TTIP, CETA and now TiSA

adrianweirBy Adrian Weir

Although the ink is not dry and the debate not over on the proposed “free trade” deals with the US and Canada this has not deterred the European Commission launching the debate on the plurinational version – the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) – See Morning Star article here –  and only this week it gave notice of a proposed bilateral trade agreement with Vietnam with all the usual anti-democratic ISDS clauses.

In Berlin, the German Government has opened a reading room for Members of the Bundestag to study the TTIP text, but no mobile phones (so no pictures) and only limited written notes allowed. So much for transparency!

The text of the TTIP labour chapter has been in the public domain since the end of last year, it can be read here.

CTUF readers and supporters should note that text:

  • contains no obligation on investors to abide by ILO standards;
  • confers no right on the part of States, trade unions or workers to enforce ILO standards against investors – whether through ISDS or anywhere else;
  • upholds only the right to collective bargaining and not the obligation of states to promote collective bargaining as required by ILO Convention 98;
  • does not oblige States to ensure their laws and practices comply with ILO Core Conventions (including 87 and 98), whether or not they have ratified them (Art 4(4) requires only implementation of Conventions already ratified by the State in question);
  • contain no protection against investors relying on differences in trade union rights (such as the right to strike) in one State compared to another in order to argue they have ben unjustifiably discriminated against – for example could a European State with superior trade union rights than the UK be sued by an investor because that State’s rights were not as inferior as the UK’s and therefore the investor was suffering discrimination.
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USA: Wal-Mart Told To Reinstate 16 Victimised Workers

walmart_strike1A U.S. National Labor Relations Board judge has ruled that Wal-Mart had unlawfully retaliated against workers who participated in strikes in 2013 and must now offer to reinstate 16 dismissed employees.

Administrative Law Judge Geoffrey Carter said in a ruling posted on the NLRB’s website that the U.S. retailer violated labour law by “disciplining or discharging several associates because they were absent from work while on strike”.

The ruling was hailed as a “huge victory” for employees, although Wal-Mart indicated they would likely appeal against the decision to the NLRB’s board in Washington, and pointed to its recent efforts to improve worker benefits and raise pay.

“We disagree with the Administrative Law Judge’s recommended findings and we will pursue all of our options to defend the company because we believe our actions were legal and justified,” Wal-Mart spokesman Kory Lundberg said.

Judge Carter was ruling on a complaint filed by the NLRB on behalf of a union-backed worker group, ‘OUR Walmart’, in 2014. Most of the allegations related to a co-ordinated set of strikes collectively referred to the ‘Ride for Respect’ because they involved travelling by bus to the company’s headquarters in Arkansas for protests at its shareholders’ meeting in June 2013.

Wal-Mart had argued that it was lawful to discipline workers with unexcused absences to participate in the protests because the strikes constituted “intermittent work stoppages” not protected under labour law.

But the judge found the ‘Ride for Respect’ differed materially from other previous work stoppages not protected by law because, among other factors, it was not a brief strike – meaning the risk for workers was higher – and because it was not scheduled close in time with other strikes.

Carter ordered Wal-Mart to offer 16 former workers their previous jobs and make them “whole for any loss of earnings and other benefits suffered as a result of the discrimination against them”.

Wal-Mart was also ordered to hold a meeting in more than twenty stores to inform workers of their rights to organise a union under U.S. labour law.

Jessica Levin, spokeswoman for labor group ‘Making Change at Walmart’, which is backed by the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), described the ruling as a “huge victory” for the dismissed workers as well as “Walmart workers everywhere”.

It was unclear what impact, if any, the decision would have on the efforts by ‘Making Change at Walmart ‘and other groups to pressure Wal-Mart on wages and benefits. The UFCW has tried for years to organise Wal-Mart workers and the hurdles remain high.

The ruling comes a day after Wal-Mart announced that it was raising wages for 1.2 million U.S. workers in 2016 as part of a $2.7 billion investment over two years in wages and training.

While denting profits near term, Wal-Mart has said the investments are helping improve customer service and worker engagement scores.

