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|OPPONENTS OF FREE TRADE AGREEMENTS, such as the proposed EU-US TTIP deal, have been given further ammunition by the current dispute over the dumping of Chinese steel on the EU market. As thousands of trade unionists protested in Brussels against redundancies caused by the unloading of its post-crisis surplus, China was awaiting a decision on its application for Market Economy Status (MES) by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). If this is granted it would be much harder for the EU to defend its steel industry, and jobs, by raising tariffs. At the moment the European Commission is opening three different investigations into Chinese steel products. However, having previously agreed with France, Italy and Germany to press for a higher tariff than the proposed 9%, the UK government blocked the abolition of the ‘lesser duty rule’ which would have opened the way to an increase. According to Tom Blenkinsop, the Labour MP for Middlesbrough ‘the tariff should be more like 66% not 9%’.||
||‘Yet again the warm words from government ministers about the importance of the steel industry are not matched by action’ added the Community union’s general secretary, Roy Rickhuss. In Britain alone 5,000 jobs have been lost since last summer, due to imports of below-cost Chinese steel. Unusually the demonstration was jointly organised by the employers’ association Eurofer. Director General Axel Eggert commented ‘The march strikes at the heart of the challenges facing the European steel industry ... Dumped steel imports from China, volumes of which have doubled in 18 months, are flooding the EU market’. Focusing on the specific issue of MES status, Bert Samyn, Deputy General Secretary of trade union confederation IndustriAll concluded ‘If we grant MES to a country like China, that undercuts standards at home and prices in its export markets, we will see considerable damage done to the European labour market and continued harm to the global climate and environment.|
A ‘steel’ band drums up support in Brussels
IRISH UNIONS CELEBRATED THE NEW YEAR with high hopes of it proving more furitful that the last few. Based on an independent survey, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) Private Sector Committee has said that ‘unions should be in a position to seek pay adjustments in 2016 in the range of 2.5% to 5%’. This follows a similar rosy outlook in the Public Sector (see our last issue). It says the unions should seek to gain at least the Living Wage which is currently fixed at €11.50 per hour by the Congress Charter for Fair Conditions at Work backed by over 100 MPs and MEPS as well as many local councils. It seems that unions may be pushing at an open door as 71% of Irish companies expected to raise pay in 2016 in a recent employers‘ organisation survey.
THERE ARE SIGNS OF PROGRESS IN THE dispute at German national airline Lufthansa which has already lasted for nearly two years. Management and the three Lufthansa unions: UfO, VC and ver.di, pledged to conduct future negotiations in secret to improve trust and co-operation. The airline's plans to cut costs in the face of fierce competition from low-cost companies have led to persistent industrial action including a recent 7-day strike by cabin crew that grounded 4,700 flights and more than half a million passengers. The only completed deal so far is with ver.di whose members will receive a one-off payment of €2,250 and a wage increase of 2.2% for the next two years. Lufthansa have also pledged that new recruits will have the same pension arrangements as exisitng workers but must pay 1% of their salary towards it.
GREEK FOOTBALL FANS NARROWLY ESCAPED the total shutdown of their favourite sport in December when a planned strike was averted. The Greek Professional Soccer Players Association (PSAP) called an indefinite strike beginning with third round matches of the Greek Cup saying that the country’s football federation and two top leagues had failed to abide by an agreement to compensate players who were sacked as a result of the financial meltdown of some clubs. ‘We have no other way to preserve our professional, economic, athletic and material existence’ the players added. However, after receiving assurances that a fund would be created for compensation, the action was called off. The PSAP president affirmed that ‘There was a spirit of solidarity’ in an emergency meeting with the employers ‘The guarantee fund will operate immediately and will help the players’ he said.