Labor in the News

Venezuela: Job Losses, Low Wages Add to Economic Hardship

Multiple companies - local and foreign - are closing doors or cutting payrolls across Venezuela, which despite its oil wealth is suffering deep recession, triple-digit inflation and chronic shortages. According to Consecomercio, a major retail industry group, Venezuela in the past 18 months lost close to 1 million private sector jobs. "Who is creating jobs? Nobody," said Consecomercio Vice President Alfonso Riera. "That unemployed population unfortunately is migrating to the street, informal work or worse." A survey by three universities showed unemployment at the end of 2016 was at 7.3. But the study also found 38 percent of those surveyed were working informal jobs ranging from buying and reselling goods to freelance work without benefits.

China: Government Signals Intent to Change Laws to Improve Workplace Safety

China’s State Council has issued a national plan on occupational disease prevention and treatment for the 2016-2020 period, which targets lung disease and chemical poisoning. To address the origins of occupational diseases, with lung disease and chemical poisoning as priority targets, pollution and air quality must be addressed in industries such as mining, nonferrous metals, metallurgy and construction materials. By 2020 a system should be put in place whereby employers take responsibility, and governmental regulators and the general public monitor and supervise industries, according to the plan. Lung disease caused by the inhalation of large amounts of dust or particulate matter accounted for nearly 90 percent of all occupational disease cases in 2015.

U.S.: House Votes to Repeal Obama-Era Workplace Protections
[The Hill]

The House voted Wednesday to repeal an Obama-era workplace regulation. Representatives voted along party lines 231-191 to repeal an OSHA rule that made it easier for the agency to cite employers for not recording on-the-job injuries and illnesses. The rule extends the window for Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors to cite employers for recordkeeping violations to five years. The prior limit was six months. Defending the rule, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said the regulation helped prevent employers from underreporting workplace injuries to keep their workers’ compensation insurance costs low, stay eligible for government contracts and lower the likelihood of OSHA inspections. The Senate has yet to vote on the bill, but is expected to pass this and a number of similar regulatory repeals. President Trump is likely to sign these bills.

China: Labor Minister Says Some Foreign Firms Exploit Workers

Some foreign companies in China exploit their workers by forcing them to do overtime or underpaying them, the labor minister said on Wednesday, as controversy swirls over working conditions at a plant that makes Apple Inc's iPhones and iPads. Apple has faced a slew of bad press following deaths and reports of suicides at its China supply firms. Labor Minister Yin Weimin said foreign companies generally followed the law when it came to their workers, but added, “We have also noticed that problems exist at some companies, for example excessive overtime, too low pay for some workers and a lack of concern for people."

U.S.: Democrats Defeat New Mexico Right-To-Work Bill

Democrats in New Mexico's House of Representatives have voted down a proposal to prohibit mandatory union dues, the second loss this month for advocates of so-called right-to-work laws as they push a nationwide proposal. The House's Labor and Economic Development Committee voted 6-5 along party lines on Saturday to defeat the bill, which would have prohibited employers from requiring workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

Georgia: Retail Workers’ Protests Give Labor Movement Momentum

Unprecedented protests by workers at two of Georgia’s largest retailers are calling attention to the poor conditions under which many service-industry employees in the country work, advocates and experts say. On February 7, employees at one of Georgia’s largest supermarket chains, Fresco, posted a statement on Facebook, describing the “exploitative conditions” under which they work. Two days later, employees at Biblius, Georgia’s largest chain of bookstores, followed suit with a similar video post. Both items went viral and were accompanied by real-life protests in front of shops across Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital and largest city. The protests, and the degree to which they resonated across Georgia, suggest a potentially major shift is underway in a sector that had previously been relatively quiet, said Lina Gvinianidze, Social Rights Program Director at the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center.