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Actions of the Finnish Government to weaken working life

image002By Matti Koskinen, Head of International Affairs, Trade Union Pro

Finland’s right-wing Government is about to implement various actions to worsen working conditions and weaken the authority of the trade union movement. One of these actions is initiative to make binding measures to decrees the labour unit costs. These binding laws was introduced by the Government in September 2015 and issued for consultation in November. Government’s aim is that collective agreements can’t define terms and conditions that are better than those defined in legislation in these four issues:

  • two public days off (Epiphany and Ascension Day) would be unpaid without reducing annual working days
  • level of compensation paid for sick days will be reduced
  • The maximum duration of the annual holiday will be reduced
  • Holiday bonuses will be prescribed by laws so that it can be reduced by 30%.

According to the Government, we have fallen behind in international competition due to Finland’s weak cost structure and, therefore, “the objective of this Government proposal is to improve Finland’s competitiveness by having an impact on unit labour costs.”

The trade union movement doesn’t see the situation as pessimistic as the Government. Yes, there has been and still is a depression. Still Finland is one of the most competitiveness country. The answer to this problem is not Finland’s price competitiveness; instead, it will only reduce domestic demand and take us deeper into recession. In the long term, the trade union movement is ready to accept moderate pay increases that help to increase the level of employment.

The Government’s proposal would be valid as imperative laws for a predefined period of three years from 2017 to 2019 but would remain valid until further notice as non-imperative laws. The Government states that: “It is essential that regulations are imposed to temporarily restrict the rights of national employer and employee associations to use collective agreements to define better benefits for employees.” Furthermore, the Government sees that “this is a relatively minor intervention concerning the level of salaries. Therefore, this is not a specific action associated with the current time period. The actions planned would only restrict the collective negotiating right to a small extent, while most terms and conditions of employment could still be defined in collective agreements.”

According to the trade union movement, the Government is using this procedure to cover up the fact that these regulations actually are contrary to ILO’s convention 87 (convention on the freedom of association and the right to organise) and convention 98 (convention on the right to organise and collective bargaining).

The Government would regulate that two public days off (Epiphany anAscension Day) would be unpaid without reducing annual working days, and it would discontinue the Sunday supplement for these two days.

According to the proposal, “Epiphany and Ascension Day will be unpaid days off without reducing annual working days. If no work is done on these days, the corresponding hours can be performed on other days, in which case work is compensated for according to the work performed. In business fields where work is performed on every day of the week, Epiphany and Ascension Day will no longer be working days entitling a Sunday supplement; instead, the normal wage will be paid for these working days.”

In practice, this will extend working hours and, in some cases, lower wages because no Sunday supplement will be paid. Forbidding the provisions of collective agreements restricts the freedom of agreement.

The level of compensation paid for sick days will be reduced as the first day would be unpaid (waiting period) and only 80% of the salary would be paid over the next eight days (sick days 2–9). Only after this would sick pay be paid according to the applicable collective agreement.

Collective agreements serve to agree upon full compensation for sick days, while this prevents the concerned parties from following such agreements that produce better benefits than the legislation. Finland’s social security system does not secure full income over sick days. Research indicates that women take short-term sick leave more frequently than men, meaning that this decision is strongly opposed to equality.

The maximum duration of the annual holiday will be reduced, even if collective agreements defined otherwise. “The maximum duration of an annual holiday is set to be six weeks. This means that annual holidays will be shorter in the public sector and in certain fields in the private sector.”

Governmental and municipal collective agreements define longer annual holidays because, along the years, productivity has been increased by reducing annual working hours instead of income. When measured by educational level, salaries are lower in the public sector than in the private sector. According to the trade union movement, this change does not improve Finland’s international price competitiveness.

This will distort the equality of the labour market. Extending annual working hours in the public sector will also have an adverse impact on employment as fewer substitutes will be needed.

Holiday bonuses will be prescribed by laws so that it can be reduced by 30%. However, holiday bonuses will not be extended to all employees. According to the Government proposal, “employees will have a statutory right to a holiday bonus. To allocate these actions equally, a maximum amount will be set out for holiday bonuses paid in addition to the annual holiday pay and holiday compensation, being approximately 30% lower than the current level used in most industries.”

