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ISSUE 69 page 4

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Latvian unions effective but lack young profile
U.S. fast-food unions dream of Danish conditions

THE FREE TRADE UNION CONFEDERATION of Latvia (LBAS) has received results from a study they commissioned of the work environment in the country. The EU-funded enquiry found that workplaces that had a trade union showed significant advantages such as fewer violations of labour laws, and less likelihood of working overtime without pay. Fewer employees at unionised companies reported a worsening of working conditions. However there was also bad news for unions in the fact that more young people were either working in an unorganised workplace or unsure of whether one existed or not. Only 19% in the 25–34 age group said they had a union, compared with 35% aged between 55 and 74.
Similarly concerning were the results on taking action against abuses of labour rights. Nearly a half of respondents who said that this had happened to them did nothing to remedy the situation. The reasons given were a belief that the problem was insoluble or that the violation was not serious enough. The shadow economy plays a large part in Latvian working life with 50% of workers surveyed knowing somebody who works without paying tax. While they say the reason for this practice is the high level of taxes and social security payments they are well aware of the pitfalls such as non-payment of wages, lack of health and accident insurance and harder working conditions.

TRADE UNIONS IN THE UNITED STATES, who have made some headway in recruiting workers in fast-food companies such as McDonald’s, have pointed to working practices in EU Member States like Denmark as something to work towards. On a visit to the U.K. as part of a global campaign to fight for a living wage Flavia Cabral, who earns $8 (£5.10) an hour in New York, contrasted her wages with the 115 kronor an hour ($19.35, £12.35) guaranteed to a Danish worker. ‘If McDonald’s can afford to pay that in Denmark they should be able to pay more everywhere’, she pointed out. Due to an agreement between the 3F union and employers’ group Horesta, which includes all the major fast-food franchises, the Danes also get five weeks’ paid vacation, paid maternity and paternity leave and a pension plan. British bakery union BFAWU, who are supporting the campaign, want a £10 minimum wage. ‘Achieving £10 an hour would take 5 million people out of poverty’ said union President Ian Hodson. Although they have many members at Greggs, progress at at McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC has been slow. According to John McDonnell MP ‘They fear they will lose their jobs or have hours reduced if they protest’.
Podemos no.1 as Spanish meltdown reaches politics
‘No low-paid in Finland’ minister shown up by unions

FOR A LONG TIME FOLLOWING THE financial crash many commentators remarked on the fact that the economic meltdown had not affected formal politics. With the odd exception, such as Greece, the usual rotation of centre-left and centre-right continued in most countries. Spain seemed to be a  prime example, with unemployment at over 25% and record numbers of evictions the political fall-out was limited to street protests. Now a party that was formed less than a year ago has topped a reIglesias, P.cent poll. Podemos, ‘We can’ in English, surprised experts by polling 8% of the vote in the May European elections and ending up with five MEPs. Having registered a continuous increase in opinion polls since then they are now favoured by 28.3% of the sample in a recent survey in the El Pais newspaper, more than 8% ahead of the opposition Socialists.
Attention has now turned to their leadership and policies. Though generally thought to be left-wing, their leader, Pablo Iglesias, has emphasised the battle between ‘above’ and ‘below’ in Spanish society rather than that between left and right. He says that about 10% of Podemos supporters have moved from the government party, the centre-right PP. Nonetheless policies such as a 35-hour week, political control of the European Central Bank  and banning profitable companies from sacking workers would seem to place the new party to the left of the socialist PSOE.

NORDIC EU MEMBER STATE FINLAND IS known as a prosperous country but perhaps not as well-off as its social affairs and health minister would like to think. Speaking about a proposal to cut child welfare payments Laura Räty questioned whether there should be an exemption for low-income families. ‘How many Finns find themselves in a group that earns less than 2,100 or 2,600 euros?’ she asked. Reaction was swift with many low-paid workers offering to send their wage slips to the minister. Public sector union JHL gathered together 250 of these and presented them to her. The trade union quoted statistics showing that over 800,000 Finns earn less than €2,600 a month. Eloranta, J. Räty, L.
Union President Eloranta hands the pay slips to the minister

JHL President Jarkko Eloranta explained ‘what life is like for those in low-paid jobs’ to Ms. Räty who said that she had ‘chosen her words very poorly’. ‘We are glad that Minister Räty received our delegation and was prepared to discuss the challenges Finns living on low incomes face’ Mr. Eloranta confirmed.





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