No. 257, Dec.18-24, 2003



Farmer Jack stores honor Mt. Olive boycott

On Dec. 10 Maria Ward, spokesperson for Farmer Jack Supermarkets in Michigan, said the chain will no longer buy Mt. Olive products from its distributor. This will affect over 100 of their stores in Ohio and Michigan.

The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) notified the company the previous week of the boycott against Mt. Olive for unfair labor practices and its intention to picket and leaflet stores unless the pickles were removed by Wednesday, Dec. 10. Local 911 of the UFCW which represents Farmer Jack workers in the Toledo area supported the FLOC action.

FLOC is organizing the migrant farmworkers in North Carolina who pick for the Mt. Olive Pickle Co. (FLOC)

Zimbabwe workers seize haulage trucks

Striking Dunstan Transport workers on Dec. 10 confiscated the company’s twelve haulage trucks and parked them at the Zanu-PF Headquarters in Harare, Zimbabwe, after failing to reach an amicable solution with their employer over salaries and wages.

The employees downed tools early last month demanding better wages and working conditions.

Some workers said they should be given a chance to run the company, alleging that the owner, William Rodney Dunstan, had failed.

On Dec. 9, at least 310 Dunstan Transport employees were suspended indefinitely after they had gone on a two-week strike.

A disposal order that was granted by the Labor Court on Dec. 4 declared that the employees’ actions were illegal and ordered them to return to work.

The company was therefore authorized to deduct 14 days of the unlawful collective job action from the respective employees’ leave days. (The Herald (Harare))

Chilean miners block roadway to Andina Mine, extend strike

Codelco, the world’s biggest copper producer, said striking miners blocked a roadway to its Andina mine in Chile on Dec. 13 after rejecting an improved wage offer, extending a 10-day strike that has pushed copper prices to a six-year high.

The smaller of Andina’s two unions had agreed to end their strike while the larger union rejected the offer.

“Access to the mine is cut off,’’ said Antonio Varas, a company spokesman.

The protest underscores Codelco’s difficulty in resolving a strike, its longest in seven years, that has crimped supplies of the metal as demand increases from China, the world’s biggest consumer of copper. The Andina mine, which accounts for 1.8 percent of global output, is now producing at half of its capacity, said Varas.

Hector Zelaya, director of the larger union, said the striking miners won’t remove their cars that are blocking the roadway to Andina until Codelco resolves the wage dispute.

Zelaya’s union, which rejected Codelco’s offer, wants a 3 percent wage increase. Codelco had offered a 2.57 percent increase, improving its wage offer for the second time in two days. (Bloomberg)

Quebec union workers take to the streets

Province-wide union protests against Premier Jean Charest’s social and economic policies slowed commuters, shut daycare centers and canceled hospital appointments in Quebec on Dec. 11.

Union members from both the private and public sectors joined together for a national day of disruption, hoping to draw as many as a million workers to the streets in mass demonstrations against what they see as a government with an anti-labor political agenda.

Some Montreal Transit Commission garages remained closed, forcing many people to walk to the closest subway system or find other means of transport.

More than one-half of public day-care centers in the province closed and the Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal canceled 3,000 appointments, including many surgeries.

In other regions of Quebec, picketers stopped traffic at ports in Quebec City and Trois-Rivieres and blocked two highways. Near Saguenay, tons of sand were dumped in the middle of the main road into the city.

The worker’s anger is directed at government amendments to the Labor Code that will make it easier for companies and public entities to subcontract parts of their operations. Labor leaders say the legislation jeopardizes workers’ protection under current collective agreements.

Other controversial legislation includes eliminating the right to organize by employees working in home-daycare centers, the merging of collective bargaining units in hospitals and increases in daycare costs. (Globe and Mail)

Civil servants in Northern Ireland walkout

In a one day industrial action, thousands of civil servants across Northern Ireland went on strike on Dec. 11 in a dispute over pay.

The union NIPSA said about 20,000 of its members were on strike, while the government said about half of civil servants were taking action - about 12,000.

Road tax offices closed in Armagh, Ballymena, Enniskillen and Londonderry and other government services were greatly reduced.

