Friday, January 25, 2013


A tete a tete between Bundeskanzler Angela Merkel and President Francois Hollande. Germany and France together are the axis around which the European Union is running

The French socialist President Francois Hollande surprisingly announced on the 12th of January a historical social agreement between Government, employers and employees on reforms of the labour market. Past december the negociations had failed. Some unions had announced they would not sign any agreement that introduces a kind of flexibility on the labourmarket. However, in spite of this, there is an agreement today. Flexibility will be introduced on the level of dismissal of employees. It will be easier for companies to get rid of employees in times of crisis. However, it will become more expensive – and thus less attractive – for employers to hire employees on a temporary contract. In return, the unions had done that employees get easier acces to training and a supplementary health insurance.

From the 5 biggest unions three of them have accepted the agreement. The unions are now going to consult their members. The agreement becomes confirmed as soon as the majority of the unions agrees. The big question is whether the agreement is good enough to get out of stagnation the French economy. Unemployment in France, according to new European figures, has risen to 10.5 percent, against 5.4 percent in Germany. More than a quarter of the French youth is unemployed. The French budget for 2013 takes in account of 0.8 percent growth but optimistic minded economists expect at best this year no growth and no shrink economy.

Prime Minister David tries to escape from the eternal British dilemma to remain independent as a Great Nation or permanently join the Europe Union.

English Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron announced a referendum will be held about Europe, to be held between 2015 - 2017. Before that he wants to negotiate with the EU on the distribution of powers between the EU state members and the European Commission. He wants less power for Brussels especially on EU directions as for example the legal protection of temporary workers and on working time which says that a working week should not be longer than 48 hours. The euro-critical think tank 'Open Europe' considers that this 48 hour working week cost 32,8 billion pounds, because employers must hire more workers. This makes the UK less competitive compared to other non-European countries.

He himself declared to be in favor of the UK to stay in the EU but the “democratic approval” for this in his country is to small. That is why he proposes the referendum. He outlined 5 principles to be basic for the European Union: competitivity, flexibility, more powers for the member states in stead of Brussels, democratic representativeness and responsibility. Since its membership of the EU, the UK has tried to limit the EU to a bussiness community based on a more European free market. Even the 10 years social democratic government of Prime Minister Tony Blair (1997 – 2007) could not change fundamentally the UK position in the EU.

As a former imperialistic power with a strong island identity, the UK has problems to accept they belong to the European continent and that they have to accomodate economically and politically with Germany, France, Spain, Italy etc. Besides this they feel a strong kinship – politically, economically and cultural – with the US. However, the United States have given already the message to Prime Minister Cameron, that it is very important that the UK stays in the EU. The US have warned that if the UK would leave the EU its relations with the USA itself will be damaged and the UK would become isolated on international level.

ETUC Secretary General Bernadette Ségol fights for a Social Europe.

The European Trade Union Confederation ETUC headed by the French General Secretary Bernadette Ségol reacted very critical on the speech of David Cameron: “We are very concerned that Mr Cameron wants to retain the benefits of the single market, while bringing into question EU competence to deal with subjects of vital importance to European citizens and workers including “the environment, social affairs and crime”. Workers rights are an integral part of the single market, because we need a Europe for citizens, not just for business. We must avoid the downward spiral of competition based on lowering basic standards at work that he is clearly advocating”.

TUC General Secretary Francis O'Grady sees the speech of its prime minister about the EU referendum as a distraction. “We need a government that focuses all its efforts on jobs, growth and living standards - the problems that face ordinary families every day of the week. 'The Prime Minister's call for a possible referendum in four year's time is a distraction, creating uncertainty for business investment and making recovery even more difficult. It's clear that he wants the UK to remain in the EU but on the basis of scrapping vital protection for workers. Yet all of Europe's most successful economies - in or out of the EU - have better rights at work. 'Instead ministers need to find the time to 'think more deeply' about getting the economy moving.”

So what will it be in the future? Will the EU become a community of citizens of just a bussiness community? There are the conservative, nationalist and leftist forces who want the EU to limit itself as a bussiness community. The EURO crisis around Greece has shown that nationalistic sentiments, not to say national prejudices are playing an important role in national politics, both to the right and the left. These political forces do not want to loose any national sovereignity to Brussels. On the contrary they believe that national sovereignty guarantees more national prosperity and progress than Brussels.

