Workers Struggles: Europe, Middle East & Africa
5 December 2008
French media workers march
More than 4,000 workers demonstrated November 28 in Paris against recently proposed laws on public audiovisual services. The laws threaten the financial sustainability and broadcasting independence of France Télévisions, the French public service broadcasters.
A delegation led by EURO-MEI President Marc Kerki, from the VRT union ACOD, joined their French colleagues. “We are in favour of measures to ensure a dynamic, financial sustainable and independent public audiovisual service in all European countries,” Kerki said. “The signal the French government is sending is dangerous for the sustainability and quality of public service broadcasting in Europe.”
The government plans to cut advertising from France Télévisions from January 2009 and abolish it from 2011.
It will create a single company structure under the chairmanship of someone appointed by the president of the republic. The changes will inevitably be accompanied by attacks on jobs and working conditions. Media workers across Europe have held demonstrations in support of their colleagues.
UK workers march over job cuts
Hundreds of workers marched through the centre of the historic city of York on November 28 in a demonstration against a spate of recent job cuts across North Yorkshire.
According to the BBC, the protest follows the closure of 22 post offices in the county and the closure of York’s Remploy factory, with the loss of 50 disabled workers’ jobs.
The protesters were opposed to proposals to close and privatise job centres.
European steel workers protest job cuts
The Associated Press reported that around 5,000 steel workers from across Europe protested outside the European Union headquarters in Brussels, December 2, to demand the steel industry be exempt from planned pollution caps they fear will lead to job losses.
Europe’s steel industry employs some 650,000 people.
AP said that unions from across the 27-nation bloc are backing steel companies to pressure EU governments to water down rules to cut pollution and carbon dioxide emissions, which they insist will lead to higher production costs and job losses.
EU governments are currently negotiating a plan which will force heavily polluting industries, like steel and cement, to sign up to a cap-and-trade emissions program, which could impose €54 billion ($68.8 billion) a year in polluter fees
Major polluting companies already trade carbon permits, effectively enabling them to buy more pollution allowances or upgrade their plants.
Unions fear that steel companies like ArcelorMittal SA and ThyssenKrupp AG could move production out of Europe as a result. EU governments and the European Parliament have already provisionally agreed to water down separate plans to curb emissions from new cars.
Egyptian textile workers continue sit-in
Workers at the Ghazl El-Mahalla spinning factory have rejected an offer by management and the head of the Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions (EFTU) and vowed to continue the sit-in they began November 30 in protest at the transfer of five workers to different departments.
The workers and some of their children spent the night of the protest sleeping in the lobby of the EFTU building.
Amal Said and Wedad El-Demardesh were transferred to the company’s nurseries, while Karim El-Beheiry, Mohamed El-Attar and Wael Habib have been moved to the company’s Cairo office.
El-Attar told Daily News Egypt: “We demanded the reversal of the transfer orders, a stop to the issuing of fresh reversal orders in the future and the halting of disciplinary investigations which are currently being carried out with 180 workers in the factory…
“After the meeting we consulted Mahalla workers about the offer and 99 percent of them said that they wished to continue the sit-in. We came here on the principle that we would either leave with the reversal of the transfer decision or sit here for months.”
Five workers at the Tanta Linen Company who were sacked after a July protest inside the company ended the sit-in they began in EFTU at the same time as the Mahalla workers. During the July protest, workers demanded the payment of a meal allowance and profit shares, which they say haven’t been paid for three years.
Gamal Othman, one of the sacked workers, told Daily News Egypt, “It was agreed that we will receive salaries but not return to work until the court issues its verdict in the case we have raised against the sacking.”
Israeli teachers’ association threatens strike
YNet news.com reported November 30 that the chairman of the Teachers’ Association, Ran Erez, said the Education Ministry was trying to impose a wages plan and employment clauses on its 700 members without the association’s consent
Only the Israel Teachers Union has agreed to the plan.
The Middle and High School Teachers’ Association declared an official dispute November 30 and has threatened to launch a strike within the next two weeks over the Education Ministry’s reform plan, dubbed “New Horizon.”
A statement issued by the association read, “As of August 2008, members of the Association are being employed without a collective agreement. Our attempts to negotiate with the Treasury and Education Ministry were rejected.”
Nigerian judiciary staff on strike over pay
A nationwide strike by judiciary staff in Nigeria has led to the closure of most of the country’s courts since December 1. The strikers belong to the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) and they are striking to demand an end to the discrimination shown by the gulf between their own pay rises and that of the judges.
On December 1, all the high courts in the capital, Abuja, were closed by the strike. Many courts throughout the country were kept locked.
One striker told The Punch, “A graduate judiciary worker earns less than N20,000 [US$166] per month while a judge earns between N700,000 [US$5,816] and N800,000 [US$6,647] per month. While we were agitating for the salary increase and improvement in welfare, judges’ salaries have been increased thrice…”
The strike is the second this year by judiciary staff. The previous one was in February.
