Global HR Round-up

UN health agency threatens to sack disgruntled employees

The head of UN health agency, the World Health Organisation (WHO), has warned his staff they could be sacked following last week’s one-hour strike. WHO workers were protesting at feared job cuts arising from the agency’s use of short-term contracts. WHO director-general, Lee Jong-Wook, said the strike would tarnish the agency’s image as it prepares for a possible flu pandemic and said employees could face “disciplinary measures”. The strike is the first of its kind at the WHO and reflects deep dissatisfaction among some employees. In a letter outlining the grounds for striking, staff groups at the health agency accused the management of failing to agree to their demands that rules regarding the use of short-term contracts be reconsidered. Under current regulations, the WHO can employ workers on up to four successive 11-month contracts. After the 44th month, the agency must either offer the worker a permanent contract with the organisation or terminate their employment. Reuters news agency reported that between 200 and 300 employees at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, could lose their jobs in the coming months.

Total U-turn as oil giant offers compensation to villagers

Oil giant Total is to compensate villagers in Myanmar who claimed they were used as forced labour during the building of a major gas pipeline. The French firm is to offer 5.2m euros (£3.5m) to villagers who alleged they were forced to work on the multi-million-pound project by the army. Total denies it was aware that forced labour was directly or indirectly used in the project. The deal, which ends a four-year legal battle, does not imply any liability. Eight Burmese villagers alleged that Total must have known that violations in human rights would occur during the construction of the pipeline, which was built by Total and US firm Unocal. Total said: “Total has agreed to compensate the plaintiffs. Total upholds denial of any involvement in forced labour and all accusations of this nature.” Unocal had already agreed to pay compensation to residents of the region.

Strikes fail to deter Spanish government’s labour reforms

The Spanish government is pressing ahead with its planned labour reforms despite several crippling nationwide strikes. For the past seven months the government, trade unions and the employers’ confederation have been in talks aimed at imposing labour reforms. Past attempts to carry out reforms, including changes to contracts, pensions and healthcare, have provoked several general strikes in Spain, including one in 2002 that caused the right-wing government to back down and withdraw its proposals. About 70% of Spain’s workers are still covered by collective agreements and by open-ended contracts that guarantee wages will rise with inflation and protect other conditions and rights. Workers can get a state pension at the age of 60 after working for 15 years and the unemployed are entitled to 42 months’ benefit.

Restructuring responsible for Europe’s job losses

Most of job losses in European companies come from internal restructuring rather than relocation or insolvency, according to a report from the EU’s European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. It said more than 80% of the 1,000,000 reported job losses over the past 18 months in Europe were because of technological development, changes in consumer demand and reforms to work organisation. By comparison less than 5%, or 63,000 job losses, were caused by relocation of companies. However, this internal dynamism creates a need to ensure that displaced staff are re-employed effectively elsewhere, said the report. The foundation’s acting director, Willy Buschak, said: “Europe creates and loses jobs every day. It is the collective responsibility of authorities, enterprises and social partners to ensure that workers are moved to sectors where new jobs are created.”


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