Workers Struggles: Europe & Africa
5 March 2004
Nursery nurses continue strike in Scotland
On March 2 nursery nurses employed by 24 local council authorities across Scotland began indefinite strike action in a long-running dispute over pay, holiday entitlement and a national contract.
The public service sector union, Unison, estimated that 4,000 staff took part in the strike, which saw pickets established at hundreds of schools and day centres.
Local pay agreements have been negotiated in eight councils, but the nursery nurses want their pay and conditions determined on a national basis. Unison representative Carol Ball explained, “Our job is the same across the country. It is determined by national standards; by the national curriculum documents—early literacy, early numeracy—these are all determined by the Scottish Executive. We’ve got the same qualification across the country, so therefore we maintain that we do the same job, so we don’t want local settlements. What we don’t want to see is nursery nurses being paid different rates across the country, because then it’s a postcode lottery.”
The nursery nurses are calling for an increase in pay of £4,000 to reflect the extra duties they have had to undertake.
Subway workers to strike
Rail subway workers in London and Newcastle are threatening industrial action in two separate disputes.
Maintenance workers on London Underground employed by Metronet are due to hold a 24-hour walkout on March 12 after members of the rail union, the RMT, voted five-to-one in favour of action.
The strike is in response to the sacking of eight maintenance staff after empty beer cans were found at Farringdon Tube station. Rail union leader Bob Crow says that the eight were dismissed without any evidence of their wrongdoing being brought forward, and has offered to go to independent arbitration over the issue.
Meanwhile members of the RMT and engineering union Amicus in Sunderland are to hold two 24-hour stoppages on March 5 and 7 in a long-running dispute over pay and conditions.
Oil pipeline workers protest in Azerbaijan and Georgia
On February 28, some 400 workers employed by Greece-based Consolidated Contractors International Co. participated in industrial action in the Kurdamir District of Azerbaijan. The building workers are involved in the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and are employed in both Azerbaijan and Georgia.
The workers are protesting that companies involved in the pipeline construction are engaging in unfair workplace practices. The Georgian Trade Union Amalgamation (GTUA) says that workers have to work seven-day weeks, 12 hours or more per day in order to earn “minimum subsistence salary” and that they can be fired at will without compensation.
Flight attendants in France protest
On February 28, flight attendants at Air France walked off the job leading to numerous flight cancellations at the two major Paris airports of Roissy and Orly.
The staff are protesting plans to cut their numbers on short and medium-haul flights. According to the employees, the cutbacks are part of cost-cutting measures introduced by low-budget carriers that have been winning the market share of leisure passengers from more established airlines.
The company plans to cut a billion euros ($US1.3 billion) from its operating costs over the next three years by reducing services on routes within France and Europe. Other plans include shifting flight attendants to more profitable long-haul international runs.
Zimbabwean university workers continue strike
All workers at the University of Zimbabwe are continuing their strike to demand that a pay increase, agreed by the country’s Labour Court after arbitration last year, is implemented in full. The Labour Court ruled that the non-academic staff would get a 300 percent increase and that the teaching staff get a minimum salary of $Z2.5 million ($US3,125 at the official exchange rate) every month from July 2003 with an additional 30 percent in housing and transport allowances. Strike action by lecturers, unable to live on their salaries, began at the beginning of this year. The official annual inflation rate is 622 percent—in reality it is much higher.
On March 1, the minister of higher and tertiary education, Dr Murerwa, called on the strikers to return to work, in spite of the fact that they have received only a 250 percent increase so far. After a meeting with unions concerned, Dr Murerwa said he had begun a consultative process to address the workers’ issues. “A task force is now engaged in working out new figures and a report back is expected within 10 days,” he said. But the secretary general of the Association of University Teachers, Mr James Mahlaule, said the lecturers would continue with the strike action.
Nurses on strike in Kenya
Over 300 nurses and other staff at Nairobi’s Pumwani maternity hospital began strike action last week over unpaid wages. Most patients were being turned away or given a limited service by student nurses. The hospital delivers an average of 100 babies each day and charges its patients.
An editorial in Kenya’s newspaper the Nation denounced the strike, accusing the nurses of “professional negligence” as two babies were said to have died through lack of medical support. The paper had to admit that salaries remained unpaid, mainly due to “endemic corruption” at the City Hall.
Council workers strike in Namibia
Employees of Otavi town council in Namibia went on strike March 1 over unpaid wages. The workers have not received their February pay. The council has not paid pension, medical and other insurance contributions for three months. It claims that it has been in financial difficulties since the town hall burned down last year and is requesting a financial bailout from central government. The 50 workers were offered February’s pay if they would return to work but they refused because their insurance payments had not been met. Union shop steward Kristof Johannes pointed out, “If I die today, it’s obvious my children will not get anything.” The town is now threatened with a water shut off because it has not paid its bill to the utility company.