Burundi: Health officials strike
Health officials in the central Africa country of Burundi have been on strike for a week. The strike follows the failure of the government to pay an agreed salary increase.
The government claims that it cannot meet the workers’ demands until the country’s donors grant them debt cancellation.
The Physicians Union says that its members are providing a minimum service to patients at public hospitals.
Pensioners protest in Nigeria
Nigerian pensioners blocked the gate to the Oyo State Government offices on Wednesday, December 3. They were protesting the non-payment of their pensions. They blocked traffic and government workers were prevented from reaching their offices.
“In Nigeria, rights are not given unless they are fought for on the streets, creeks, valleys and mountains and this is what has brought us here today,” pensioners’ spokesman Alhaji Lateef Adegoke told reporters.
External audit quality of banks need to improve, says Basel Committee
Banknet India, December 2, 2008:
The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision released today External audit quality and banking supervision. This paper describes the importance of audit quality in banks, particularly due to an increased reliance on sound audits and because high-quality audits can enhance market confidence during times of severe market stress.
The paper also highlights that bank audits are highly specialised, which can be complicated by escalating complexity of banking products and the related accounting and auditing rules for those instruments. Most of the world’s banking assets are audited, and banking supervisors are increasingly reliant on high-quality audits to complement supervisory processes.
As noted in the paper, the Basel Committee intends to build upon its ongoing efforts to address audit quality through continued support of groups with direct influence over external audit firms and promotion of enhanced sound audit guidance, practices and standards. It also calls for enhanced transparency over the structure and financial positions of global network audit firms.
Nout Wellink, Chairman of the Basel Committee and President of the Netherlands Bank, noted that "the Basel Committee has a long track record of promoting high-quality audits in banks and will continue to focus on this area. As bank products and the accounting for these instruments have increased in complexity, external auditors play an increasingly critical role in supporting bank supervision, market transparency and, ultimately, market confidence."
Sylvie Mathérat, chair of the Basel Committee’s Accounting Task Force and Director (Financial Stability) at the Bank of France, remarked that “strong audit quality is an essential prerequisite for users of financial information. For bank supervisors, this is particularly true for audits of fair value estimates, loan-loss provisions, consolidation, de-recognition and other areas significant to banking. The Basel Committee’s ongoing efforts to promote audit quality are especially important during these times of severe market stress.”
(This is a press release of BIS - Bank for International Settlements)
RBI to ensure non-stop credit flow
Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor D Subbarao said various anti-inflationary measures had started yielding results and now the government could focus on issues related to growth and liquidity.
"The endeavour of our monetary stance has been to manage liquidity – both domestic and forex liquidity – and to ensure that credit continues to flow for productive activities," he said. The RBI governor was in the city to address a Bank for International Settlements (BIS) conference on 'Mitigating spillovers and contagion- Lessons from the financial crisis'.
Inflation for the fourth straight week declined to 8.4 per cent from 8.84 per cent for the week ended November 22, on cheaper food and fuel prices and slowing down of domestic demand.
Rao, who is on his maiden visit to Hyderabad after taking over as RBI governor, said the impact of global financial crisis was much stronger and longer contrary to the belief that India was insulated from them. India will be the first and the fastest country to recover but a painful adjustment is inevitable, he added, hinting the RBI would maintain a comfortable liquidity position.
On why banks were not cutting interest rates despite RBI infusing liquidity into the system, he said RBI as a regulator would only signal banks (to cut rate) through various measures but would not give a mandate to them.
Earlier at the conference, the second BIS seminar to be organised by RBI, he said the global financial situation continued to be uncertain and unsettled. "The global economic outlook has deteriorated sharply over the last two months."
"The Indian banking system is not directly exposed to the subprime mortgage assets and has limited indirect exposure to the US mortgage market or to the failed institutions or stressed assets. Indian banks, both in the public and private sector, are financially sound, well capitalised and well regulated. Even so, India is experiencing the knock-on effects of the global crisis," Rao said. The present crisis should be used to draw lessons to manage global imbalances, reform financial sector regulation, address regulatory arbitrage and keep the financial sector in line with the real sector, he pointed out
Indian crude basket dips to $43.17 a barrel
Oil cos make profit on auto-fuels; loss continues on cooking gas.
Reason for fall
October recorded dip in growth for all oil products except in diesel and petrol.
The decline was due to major festivals such as Diwali and Dussera both falling in the same month leading to decline in commercial activities as labour availability was reduced.”
The Indian crude basket has hit a fresh low for the current fiscal on Tuesday at $43.17 a barrel. The crude basket, which has fallen 70 per cent since it hit a high of $142.04 a barrel in July, has averaged $102.09 a barrel so far in the fiscal.
The last time the basket had been below $50 a barrel was in the financial year 2005.
The public sector oil marketing companies (OMCs), which have been incurring revenue loss on sale of petrol and diesel, are making a profit as a result. They, however, continue to incur revenue loss on cooking fuels.
