By Harry Kelber | World of Labor | August 11, 2012

Italy Wrestles with Rewriting Its Stifling Labor Laws

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti is tackling the issue of labor law reform head on. A challenge in a country beset by corruption, stifling bureaucracy and a lumbering judicial system, whose rulings often lean to keeping people in their jobs for life. After a caustic battle with Italy’s powerful unions, Monti pushed through measures meant to help the economy by providing business with incentives to hire–in part by making it easier to shrink work forces in times of economic distress.

The overhaul has been welcomed by employers and could not come at a more pivotal time for Italy. The economy, the eurozone’s largest after Germany and France, is still among the richest in termsof net household wealth. But the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has forecast a slow economic recovery if the policy changes are not adopted.

Italy also faces an imminent danger as the euro’s crisis has spread to the region’s other big economy, Spain. Investors have frequently driven Italy’s borrowing costs above 6 percent amid fears that Rome may eventually have to ask for help from its European partners. While labor market overhauls can help, economists say that it is not certain that it will stoke growth fast enough to mend Italy’s finances.

Myanmar’s Workers Exercise Their Rights to Organize

Tens of thousands of workers in Myanmar, also known as Burma, took part in an action this year that until recently could have had very serious consequences–they went on strike. It was maybe the biggest and most sustained act of protest since a nominal civilian government took over last year. Workers were given the right to organize. And they have found that doing so generally works.

Still, industrial development is just beginning, and it’s unlikely that workers will see wages rise quickly. Anthony Kuhn, an NPR reporter, recently traveled to Yangon, Myanmar, and filed this report

"Striking workers are milling around at the entrance of the New Way Shoe factory, a Chinese-invested firm just outside of Yangon. Workers say they make a basic wage of about 60 cents a day, which they are demanding to be doubled. They complain they struggle to produce their daily quota of 2,000 leather shoes.

Strike leader Aye Phyo Khing says they barely get any time for bathroom breaks. The time limit for a toilet break is 10 minutes. But to walk to the toilets and back takes five minutes. Sometimes, we have to line up, which can take more than 10 minutes. We are afraid we may not finish our work, and this causes problems for us. One other concern of the workers is that the strike may scare off foreign investors.

Hotel Staff Strike Against Overtime and Working Public Holidays

Staff from the Navegado Hotel in Monte Gordordos have announced they will strike against poorly-paid overtime and working on public holidays from Aug. 13 for an unspecified length of time. The employees from the three-star establishment have not yet received their June or July salaries, according to a statement issued by the Algarve Hotels Union.

With this strike, staff at the hotel aim to contest the recently-revised labor legislation , as they say it represents "violence and brutality" by reducing the amount paid for overtime and allowing for free labor during public holidays.

"This is a fight for the right to work with rights, a fight for respect and dignity for those who have done everything throughout the years to cooperate with the company. Workers demand what is owed to them and are up to do everything they can until the situation is resolved," the statement said.

Egyptian Workers Demand Voice in New Government

Egyptians of all stripes and backgrounds ushered in a new era of political democracy last year, opening the channels of discourse in an historically repressive state. Widely seen as paving the way for last year’s uprising, Egypt’s industrial workers do not want to be left out of the equation.

But without effective political representation, and with old regime figures still present in the upper echelons of industry management, it remains to be seen how Egyptian workers will fare under the new government. During the past few weeks, Egypt has seen thousands of factory workers, gold miners and even doctors involved in various labor actions.

It is clear by now that Egypt’s workers have both economic and political demands and intend to voice them loudly. After the uprising, independent labor unions were legalized. Workers no longer have to be represented by state-run unions. The new Egyptian government under President Morsi has yet to determine its relations with the new independent unions.

Nigerian Electricity Workers Threaten Strike

More parts of Nigeria may be heading for a disruption of electricity supply, as another zone of the National Union of Electricity Employees threatened to go on strike over the mismanagement of the N331 billion superannuation fund.

Joseph Ishaya, the North West Zonal Coordinator of NUEE, said that the N331 billion, which was allegedly mismanaged, was from the superannuation fund contributed for the workers by the management of PHCN. The money, which represents 25 percent of the workers’ consolidated salary, was supposed to be used for the payment of workers’ retirement benefits.

Ishaya described the manner in which PHCN workers were being treated as inhuman. "The 2004 Pension Reform Act says that workers’ welfare and benefits must be negotiated to a conclusion before an organization’s privatization," he pointed out.

Wage Cuts on Top of a Wage Freeze in the Philippines

Before May 1 this year, there was talk in Congress that the decade-long proposal to legislate a P125 ($2.99) minimum pay hike is nearing final passage. But the Aquino government unveiled a new wage policy, called two-tier wage system last May. Since then, we hear no more updates on wage hike legislation.

The real wages of Filipino workers have "flattened" or did not increase in real value over the past decade. They have fallen far behind the rise in the prices of products and in unregulated public services.

Various labor groups have protested the government’s unfair treatment of workers. While the Employers’ Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) has been highly profitable, they resent and oppose any measures that help their employees.

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