Globalisation threatens hard won worker rights in developed countries
Shorter working hours lengthened
Well-organised German workers are feeling the pinch from competition from lower paid workers in Eastern Europe and South Africa .
An agreement covering 4000 workers at two Siemens plants in Germany signed at the end of June, provides for a 40-hour week without any additional pay. Workers chose to work an extra five hours a week to retain their jobs after the company threatened to take the work to low-wage Hungary .
Siemens German workers last worked a 40-hour week 20 years ago before their seven-week strike won them the shortened working week.
Meanwhile, the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF) reports that DaimlerChrysler service workers at Sindelfingen in Germany have agreed to the phase in of an extra four hours a week and a 2.79% pay cut in 2006 in return for their job security until 2012. In addition, management is not allowed any further outsourcing.
“Jobs have been secured on a long term basis, a success which one cannot value highly enough,” said Jurgen Peters, German metal union, IG Metall’s president.
Management had threatened to move production of some of its new C-class Mercedes to another plant in Bremen , Germany or its South African plant in East London .
As Numsa Bulletin went to print, Volkswagen Germany became the latest company to put the squeeze on its workers with proposals for a one-year wage freeze and with no promise of job security.
Hartmut Meine, head of IG Metall’s negotiating team, was quoted in This Day as saying: “If it came to a pay freeze, it should basically mean shareholders also get nothing. But shareholders get a regular dividend, so why should the workers get nothing?”
Rest of Europe
The same threats are cowering French workers too. More than 800 workers recently agreed to a 36-hour week to keep the company in France instead of it going to the Czech Republic .
UK trade union magazine, Labour Research, reports that employers in the Netherlands , Belgium and Austria are also “calling for a return to the 40-hour week.”