Global newsround

Philip
whitely reports on what’s happening in HR around the world

Furore
in Spain as court outlaws pay freeze

A
major constitutional controversy has erupted in Spain after the High Court
ruled that a public sector pay freeze imposed by the government in 1997 was
unlawful.

The
court has decided that the incoming centre-right government of Jose Maria Aznar
broke an agreement signed by its predecessor with the unions, which would have
seen public sector salaries rise by as much as 2.6%.

Trade
unions have promised a "hard and virulent" fight to ensure that the
government meets the back-dated payments in full, which could cost the Spanish
Exchequer close to Ptas500bn (US$3.45bn). The two main national trade union
bodies, the UGT and the Comisiones Obreras, were discussing the possibility of
a national strike as globalhr went to press.

Home-based
staff gain more rights

European
businesses will have to ensure that home-workers receive the same  treatment as other employees, under
regulations due to be in place by the start of 2002. The European Union’s
social affairs commissioner, Anna Diamantopolou, signed the agreement on
teleworking on 7 February this year.

The
main features are to guarantee equality of access to training and career
development; equal protection under health and safety rules; and continuation
of employment status and collective rights.  www.worldatwork.com

Big
payoffs linked to "non-litigation" clauses

Employers
in the US are cutting down on litigation by linking increased severance payouts
to clauses that bar an ex-employee from suing the company, according to a
report in USA Today.

One
example is ICG Communications, a data, voice and Internet communications
provider, which offers an additional two weeks’ severance pay for every year of
service to employees who sign a non-litigation agreement.

Companies
are anticipating a short economic downturn and they do not want to have a
negative profile, because they may be hiring again in the near future, the
report noted.

Another
example of generosity in downsizing came at AOL, which offered stock options to
those losing their jobs through the merger with Time Warner, although this was
not specifically linked to non-litigation clauses.  www.lexis-nexis.com/more/worldatwork/

New
US president to admit more Mexican workers

George
W Bush has agreed to discuss loosening immigration rules for Mexican nationals,
to help reduce labour shortages in the southern US. In February, the new US
president discussed proposals for a new guest worker programme with his Mexican
counterpart, Vicente Fox  

Rival
plans put forward in the US Senate differ over whether temporary employees –
who are wanted by employers in the agriculture, construction and service industries
– would have the right to apply for US citizenship.

Civil
rights groups say failure to grant citizens’ rights would place immigrant
employees in the ambiguous position of Gastarbeiters in Germany, who are
permanent residents without political rights.

Fox
and Bush are currently considering both options.  www.shrm.org

Pension
protestors take to streets of France

Hundreds
of thousands of protestors have taken to the streets in France to voice
opposition to planned increases in pension contributions. Employers’ body MEDEF
wants to increase by five years the 40-year period during which private sector
employees have to contribute in order to benefit from full pension rights.

In
the current French system, the non-government body the ASF, comprising trade
union and employer interests, administrates the pension system for the private
sector. MEDEF, representing employer interests, argues that with increasing
life expectancy the system will collapse on present trends.  www.figaro.fr

New
Zealand opens doors to Asian skills

New
Zealand is to soften its English-language test for immigrants in an attempt to
alleviate skill shortages. The test was imposed in late 1995 following an
increase in the number of people from Asia looking for work on the islands.

The
change is part of a push by the government to upgrade the economy and
compensate for an exodus of skilled people, especially those versed in IT and
communications technology.

The
annual target of migrant employees set by the New Zealand government is being
increased from 17,000 to 27,000. The policy change follows pressure from
employers at forums the government has been holding with them since October.  www.feer.com

Mazda
managers take pay cut

Senior
managers at Mazda in Japan have volunteered 10% pay cuts in sympathy for the
1,800 employees being asked to take early retirement.

In
2000, the loss-making Japanese car giant, now one-third owned by Ford, asked
for people to step forward for the redundancy programme. However, as yet, no
one has come forward, prompting the gesture by managers, who announced their
intention to "take part in taking painful action", according to a
statement released by the company.

Mazda
sales grew slightly last year in the US but fell in Japan and Europe. The
falling euro has also diminished revenues from European sales and the firm
plans to close one of two assembly lines in Hiroshima, western Japan.  www.lexis-nexis.com/more/worldatwork

Indian
textile staff paid for doing nothing

The
Indian Government is contributing towards "idle wages" to textile
employees without sufficient work. Staff of the National Textile Corporation
are receiving subsidy from the state as the company continues to run at a loss.

Defending
the move, textile minister Dhananjay Kumar said he was honouring social
obligations. www.indiatimes.com

Malaysian
government criticises work ethic

Malaysia’s
Deputy Prime Minister has hit out at the country’s service employees and
labelled the work ethic as a "disgrace".

"We
still find ourselves being attended to by an unsmiling, unco-operative,
inefficient worker with zero initiative," Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
declared.

According
to a report in the Asia Pacific Management Forum, the situation arises partly
due to a critical shortage of staff and partly due to "an increasing local
perception that service jobs are demeaning and best left to foreign workers
from Indonesia, Philippines and Bangladesh".

Mexico
averts national rubber strike

Rubber
industry employers in Mexico have avoided a national strike after unions agreed
to a 9% pay increase. Production continues following an agreement signed in
February between the 35 companies and the national coalition of trade unions covering
the sector.

Employers
agreed to leave collective bargaining arrangements intact, shelving proposals
to modify the procedures. The deal was brokered with the help of a conciliator
from the Mexican Employment and Social Affairs Department.

Rise
in pay floor for US employees

The
US Senate has approved a significant hike in the minimum wage, from $5.15 to
$6.65 per hour in three annual increments.

The
first increase (of 60c) will be effective 30 days after the law passes, said Senator
Edward Kennedy, who is promoting the Fair Minimum Wage Bill of 2001. Kennedy
claimed that the purchasing power of the minimum wage is nearly three dollars
below the level of 1968.  www.shrm.org

Co-determination
is strengthened in Germany

Germany’s
worker representatives are set to gain more say on works councils. Labour
minister Walter Riester, from the ruling Social Democrat party, has received
the backing for his plans from both the Green Party coalition partner and from
the trade unions.

Riester
wants the works councils (Betriebsrat) to have a say on  training, environmental issues and the
organisation of work.

The
forums are already the most influential of any model in Europe, giving employee
representatives considerable say on management decisions. The changes are
expected to become law before the next round of works council elections in 2002.  www.faz.net

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