On the other side, most European trade unions united in the ETUC want to develop a social EU which in practice means more European labour laws and a common European labour market. But trade unions don't have seats in the national parliaments or the European Parliament. Yes, their members are voters, but as history has shown trade union members never vote as one political block. Trade union members have common interests as workers but as citizens, they have different political opinions and loyalities. At present, most trade unions are not even involved in national debates on the future of the EU. Therefore it is time for the unions to start talking with their members about what kind of EU they want: the EU as a bussiness community with the free market as the heart of it or a social EU based on common labour rules and a common labour market? Unions have to make up their mind if they do not want to stand on the sidelines of the political developments in Europe.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Togo january 2005( photo PETRUS)

Because of the growing unemployment there is a lot of talking in Europe about creating new jobs, especially for young people. The unemployment rate for young people is in many countries much higher than the average unemployment rate. The ETUC wants the European states to invest more in the economy in stead to continue its austerity measures. However, the EU decided to fight the Eurocrisis by tightening the budget control of each nation state and to make the rules on deficits stricter, so it is very difficult to convince political leaders to change.

The proposals for spending more public money to put the economy in motion are on a rather general level. For what kind of economic activities the European nations should use the public money? What special activties should be sponsored by the state to employ more young workers?What would employers do with the help of public money in case they are subsidized by the state? Will they hire young workers or invest in new means of production?

Confederal Secretary General Guy Tordeur of the Belgium Christian Trade Union in Brussels gave some ideas for employment in his article 'Work on employment' (Visie, 11 january 23013). To his opinion employers and government together have a great responsability to look for solutions for youth unemployment. “This high unemployment rate among young people is nothing new. It exists already a long time. The problem is certainly not solved by removing the unemployed from the statistics or by reducing their unemployment benefit. Work should be done to create employment, not just work for higher-skilled workers, but also for workers with limited training. Everyone has the right to quality work.”

Tordeur believes that one of the possibilities to create employment in the next future will be in the healthcare sector. Due to the aging population in the coming years tens of thousands of jobs will be needed. “Only in Flanders a report by the Flemish government talks about the need for 60,000 additional workers by 2015. The same applies to the city of Brussels. Foreign workers are not the solution to the shortage of staff in the health sector. With appropriate education and training many job seekers, even with limited training, can be employed in the healthsector. The sector itself will have to provide good quality jobs, allowing employees to continue their work.”

Togo, january 2005 ( photo  PETRUS)

Tordeur believes that another new job possibility exists “by the transformation of our society into a society that takes into account the ecological capacity of our planet. This includes a 80 to 90% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2050. That is a big challenge, but it also offers opportunities for new jobs. I am thinking, for example: home insulation, construction of energy efficient homes, building solar panels, windmills, development of more public transport, waste processing and recycling .... In the coming years this trend towards more green sectors will continue.”

What I am missing in this debate is what shoul happen in the private sector that is still responsable for the vast majority of jobs in all EU countries. According to European statistics of 2006 nearly 70% of workers earns his money in the service sector, 25% in the industrial sector and less than 5% in the agricultural sector. Only a small proportion of the workforce is employed by the government as a public official, in the national education system, police or army.

It is therefore of utmost importance that the private sector creates new jobs so that more people are employed. But how to generate more jobs in the private sector? Should one use public money for this? Should the state itself stimulate more research with the idea to develop new technologies for production and services? Should be lowered tax rates on labor and taxes higher on capital? Must be diminished bureaucratic control, rules and regulations for private enterprises? Should the government invest in roads, canals, air and seaports?

Must there be made radical changes in the wage structure like has been done in Germany some years ago? What to do with the idea to lower the wages of senior wokers, to make it possible for companies to hire young workers? Must there be less protection by law against dismissal of workers as is proposed by employers? Is more flex working a solution for companies to answer faster and more efficient to the changes on the market? How should social protection be organized under such circumstances. Many questions and not yet enough answers but time is running out. For a society it is dangerous to leave aside too long the younger people.

Friday, January 11, 2013


 Neo Dutch Employer XAP XEMINI says to employee "Your wage in Yuan or we move to China".

The proposal to reduce the wages of older workers by about 10%, by the Dutch ITC Company Capgemini, part of the French multinational Capgemini with approximately 100,000 employees worldwide, is considered as a break through of one of the last taboos on the labor market.