Those not bound by a collective agreement would define this separately in the employment contract but “the regulation would only be applied to employment contracts signed after the entry into force of the act.”

The holiday bonus is only regulated in collective agreements. In many countries, the holiday bonus corresponds with the salary of the 13th month, being 50% of the holiday pay. Now, it would be dropped to 35%.

There are close to 225,000 employees outside the scope of the holiday bonus system because not all employees are covered by collective agreements. This regulation would not provide these employees with a holiday bonus because, according to the Government proposal, the statutory right to holiday bonus would only concern those employment relationships that begin after the entry into force of the act. Even after this, employers may refrain from paying any holiday bonuses if so agreed upon in the employment contract.

According to trade unions, the employer usually has the last say when signing an employment contract.

According to calculations made by trade unions, the aforementioned imperative laws will reduce the annual earnings of employees by 5–8%, depending on the business field and the type of work. Labour market parties will continue negotiations in order to reach a social contract in order for the Government to back down from its imperative laws.

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Labour MEPs Warn On TiSA Trade Deal

tisanoLabour MEPs have warned that real concerns over EU trade deals with the USA and Canada as well as the global services trade deals have got to be listened to.

Labour MEPs have proposed a resolution to the European Parliament international trade committee be debated next month on the ongoing negotiations for the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA).

The resolution sets out demands from MEPs to the European Commission, including strong safeguards for workers; the full exclusion of all public services; a new binding clause to guarantee data privacy; and greater transparency.

The EU is negotiating on the behalf of European national governments with twenty-three national parties allied to the World Trade Organisation.

TiSA is aimed at reforming global trade in services, (including information technology, health, care services, and education and training equalisations among others) in place since 1995 through the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

Labour MEP Jude Kirton-Darling, leading for Labour on trade deals

Labour MEP Jude Kirton-Darling, leading for Labour on trade deals

Labour MEP Jude Kirton-Darling, who is also Labour’s European Parliament spokesperson on trade deals and Socialists and Democrats Group negotiator said: “MEPs have sent a clear message to the Commission negotiators and our governments that we want to see a radical shift in the ongoing TISA negotiations. There’s much confusion in the public debate when it comes to trade agreements, and the Commission’s reluctance to engage meaningfully with the public until quite recently has not helped. But one thing that has been very clear is that citizens across the EU are not prepared to trade away the right of democratically elected representatives to regulate in the public interest whether that be rights at work, data privacy or the provision of public services. MEPs have represented their concerns.”

She also added: “Trade in services is vital for the UK and the current rules are grossly outdated, as there was virtually no Internet trade back in 1995. So the status quo is not an option: we absolutely need a reform of the GATS, not just to boost our exports in services but also to close all the loopholes that unregulated e-commerce have opened. With this resolution, we’re giving the Commission a checklist to be addressed in the negotiations in order to deliver a useful and fair deal, from a legally sound exclusion of all public services to the inclusion of a toolbox to eliminate social dumping. Ignoring this message from the European Parliament would throw the whole negotiations into danger.”

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USA: Friedrichs Court Case Threatens Workers’ Wages

-1The United Steelworkers (USW) union has expressed concern that the ‘Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association’ case, currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, has the potential to make economic conditions even more dire for working Americans and their families.

The ruling in the ‘Friedrichs case’ could potentially overturn a 40-year-old unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court called ‘Abood v. Detroit Board of Education’.

This allowed public-sector unions to collect ‘fair share fees’ (union subs) from workers who exercise their right not to join a union but who the union is required by law to represent in collective bargaining anyway. The fees go toward the cost of bargaining and administering the agreement.

Under the 1977 Abood ruling, workers who choose not to join the union at their workplace are required to pay union fees to cover only the cost of collective bargaining and administration, not political activity.

However, the plaintiffs in the Friedrichs case have argued that all public-sector union activity, including contract bargaining and workplace grievance settlement, is political and workers who choose not to join the union should be exempt from those costs.

