave a family of four below the poverty line, say the union. It also wants a 20% one-off payment and a backdated rise in holiday pay. After an employer offer of a staged increase of 3.5% SKEI called 14,000 workers out on strike.
FOR A LONG TIME THE FINANCIAL CRISIS WAS AT ITS WORSE in the three Baltic countries and, as a consequence, the minimum wage in Lithuania was unchanged for nearly five years. Trade unions petitioned the Tripartite Council and organised protest campaigns demanding an increase as the €232 monthly rate, about 40% of the average gross wage, was below the poverty line. The onset of elections seemed to galvanise the government which raised the rate by 6.25% in October 2012 and another 18% last January so that it reached €290. A working group set up to monitor the effects of the increase found that businesses who had complied with the law had no problems paying but some firms were seeking to get around it by re-classifying full-timers as part-time.
IT SEEMS WE SPOKE TOO SOON ABOUT the triumph of the social dialogue in Ireland in our last issue. The Croke Park II agreement set out plans for public sector wages and jobs, generally avoiding redundancies in return for longer working hours, with pay cuts only applied to higher grades. Although the chair of the trade union negotiators was pleased with the deal, a majority of public service unions, fourteen, have now rejected it. The CPSU described the agreement as ‘dead in the water’ and has callled on members to vote for industrial action if the government tries to reduce pay. As we go to print it seems that a new deal known as the ‘Haddington Road’ proposals will be accepted by most unions after ballots of their membership. Under the threat of draconian legislation to cut pay and increase working hours the ‘Haddington Road’ proposals which echo Croke Park II with some adjustment for individual sectors of the economy, offer a chance to conclude some kind of collective agreement.


Amazon in Germany faces continued strikes over low pay
 ONLINE RETAILER AMAZON IS EMBROILED IN A DISPUTE with German trade union Ver.di over pay. Employees at two of its distribution centres, Bad Hersfeld and Leipzig, are demanding to be paid the retail sectoral rate instead of as logistics workers. This would result in a rise in hourly pay from €9.30 to €10.66 at Leipzig and €9.83 to €12.18 at Bad Hersfeld. However union officials say that other grievances are involved and were criticised earlier this year for using employment agencies that exploited migrant workers and utilised a security company with far-right connections. ‘We had a considerable impact on setting this up and we receive very little’ said Amazon employee Markus Herd. Following a 97% vote in favour of industrial action about 850 staff at the two warehouses have taken part in three one-day strikes. Ver.di complained that the American parent company refused to implement the relevant collective agreement and paid less than equivalent firms. ‘It is unacceptable that no wage agreement applies for Amazon, as the largest online retailer’ said a spokesperson. The strikes are believed to be the first to hit Amazon worldwide; Germany is their second largest market after the USA. So far there is little sign of a change in the management position and the union is gearing up for longer stoppages: ‘We’re considering moving from single-day strikes to walkouts lasting multiple days’ said Joerg Lauenroth-Mago, lead negotiator for Ver.di.


Pickets outside an Amazon plant in Germany


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