Three workers aged 45 and older, who are afraid to give their names, came yesterday to the Dutch national newspaper 'Trouw' ( The article "Capgemini frequently asked for salary sacrifices", January 9, 2013). The news that Capgemini asks 400 colleagues for a 10 percent reduction of their wages, is the reason to tell their story. “We are pleased that this subject has come in public. Capgemini kept secret for years their actions for wage reduction . There is no collective agreement, unions are widely kept outside and to prevent clashes with the labor law and unions, people were fired bit by bit. Meanwhile, for many years we have had no pay rise, we had to give away senior arrangements and as the elderly we feel that every month can be your last.”

The average age of employees is 42 years at Capgemini. The sacrifice of wage income concerns the middle management in the company above that age. It is about a reduction of wage from 250 to 300 euros net per month. These older workers are usually not hired by Capgemini, but come from merged companies like Business Application Services (BAS) , Getronics or the IT departments of retail company Maxeda and the printer and camera manufacturer Canon.

From the moment these employees were transferred to Capgemini, they feel unsafe, confirm the three sources. “For years now these people is asked to accept lower wages. From the original 2200 BAS employees hundreds of them have been fired or have left the company. Many no longer were needed because of outsourcing to India. Redundancies were done under the name of Operaters to avoid reporting to the Dutch legal institution that promotes the interests of redundant workers.”

The legislation on collective redundancies have been tightened last year and now Capgemini has to expose themselves. In September, 350 people were fired collectively. The social plan was not aligned with the unions: it was the Works Council of Capgemini that has agreed to the redundancy scheme. The Works Council even has agreed with the reduction of wages, but in the workplace this is criticized.

"The Works Council follows the American Way of doing”, says a source. They accept that the staff is constantly under pressure. Management and Works Council believe that the organization is closed and that there more space is needed for young people to be hired. “Capgemini is indeed a good employer for young professionals, but older people are not used to this approach. Therefore we must not be played off against each other, but later, when it is clear what purpose is served exactly with the latest wage sacrifices, we should say all 400 together "NO" to this pay cut.”

The unions add to all this that if an employee agrees his wage being cut and after all this he will still be fired, he will receive an unemployment benefit based on this lower wage. The unions therefore recommend the workers to ask at least for additional guarantees against dismissal and to get their former wage back once the company makes profits again.

Source: Dutch newspapers. Quotes come from the aforementioned article in the newspaper Trouw on 9 January 2013.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


On the head of the demonstration goes the leadership of the trade union of Razvojna banka Vojvodina and of BOFOS. 
On December 20, 2012 in Novi Sad (Serbia) the Trade Union Organization of Razvojna Bank of Vojvodina and the federation SS Bofos organized demonstrations with the slogan “Let our voice be heard” to express their protest against the decision of the Provincial Government of Vojvodina and the government of Serbia to close down Razvojna Bank of Vojvodina because of the Bank’s large indebtedness. This means that employees of the Bank will literally be thrown out in the street. The protesters got together in front of the Central Bank and then proceeded to the seat of the government of Vojvodina. The protest was supported by a considerable number of other unions both by their participation in the protests and/or by telegrams and letters of support. 

At the meeting with the Provincial Minister of Finance both unions have presented their demands related to employees’ protection that is, implementation of social plan providing guaranties of a decent severance pay as well as protection for the most vulnerable employees. The Minister said the aims presented by the Union were basically normal and it was the interest of Vojvodina to solve the issue of employees’ position in an adequate way.

As a result of the protest and the meeting with the Minister the Provincial government agrees that the Bank prepares a social plan for the employees. The Union will follow the implementation of the agreement and undertake necessary activities in order to have all demands realized.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


Xiong Jing (left) campaigns on the internet against domestic violence with a picture of her on which her naked upper body is painted with red hands. Xiao Meinu considers the pressure on women to enlarge her breasts as a form of violence. "I have very small breasts, but I'm proud of my body," says Xiao Meinu meining 'beautiful girl' in the Chinese language.

'The naked truth' is the name of a Chinese internet campaign against domestic violence against women. 'A study from 2011 shows that behind the closed doors of traditional Chinese families over 30% of the 550 million Chinese women are victims of domestic violence. "If fashion magazines can use naked female models to sell perfume, why should we not be allowed to use our bodies to demand action against a gross violation of our human rights? It is the naked truth that the female body is a battlefield in China ", says webredactrice Xiong Jing of the new digital magazine 'Women's Voices' on defensive tone. The photos of her and her two girlfriends have sparked much controversy because of the alleged pronografic character. The censorship tries to ban the photos from internet but without result, as is often the case with unpleasant digital publications. "

Reportage and photographs: Oscar Garschagen published in NRC Handelsblad of Saturday, December 29th & Sunday, December 30, 2012