“When unions fight for higher salaries and better benefits, those gains go to every worker. It only makes sense that every worker should pay their fair share toward gaining

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CTUF-IER Spring Rally

final CTUF Spring Flyer2016 A5 (2)

 

 

 

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John Monks On The TU Bill- “An Attack On Civil Liberties”

Lord John Monks

Lord John Monks

John Monks on the motives behind the Trade Union Bill, which has its Lords Second Reading on 11th January

For every £1 spent on workplace training delivered by trade unions, the economy gets a return of £9.15. According to the Business Department, 77% of unionised workplaces have a policy on flexible working arrangements, compared with 43% of non-unionised.

The annual Labour Force Survey meanwhile, shows that strikes are at an all-time low, with far fewer days lost to industrial action than to illness. Throw in widespread condemnation of the practices of Sport Direct and other over-mighty employers, and you have to wonder why the government wants to prioritise weakening trade unions, reducing the voice of working people and attacking Labour’s funding base.

The Bill proposes to introduce new thresholds for ballots on industrial action. All trade unions would need to achieve a turnout of over 50% for the ballot to be legally compliant. But for ‘important’ public services, such as schools, transport and the NHS, this would also need to deliver a 40% ‘yes’ vote. Ministers say the changes would improve democracy. Yet they have bizarrely refused to agree to introduce electronic or workplace balloting, despite evidence of its positive effect on turnout.

The government is also seeking to bring in intrusive requirements for those engaged in picketing, including wearing armbands and giving contact details to the police. The latter have no problems with the current law, and Liberty has described the proposals as ‘a major attack on civil liberties in the UK’. Such moves are entirely unwarranted. No incidents of unruly or unlawful behaviour have occurred on picket lines since the 1980s. If there were to be, existing public order law could be used.

There are also plans to prevent employers from deducting union subscriptions at source via their payroll, something known as ‘check off’. This is short-sighted, given that employers in all sectors value the current process, which in some cases can generate them a profit. Many have expressed anger over ministerial interference in their right to manage their own employment relations. Ministers also want to interfere with facility time agreements, where paid and unpaid time off is given to union representatives who are being trained to deal with matters that could cause wider problems, for example workplace safety.

At the heart of the proposals, is a fundamental challenge to how unions contribute to political funds – requiring members to opt in rather than opt out as is currently the case. All the evidence shows that opt in would reduce subscriptions and it is therefore a naked, partisan attack on Labour Party funding. Estimates range but the many millions of pounds lost each year will put the Party at a significant disadvantage at election time. Naturally, there is no commensurate proposal to look at how hedge funds and the like contribute to Conservatives coffers. Nor any attempt to ask company shareholders to opt in or out to similar donations.

The final part of the Bill hugely increases the powers of the trade union regulator, the Certification Officer (CO). There is no evidence that there are new problems that the CO can’t deal with under existing legislation. Ministers are expressly concerned about the ‘burden’ of red tape on business but care little about the impact of excessive regulation on unions.

All in all, this Bill is an attack on civil liberties, flouting international standards and singling out unions for draconian intervention. It has little real support from employers, has been rushed through without proper consultation and should never have seen the light of day. Labour Peers will do what they can to counter the worst of it, and work with others across the Lords to make the government see sense. We can only but hope.

Lord John Monks is a backbench Labour Peer and a former General Secretary of the TUC. This blog first appeared on the Labour Lords website.

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The Trade Union Bill Battle Isn’t Over

Chris-Stephens-SNP-Glasgow-South-West-e1426499593648The Scottish National Party has fought hard against this Bill – and the trade unions’ will to resist remains undimmed, argues Glasgow MP Chris Stephens – Morning Star, December 23rd

In my last ‘Voices of Scotland’ column I described my first 10 weeks in Westminster as bizarre, surreal and Orwellian.

The months since have shown this to be an understatement. Apart from one or two Right Honourable exceptions, the behaviours and attitudes on show from Tory members have been beyond parody.

Especially the behaviour of the newly elected blue rosette brigade, eager to earn brownie points and set their expensively shod feet on the first rings of the government ladder, proving themselves worthy of junior bag-carrier posts.

This consists of not listening to any opposition arguments or exercising independent judgement, but reading out blatant propaganda lines from the whips’ crib sheets.