The OMCs – Indian Oil Corporation, Bharat Petroleum Corporation, and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation – are now making a profit of Rs 14.89 a litre on petrol and Rs 3.03 a litre on diesel.
They, however, continue to incur revenue loss on sale of cooking gas and kerosene. The under-recovery on kerosene sold under the public distribution system stood at Rs 17.26 a litre, while that on domestic LPG was Rs 148.38 a cylinder.
Imports up 13%
According to data available, the country’s crude imports in October were up 13.2 per cent to 11.365 million tonne (mt) on higher purchases by private refiners. Crude imports by private refiners were up 54.6 per cent. Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), which is ready to commission its new refinery in Jamnagar, is understood to have increased crude purchases.
The domestic crude oil production fell 0.3 per cent in October to 2.916 mt against the corresponding period last year. The natural gas output in October fell nearly 0.9 per cent to 2.831 billion cubic metre. The petroleum refining output in October rose 5 per cent on year to 13.303 mt. The refiners had a capacity utilisation of 105.1 per cent in October.
Fall in sales
However, domestic oil product sales in October fell by 1.7 per cent to 10.71 mt (10.89 mt in October 2007-08). According to the Petroleum Ministry officials, “October recorded dip in growth for all oil products except in diesel and petrol. The decline was due to major festivals such as Diwali and Dussera both falling in the same month leading to decline in commercial activities as labour availability was reduced.”
Other reasons cited for the decline in sales of petroleum products were rumours of possible retail price reduction due to fall in crude prices. This had resulted in dealers reducing inventories at retail outlets, with the OMCs reporting decrease in upliftments during October last week.
Diesel growth at 6.4 per cent to 4.24 mt in October was lowest during 2008-09. Diesel demand is expected to ease over the next few months due to lower prices of alternative fuels such as naphtha and fuel oil.
With private sector player Essar also activating its retail outlets, though insignificant in volumes its petrol and diesel sales have recorded increase in October. Sales volumes are expected to increase in November, the official said. Petrol sales in October were up 10.1 per cent to 936,500 tonne. While imports of petroleum products rose by 6.9 per cent to 1.7 mt, exports declined by 11.6 per cent in October..
Govt cuts petrol price by Rs 5, diesel by Rs 2
LPG and kerosene left untouched.
Call it a Christmas gift or ushering in a feel-good factor, the Government on Friday announced a cut in auto fuel prices.
Passing on the benefit of steep fall in international crude prices to the consumers, retail selling price of petrol has been cut by Rs 5 a litre and diesel by Rs 2 a litre.
The prices of cooking fuels were, however, left untouched.
Speaking to newspersons after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA), the Petroleum Minister, Mr Murli Deora, said, “to protect the interests of the common man and to pass on the benefit of the fall in international oil prices, the Government has decided, as an interim measure, to reduce the price of petrol by Rs 5 a litre and diesel by Rs 2 a litre with effect from December 6.”
He further said that the Government is closely watching the international oil prices and their impact on the country’s economy, and will take appropriate decisions whenever necessary.
Pressure had been mounting on the Government to cut fuel prices. Since August, crude oil prices had started declining. On December 4, the Indian basket stood at $ 41.53 a barrel, after hitting a high of $ 142.04 a barrel in July.
According to the industry, there were two options before the Government. It could either free petrol and diesel from the administered price mechanism, thus allowing the PSU oil marketing companies (OMCs) to revise the prices in tandem with market conditions or consider a price cut.
When crude was scaling over $ 120 a barrel, the Government had in June increased prices of petrol by Rs 5 a litre, diesel by Rs 3 a litre and LPG by Rs 50 a cylinder. Even then the Government had taken the average crude price of around $ 67 a barrel. The increase had resulted in petrol costing Rs 50.56 a litre in Delhi from Rs 45.56 a litre. In effect, the current cut has neutralised the June petrol hike.
Friday’s price cut would result in a collective saving of about Rs 6,000 crore for auto fuel consumers, while the OMCs will incur an additional burden of Rs 5,300 crore.
The OMCs – Indian Oil Corporation Ltd, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd – at current international prices and with the revised retail prices are projected to incur under recoveries of about Rs 1,10,000 crore for the current fiscal. “A formula would be worked out to deal with the issue of under recovery,” the Minister said.
The OMCs incur revenue loss on petroleum products, as they sell them at controlled price. They started earning positive margins from November on petrol and diesel. The companies were making Rs 14.89 a litre profit on petrol and Rs 3.03 a litre on diesel. However, they continue to lose Rs 16.60 a litre on kerosene and Rs 142.67 on an LPG cylinder.
Apart from incurring losses due to selling products below the market price, there have been additional factors adversely affecting the financial health of OMCs. The factors include high interest burden due to heavy borrowings at high interest rates, foreign exchange losses due to rupee depreciation, inventory losses, and drop in gross refining margins.