Global newsround

All the latest happenings in HR around the world, by Philip Whiteley

Schroder denies costs of works council reform

German chancellor Gerhard Schroder has denied that his Social Democrat
government’s planned increases in rights for members of works councils will be
a burden for business.

The enhanced roles for the consultative forums, which were confirmed earlier
this year (globalhr April), give members the right to a say on environmental
issues, training and work organisation. Such a role "should be seen as a
strength, not a weakness, by foreign investors considering Germany as a
business location," Schrîder told the Sonntag Aktuell newspaper.

Works councils can often organise restructurings better than management
alone, he added.

Unemployment figures fall in Spain and UK

The official rate of unemployment in Spain has fallen to 9.45%, the lowest
rate since 1980. A reduction of 22,000 has taken the number without work down to
1.6 million. In the late 1980s, the rate rose to around 25% of the adult
population in Spain. The centre-right government of Jose Maria Aznar has
claimed the creation of 1.2 million jobs since 1997.

A similar pattern has emerged in the UK, where the number out of work and
claiming state support fell below the one million mark in March, for the first
time since 1975. The official rate under the wider definition is just over 1.5

US states propose more paid leave

Eight states in the US have introduced bills that would provide pay for
employees on leave for the birth or adoption of a child, or for treatment of a
serious health condition. Most would use state unemployment insurance funds to
finance the proposed paid leave. One state is seeking to levy a new tax
directly on employers and employees.

These laws were made possible by a regulation passed in President Clinton’s
second term. The Society for Human Resource Management has challenged the
Department of Labor regulation, arguing that it over-reached its powers in
changing the laws governing state unemployment systems. No ruling has yet been

The eight states involved are: Arizona, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey,
Oregon, Texas, Indiana and Washington State.

Bush intervenes in labour dispute

President Bush has signed an executive order preventing a strike at
Northwest Airlines. In the latest dispute to hit a US airline, talks between
the union Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association and management at Northwest
Airlines reached deadlock by mid-March, with the two sides at loggerheads on a
series of issues concerning pay, pensions and back-pay for mechanics, cleaners
and custodians.

The presidential order delays any industrial action from taking place before
the middle of May at the earliest. Senior vice-president of labour relations,
Robert Brodin, said he had made off-the-record proposals to union
representatives which had been rejected.

Skilled migrants leave US

A number of skilled immigrant staff in Silicon Valley are now unemployed or
in low-paid work, according to a report by the Society for Human Resource
Management (SHRM). Just six months after the US Congress near-doubled the entry
visa ceiling to alleviate the technical skills shortage, the sudden economic
downturn has meant that many of those who have entered the US are struggling.

Some skilled workers "are sitting idle for months or even going back
home", says the SHRM. Of those in work, some are earning only around $250
a week, which is far less than expected and well below the rates of a year ago.

In October, the Congress increased the annual cap on the number of skilled-worker
visas from 115,000 to 195,000.

Spanish unions gain access to company Internet

The Banco de Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA) has lost a high court case in
Spain which means that unions will now have unlimited access to the use of
company e-mail to communicate with members on union business.

The bank had argued that it complied with Spanish legislation requiring
access to information by placing a message board for the use of the union. It
filtered e-mail use, arguing that unlimited access could result in blocking of
the organisation’s server.

But the court agreed with the national union Comisiones Obreras that use
should be unlimited. There have been calls in Spain for the Workers Statute,
which sets out the rights to information, to be updated to take account of new

Euro experts to look at employee relations

A high-level group studying the state of industrial relations in Europe has
been convened by Anna Diamantopoulou, the European Commissioner responsible for

Ten experts from different backgrounds will look at industrial restructuring
and how communities can cope with closures or major restructurings by industry.

The issue is highly contentious in Europe and there has been fierce
opposition from employers to the proposed right for employees to be consulted
on any changes.

The expert group will look at the quality of industrial relations and
examine how they can be improved, rather than sanctions and the law, according
to Diamantopoulou.

Nepalese hotel staff take strike action

More than 200,000 employees in the hospitality industry in Nepal began an
all-out strike in mid-March. The strikers, members of several unions, want a
10% service charge to be added to guests’ bills, with the proceeds distributed
among staff.

Hotel managers in the Himalayan kingdom have been forced to prepare rooms
and serve meals themselves as they refused to give in to the unions’ demands.
Managers have claimed that the tourism industry – which is vital for the
country – is struggling and cannot afford the increases, a claim denied by the

Argentina jobs crisis worsens

The outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Europe has worsened the
unemployment problems in Argentina. Around 700 jobs in farming and meat
processing have been lost in the South American country because of the import
restrictions on meat.

The job losses have been felt mostly in the Santa Fe region, from where
nearly 50% of food products are exported. These losses add to an already high
level of unemployment in Argentina.

France hires more managers

There has been a 12.5% rise in the hiring of managers in France in the past year,
according to a study by Manager Employment Association (Association pour
l’emploi des cadres). The rate of increase was three times that of the previous

Employers have been particularly keen to hire young graduates, the
association reported. Just over 100,000 managerial posts had been created by
the 11,000 companies surveyed, compared with 66,000 in 1999.

Indonesian Nike suppliers accused of abuse

A non-government agency has accused managers at nine of Nike’s contract
factories in Indonesia of verbal, sexual and physical abuse. The pressure group
Global Alliance produced a report in which it said more than half the factory
employees interviewed had witnessed verbal abuse, and that more than 10% had
seen improper sexual touching, with a similar proportion witnessing physical

Nike said the findings were "disturbing" and promised to address
the matter. It buys from 25 factories in Indonesia.

Asia’s skills shortages prompts training investments

US-based data storage company EMC has launched its Asia Pacific Global
Training Center in Singapore to address the shortage of storage specialists in
the region. The firm has invested S$5m (£1.9m) in the centre, which is its
second in the region (the first was in Japan). It aims for 2,800 students by

In a similar move, Singapore Network Services plans to invest the same
amount over the next three years in a software development and training centre
in India. The application service provider will build the centre in the heart
of India’s burgeoning software industry in Bangalore.

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