As I sat in a statutory instrument committee — the procedural vehicle for governments to sneak in their most damaging legislation and thus avoid public scrutiny — I watched the Tories blithely nod through the proposal to halve the work allowance (the level of earnings allowed before universal credit deductions are made from benefits).

In essence this means a lone parent currently earning £9,500 before universal credit deductions will see them kick in on earnings above £5,000.

Or put another way a lone parent on the current minimum wage working 22 hours before a reduction in universal credit will now see the reduction after working just 12 hours.

This can only discourage work. The reality for low-wage households is that workers will reduce their working hours, not increase them.

Days later the Tories froze housing benefit for four years. This measure can only be described as thinly veiled social cleansing and will make ghettoes of parts of the country.

The Tories’ refusal to answer basic questions to justify such moves shows an arrogance and contempt not just for Parliament but for everyone who cares about what sort of society we live in.

Their calculation is based on the belief that punishing the poor and vulnerable is a vote-winner in prosperous neighbourhoods.

As for the so-called U-turn on tax credits, the two-child policy remains and has been transferred to universal credit. The shocking policy of forcing women to state that they have been raped to justify tax credits for a third child has not been reversed.

Perhaps the biggest irony within the social security system is that the lowest paid workers in the Civil Service are in the Department for Work and Pensions.

I secured an adjournment debate to highlight the fact that a staggering 40 per cent of DWP staff are on staff credits.

My main focus in Parliament, apart from social security and international issues, has been the Trade Union Bill.

The House of Lords will debate the Bill on January 11. The irony of appealing to their lordships is not lost on me, but there are many aspects of the Bill that deserve to be examined again, and to be fair there is no shortage of trade union expertise in the Other Place!

Morning Star readers can be assured that there was joint working and regular dialogue with Labour colleagues, and I have no doubts at all that we as a joint opposition have won every single argument.

Readers should note that the British government witnesses used in defence of the Bill included the Tory Taliban (aka the self-appointed Taxpayers’ Alliance), who were confused about the concept of a democratic mandate.

In their alternative universe politicians don’t represent taxpayers so a line of questioning involving the cost to the taxpayer of the Freedom of Information requests they use to generate their propaganda was not received kindly (or answered).

The government also called on “evidence” from an organisation called Health 2020.

This purports to be a UK-wide body dealing with patient care issues in the health service, but was forced to admit that it has only ever held one meeting and proved blissfully unaware that a trade union involved in industrial action is already legally obliged to provide “life and limb cover.”

Their representative, a former Conservative Party candidate, also struggled to understand the concept of facility time.

The poor quality of witnesses to support the Bill was matched by the wilful ignorance of government members who seemed quite content to sit on a Bill committee without bothering to do any background research to make up for their lack of knowledge of the workplace.

This included being unaware that a trade union would place an insertion with an industrial ballot paper. Nor did they want to understand that trade union members and their families are “members of the public” and “hard-working taxpayers.”

It is this language of division, the concept of a “them” who need to be dealt with to protect “us,” that is an all-encompassing feature of this majority Tory administration and used to justify this unwanted, unnecessary piece of legislation.

At this point I wish to place on record my appreciation of the work carried out by my colleague Dr Lisa Cameron MP who assisted greatly with developing the SNP position during the parliamentary process.

We had to develop an approach that highlighted that the real purpose was to undermine any organised opposition to the austerity agenda as well as further undermining the rights of working people to secure decent pay and working conditions.

The Trade Union Bill isn’t really about addressing low turnout in trade union ballots or dealing with industrial disputes — that’s the fig leaf to hide the ideological attack on organised labour.

The real myth surrounding balloting and thresholds is the notion that after a result is announced, irrespective of the numbers involved or margin of support declared, trade union activists gain Jedi-like powers exercised with a wave of the hand to force members to go on strike — “this is the strike you’re looking for.”

Any trade union activist could tell them that’s nonsense, which is why strikes don’t take place unless the action enjoys massive support.

The stark reality is that the Tories are denying trade unions the options of electronic and workplace balloting. Stating that those methods are unsafe and insecure meets the dictionary definition of hypocrisy from a political party that just chose its London mayoral candidate online.

It’s important to emphasise that the Scottish National Party opposed the Bill’s proposals on political funds.

