This week’s international news in brief

EU employment costs in richer nations outstrip US

Employment costs in Western European countries are 23% higher than in the US and more than four times those in Eastern Europe, according to a survey by Mercer Human Resource Consulting. Costs in the most expensive countries are more than 10 times those in the least costly locations. The highest annual employment costs occur in Belgium, Sweden and Germany, closely followed by Luxembourg and the UK. Latvia and Lithuania are the least expensive locations. Belgium’s average employment costs are as much as 36,500 while Latvia’s are just 3,239. The average cost of employment across all EU states is 19,262. On average, employment costs in the EU are around 15% lower than in the US. But, taking Eastern EU countries out of the equation, costs in the EU’s richer nations countries are 23% higher.

Norway threatens firms with closure over inequality

The Norwegian government has threatened to shut companies that refuse to have management boards made up of at least 40% women by 2007. “Companies have been dragging their feet. They really have to recruit more women,” children and family affairs minister Laila Daavoey told news agency Reuters. “In the very worst case, they will face closure,” she said. Norway’s parliament told firms in 2002 to ensure at least 40% of each sex in boardrooms by mid-2005 to force corporate leadership to match Nordic traditions of sex equality elsewhere in society. According to the government, since 2002, the percentage of women on boards has risen to only 11% from 6%. Under the plan, parliament will review lists of corporate boards in August this year. If they fall short of the 40% target, the government will set a legal deadline of 2007. After that, firms would face liquidation by court order if they still refused to comply after a formal, final warning.

Low-paid to lose out if Aussies adopt US wage system

The federal government in Australia has been accused of trying to bring in a US-style minimum wage system, under which low-paid workers would rarely get a pay rise or receive much less than they do under the current system, which is overseen by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC). Unions and employer groups have expressed concerns over proposals where the government would handpick an expert group from the treasury and reserve bank to set minimum wages. Unions say this is a backdoor way of scrapping the independent AIRC and giving the federal government control over minimum wages. However, minister for employment and workplace relations Kevin Andrews said the AIRC had failed to consider the impact of wage increases on employment. “The government is committed to maintaining the minimum wage and ensuring it is increased in such a way that every Australian is guaranteed of a fair wage,” he said. Employer groups in Australia generally support the government’s moves.

Female nightshift to make India more competitive

Indian women will soon be able to work through the night in factories under a new labour market reform which strikes a blow for gender equality across the sub-continent. The Financial Times reports that the Indian government is introducing an amendment to the 1948 Factories Act which will allow companies with more than 10 employees to use women in night shifts between 10pm and 6am. According to the paper, the sectors which stand to benefit the most are clothing and IT, which employ large numbers of young women as seamstresses and call centre operatives. Government officials said companies would be obliged to offer door-to-door transport for female employees, which was a key concern for many women’s groups. Manufacturers in the country estimate that adding a night shift will increase their capacity by 50% and allow them to be more competitive with countries such as China.

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