China: Six Hour Commute is The Norm for Beijing’s Millennial Workers

Hundreds of thousands of white-collar workers spend on average six hours – and sometimes up to nine hours or more – travelling to and from Beijing to work each day. The capital’s soaring property market is pricing thousands of young workers out of the city and into commuter towns like Yanjiao. According to a 2016 report by the Global Cities Business Alliance, Beijing is the world’s most expensive city for renters, with average prices 1.2 times higher than average salaries. Prices are also soaring for those looking to buy – in the twelve months to September last year, property prices rose by 28%. Because owning a home in Beijing is not an option for most people, many live in on the outskirts in ‘sleeper’ cities – so named because office workers travel there just to sleep where property is more affordable.

U.S.: Sanctuary Restaurants Vow to Protect Undocumented Workers

The Trump administration's crackdown on immigration has rattled the restaurant industry and the millions of foreign-born workers it relies on. But it's the industry's undocumented workforce that is feeling particularly vulnerable. Many of these workers live in fear of getting deported and are too afraid to speak out or report workplace violations of things like wage or labor laws. Second only to construction when it comes to its reliance on undocumented workers, the restaurant industry employed some 1.1 million undocumented workers in 2014, according to a Pew Research study. To help protect these workers, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (also known as ROC United), a national advocacy group for restaurant workers, has teamed up with restaurant owners across the U.S. to form the sanctuary restaurant movement. So far, 285 restaurants across the U.S. have signed on, pledging to create safe and equitable work environments, where no one is discriminated against and everyone is paid a fair wage, offered benefits and given opportunities for professional growth. ROC United has also set up a quick response legal hotline for workers who feel they are being exploited, discriminated against or threatened at work.

Global: H&M Plans Proper Pay Structures, Worker Committees in Garment Factories by 2018

Swedish fashion retailer Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) said on Tuesday it planned to have elected committees and proper pay structures for workers in its main supply factories across the world by 2018 in a bid to curb labor exploitation. Elin Astrom, head of H&M's Sustainability Program in India, said the clothing firm was aware of the exploitation of workers in the garment industry and was working on several initiatives with its main suppliers to improve worker conditions. The fashion industry has come under increasing pressure to improve factory conditions and workers' rights, particularly after the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory complex in Bangladesh four years ago, in which 1,136 people were killed.

Japan: Overworked Nation Slowly Adopting Fixed Rest Hours to Put an End to ‘Karoshi’
[Japan Times]

Amid intense pressure to reform the country’s work culture, the Japanese government and businesses are looking at mandating a “rest” period between the end of one workday and the start of the next. Some companies have begun testing a rest interval system, while the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to subsidize firms that adopt the system starting in April. The rest interval system requires workers to take a minimum number of hours’ rest between when they finish work one day and start back at work the next day. Member nations of the European Union, for example, require that workers have at least 11 hours of rest. Japan currently has no law requiring workers to take a certain number of hours’ rest between shifts.

U.S.: Employees Across U.S. Fired After Joining ‘Day Without Immigrants’ Protest
[NBC News]

Dozens of protesters across the country were fired from their jobs after skipping work to take part in last week's "Day Without Immigrants" demonstration. Restaurants and day cares were among the businesses in states like Florida, Tennessee, Oklahoma and New York where bosses fired workers after they didn't show up for work in order to protest. In Nolensville, Tennessee, nearly 20 employees at Bradley Coatings, Incorporated — a commercial painting company — were laid off after participating in the nationwide strike on Thursday. A company official said that all employees were told they risked termination if they skipped work on Thursday, but 18 did so anyway.

China: To Combat Poverty, Government Program Will Teach New Technologies to Poor Villagers

China will dispatch 18,000 scientific and technical workers annually to help poor villagers become technology-savvy in the battle against poverty. According to a new government plan, under privileged residents in remote areas or regions inhabited by minority nationalities will mainly benefit from the arrangement. The personnel will train about 2,300 people every year and assist in the application of new technologies, so that farmers could increase their incomes and be lifted out of poverty, according to the ministry. About 100 scientific and technological parks will be set up in poor areas to the poverty relief effort, the ministry said.