Ian Pearson, the Minister for Finance and Personnel, earlier had said the government considered the increase of 3.6 percent as “fair and reasonable.”

Now he says his message to those taking strike action was that there was no more money in the pot.

However, NIPSA argues that senior civil servants in the province - at the top end of the pay scale - have been given pay increases of between 4 percent and 9 percent.

NIPSA general secretary John Corey said staff were facing no increases in their rates of pay this year.

Speaking from a picket line in Stormont, he said, “That is a position that no staff should be expected to accept.” (BBC)

US directors called dictators

The whistleblower who first raised concerns about accounting irregularities at Enron said on Dec. 9 that vast boardroom salaries were distorting directors’ “moral compass.”

Sherron Watkins, a former vice-president of the energy company said matters had not improved in the time since the Enron scandal erupted, with some directors behaving like dictators of African countries.

“Corporate bad behavior has really not got that much better. The imperial chief executive is not dead in America,” she said.

She added that some chief executives were like “dictators of resource-rich African countries, treating their company assets as their own”.

Watkins said the problems were caused by a widening gulf between directors’ and workers’ salaries.

She said that, in 1970, directors of US companies were paid about 26 times what an average worker received. This increased to 42 times in 1980, 85 times in 1990 and 531 times by 2000. It was no wonder that directors had lost touch with reality, she said.

She said, “Once you start getting it, you just want more and more. When CEOs are making that much, they lose their moral compass.”

She called for some pay restraint in the boardroom and said it was “bogus” to suggest that chief executives should be paid like Hollywood stars.

Watkins was speaking after the first conference held by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, a US-body with 300 members in Britain.

Watkins worked for Enron between 1993 and 2002. She was a member of its mergers and acquisitions team when she first raised her concerns about irregularities. She resigned from Enron in November 2002. (Daily Telegraph (UK))

Transport strikes in Italy

A record number of calls for sick leave was witnessed among bus and tram drivers in Italy on Dec. 15, a day that was declared a national local transport strike day. Based on trade union figures 60 percent of workers called in sick in Turin, Naples, Genoa, Brescia, Cosenza, Catanzaro and Castrovillari.

Unions defined such forms of protest as “just and fully legitimate” and that the strike was called as “a strong response to dissatisfaction concerning current [contract] negotiations.” (AGI)

Ecuador Teachers Clash With Police

In Quito, Ecuadoran teachers striking for raises and parents demanding better schools clashed with police in the capital’s downtown on Dec. 10.

The protest erupted in violence when police fired tear gas at marchers advancing on the Presidential Palace.

About 5,000 teachers and supporters set fires, hurled rocks and used clubs to fight police in riot gear.

Four police were wounded when a group of students attacked a station and set it on fire, television news reported.

Meanwhile, armed soldiers formed a ring around the Presidential Palace to keep protesters at bay.

Ecuador’s 120,000 public school teachers went on strike on Nov. 11, demanding that President Lucio Gutierrez’s government deliver on promises, which he made to end a monthlong strike in July, to raise teachers’ monthly salaries by $10 and invest $11.7 million to build new schools and refurbish old ones.

Teachers at public schools in Ecuador earn between $160 and $350 a month. (AP)

Australian mother wins workplace discrimination suit

A Sydney woman whose promotion at work turned into an “acting” position within days of announcing she was pregnant has won a damages payout from her former employer.

Federal magistrate Kenneth Raphael ruled on Dec. 15 that TPG Internet discriminated against Rebecca Kelly, 28, by making her promotion an acting rather than permanent posting, when she revealed during salary negotiations that she was pregnant. She was awarded $7,500 damages.

However, the company’s refusal to give her a part-time position with the same status and rate of pay when she finished her maternity leave was not discriminatory, Raphael said. The company did not have anyone working part-time at a managerial level.

Kelly may consider an appeal and the decision showed that laws needed to be changed, said her lawyer, Patricia Lowson. “It demonstrates the need for legislative change to protect the rights of women to return to work on a part-time basis even if only for a limited period after returning from maternity leave,” Lowson said. (Sydney Morning Herald)