We were very clear that political funding arrangements are for trade union members to determine.

Members do in my experience question funding arrangements and should have the right to determine whether these should go towards one or more political parties.

The intentions of the Bill are not just party-political but are an attempt to cut the vital funds that unions provide to other organisations and support campaigning capability across society.

When this is added to the recent cuts to Short money, which gives opposition parties the research capacity to hold the government to account, Tory intentions are clear.

The Bill means government interference in basic industrial relations, which is why we argued it should require the consent of all public bodies in the UK before it is enacted.

It is particularly disappointing that the presiding officer in the Scottish Parliament has turned down an attempt to debate a legislative consent motion to block the Bill.

In my view this decision was fundamentally wrong.

During the Bill’s committee deliberations the British government argued that consent was not necessary while simultaneously acknowledging that a British government minister will have the power to dictate the facility time arrangements in devolved administrations , a clear signal that the Bill encroaches on the executive decision-making of ministers in devolved areas.

The decision to remove the facility of collecting trade union subscriptions through payroll deductions (check-off) adds weight to the view that the Bill encroaches in the capacity of devolved administrations to conduct relations with trade unions and their own workforce.

We sought to change Tory proposals on picketing, as the current ones seek to allow pickets fewer rights than someone suspected of criminal activity, and challenged the provisions for agency workers to be brought in to break strikes.

Despite defeat at this stage, the trade union resistance to the Bill remains strong and it has some way to go. Even once it becomes law the costs and impracticality of the legislation will be made evident.

Emerging forces will influence decision-making in 2016, for example the Better than Zero campaign involving the STUC youth committee standing up against the exploitation of young workers, companies which are involved in blacklisting being excluded from public procurement in Scotland and the next stage of the Pitchford inquiry.

That means in 2016 the demands of working people will be high on the political agenda.

People are increasingly aware that the ladder of social mobility is being systematically pulled up ahead of them and that no matter how hard they work or how much they aspire for a better life for their children they will be punished for not being born into the “right” sort of family.

The inequalities of the 19th century have returned, but as that sparked the rise of organised labour in the 20th, so can the inequalities of this century revive resistance and change.

Chris Stephens is Scottish National Party MP for Glasgow South West.

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France: Unions In New Labour Law Talks

CGTIn November last year France’s labour minister, Myriam El Khomri, under the direction of President Hollande launched discussions with unions and employers to reform French labour law with the main objective being to revise the entire labour code and allow for company based working agreements – rather than sector based industry wide agreements. Hollande is said to have made the decision against a 10% unemployment rate in France which he said he would reduce.

Trade unions and employers agree that French labour law is complex and that the current system no longer responds to the main objectives of protecting workers and creating a stable business environment.

Employers say employment is too strictly regulated and unions say that that any new labour law needs to cover self-employed workers and out-sourced digital workers and entitle them to occupational social security.

El Khomri is proposing a labour code based on three tiers centered on collective bargaining at local or company level.

The first tier would guarantee fundamental principles such as the minimum wage and working hours, (French unions and workers covet their famous 35 hour week) from which employers would not be able to depart.

The second tier would be comprised of the unspecified areas open to negotiation, at local or company level.

The third tier would cover the provisions applicable where there is no local or company level agreement between employers and unions – ie supplementary provisions.

But there are big disagreements between the unions, employers and the government.

Unions argue that the economic and social situation makes change difficult – and that the negotiating framework is unfair and makes workers more vulnerable.

Employers say the Government is not going far enough with reform and the Government says the reform should allow companies to regain confidence in their ability to adapt – with a view to investing and creating employment.

The current labour law, the government say, discourages the hiring of employees in small enterprises but  it will give workers in small companies more employment security.

It will be interesting to see how these negotiations unfold.

Although union membership in France is low compared to many western European countries, their national sectoral bargaining structure provides protection for all workers in any given sector – union member or not.

The French Works Council structure is also strong and as we have seen before, when workers in France feel they or their working conditions are under attack they mobilise very quickly and can get workers out on the street very quickly at the same time.

Watch this space.

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CTUF – IER Spring Rally Update

CTUF Spring Flyer2016 A5

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