U.S.: Puzder Withdraws Nomination to be Trump's Labor Secretary
[Associated Press]

President Donald Trump's nominee for labor secretary abruptly withdrew his nomination Wednesday after Senate Republicans balked at supporting him, in part over taxes he belatedly paid on a former housekeeper not authorized to work in the United States. Democrats and their allies rejoiced over Puzder's withdrawal, saying his corporate background and opposition to such proposals as a big hike in the minimum wage made him an unfit advocate for American workers at the top of an agency charged with enforcing protections. "Workers and families across the country spoke up loud and clear that they want a true champion for all workers in the Labor Department," said Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the panel that was to handle the hearing.

Chile: New Labor Laws Embolden Striking Miners

Workers at the world's largest copper mine in Chile are digging in for a long strike, emboldened by new labor laws that are likely to result in tough wage negotiations in the industry in 2017 in one of Latin America's most free-market economies. The 2,500-member union at BHP Billiton's Escondida mine has been on strike since Thursday. Labor leaders say they are far from reaching an agreement, and BHP has already said it will not be able to fulfill copper delivery contracts. Escondida's labor relations have long been fractious, and strikes paralyzed the mine in 2011 and 2006, when previous collective labor contracts were renegotiated. This time, negotiations stalled in part because of a freshly minted labor code that aims to return power lost by unions decades ago, people with knowledge of the talks told Reuters.

China: Relocation Planned for 3.4 Million People Living in Poverty

China has big plans for 2017, including moving another 3.4 million people living in poverty into more developed communities as part of its ambitious vow to stamp out poverty in the country by 2020. Last year, 2.49 million people from poverty-stricken communities were relocated to areas with better social services, like schools and hospitals, or with better roads and water supply, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said. While China has managed to end urban poverty through development and government subsidies, the rapid pace of the country's economic growth has left many behind in the countrysides. Millions have been forced to leave their home villages to find work in cities, leaving behind their children who often suffer from lack of schools and healthcare.

Brazil: Judge Rules Uber Drivers are Employees, Deserve Benefits

A Brazilian judge ruled that a driver using the Uber ride-hailing app is an employee of the San Francisco-based company and is entitled to workers' benefits, adding to the global debate over labor rights for drivers on the platform. Uber said on Tuesday it would appeal the decision. Judge Marcio Toledo Gonçalves ordered Uber to pay one driver around 30,000 reais ($10,000) in compensation for overtime, night shifts, holidays and expenses such as gasoline, water and candy for passengers. The consequences for Uber, if the ruling is upheld, could be far greater if more drivers follow suit and if state and federal regulators and tax agencies start treating it, as the judge suggested, as a transportation company rather than a tech firm.

U.S.: Iowa Moves to Restrict Collective Bargaining for Public Sector Workers

Lawmakers in Iowa began debating a bill Tuesday to dramatically change how public sector unions negotiate their contracts, part of a wave of legislation in statehouses across the country to roll back union rights. The bill, similar to a 2011 law in Wisconsin, is high on the state's legislative agenda and comes as Republicans control both chambers of the state Legislature and the governor's mansion for the first time in nearly 20 years. About 180,000 state and local government workers would be prohibited from negotiating over issues including health insurance, seniority and extra pay. The legislation also leaves in place a provision that prevents workers from going on strike. And it includes provisions that would make it more difficult for unions to collect dues.

China: Workers’ Rights Clinics Aide Migrant Workers at Spring Festival
[China Daily]

On February 4th, the day most migrant workers were preparing to return home for Spring Festival, Sichuan province officials were conducting train station clinics to raise migrant workers’ awareness of their legal rights. Province staff handed out legal materials to migrant workers and nearby community residents concerning labor contract law, legal aid manuals, and anti-fraud manuals. They also answered migrant workers’ questions about the law on the spot and gave out contact cards to them to help provide legal aid and protect their rights.