Belarus Workers Stage Strikes Over Disputed Vote

Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko addresses employees of the Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant (MZKT), in Minsk, on August 17, 2020. – The Belarusian strongman, who has ruled his ex-Soviet country with an iron grip since 1994, is under increasing pressure from the streets and abroad over his claim to have won re-election on August 9, with 80 percent of the vote. Lukashenko met with workers at the plant and downplayed the protests, saying that in general factories were working. (Photo by Nikolay PETROV / BELTA / AFP)

 

Workers at factories in Belarus answered opposition calls for fresh strikes on Monday after a historic weekend protest over President Alexander Lukashenko’s disputed re-election brought tens of thousands to the streets.

In footage widely shared on social media, Lukashenko was confronted by workers at the Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant (MZKT) who shouted him down with chants of “Leave!” as he tried to give a speech.

A visibly angry Lukashenko walked off the stage, saying: “Thank you, I have said everything. You can shout ‘Leave’.”

Pressure has been building on the ex-Soviet nation’s longtime leader since the August 9 election, which he claims to have won with 80 percent of the vote.

In the biggest demonstration to date, more than 100,000 people took part in a “March for Freedom” in Minsk on Sunday following calls from main opposition figure Svetlana Tikhanovskaya for continued demonstrations.

A brutal police crackdown on post-election protests has drawn widespread condemnation and appears to have turned even Lukashenko’s support base at state-owned industries against him.

European Union leaders are to hold an emergency video summit on Belarus on Wednesday, EU Council President Charles Michel announced, while Germany said it was prepared to back an expansion of previously announced sanctions.

Hundreds of workers and protesters gathered outside the MZKT plant where Lukashenko was visiting, waving the red-and-white flag of the opposition and demanding his resignation.

Workers at the Minsk Tractor Works (MTZ) also told AFP that several thousand staff had walked off the job.

After flying in by helicopter, Lukashenko told workers he would not give in to calls for a new election.

“You will never expect me to do something under pressure,” he was quoted as saying by his press service. “If anyone is unwilling to work and wants to leave, no one will harass you, do as you please, the door is open.”

Demonstrators also gathered outside the Minsk headquarters of state television, where some staff were reported to have joined the strikes.

“I know how scared you are, because we are all scared. Thank you for overcoming your fear and joining the majority,” Maria Kolesnikova, a senior opposition leader, told the protesters.

Workers of potash producer Belaruskali have also said they may go on strike, according to independent local news site tut.by. Potash, used to make fertiliser, is a major source of income for Belarus, which is one of the largest producers in the world.

– Tikhanovskaya ‘ready’ to lead –

Lukashenko has defied calls to stand down after the August 9 election that saw him imprison his closest rivals, shun independent observers and unleash a brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters who said he fabricated ballot results.

The opposition called for a general strike after hundreds of workers at state-run factories first downed tools last week in a sign that Lukashenko’s traditional support base was turning against him.

In a video posted online Monday, Tikhanovskaya said that although she never planned to enter politics she was prepared to take over the country’s leadership.

“Fate decreed that I’d find myself on the frontline of a confrontation against arbitrary rule and injustice,” Tikhanovskaya said in exile in Lithuania.

“I am ready to take responsibility and act as a national leader during this period.”

Tikhanovskaya has demanded the authorities release all detainees, remove security forces from the streets and open criminal cases against those who ordered the crackdown.

She has also said she will organise new elections if Lukashenko steps down.

Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years, is facing an unprecedented challenge to his leadership.

Pressure is growing at home and abroad and EU leaders last week agreed to draw up a list of targets for a new round of sanctions.

– UK ‘watched with horror’ –

Britain said Monday it did not recognise the results of the “unfair” elections and called for an independent investigation into the results.

“The world has watched with horror at the violence used by the Belarusian authorities to suppress the peaceful protests that followed this fraudulent presidential election,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.

“The UK does not accept the results.”

NATO member Lithuania warned on Monday that Belarus had started military drills on its western border and accused Lukashenko of escalating tensions following the elections.

The Kremlin, which is Lukashenko’s closest ally, has said it is ready to step in if necessary through the CSTO military alliance between six ex-Soviet states.

More and more Belarusians have taken to the streets over the last week to denounce the election result and support Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old political novice who ran after other potential candidates including her husband were jailed.

A violent police crackdown on protesters saw more than 6,700 people arrested, hundreds wounded and two people dead.

AFP

COVID-19: Niger Govt Praises Workers, Calls For Safety Measures

File photo of Governor Abubakar Bello of Niger State.

 

Niger State Governor, Abubakar Bello, has called on civil servants and the organised labour to abide by the safety measures put in place by health professionals and the government orders aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 as they mark May Day celebration.

In a statement issued on Friday by his Chief Press Secretary, Mary Berje, the governor commended the organised labour for their understanding with the government at this trying period.

The governor said he is optimistic that the world would soon overcome the pandemic and life would return to normalcy.

Governor Bello urged them to avoid contracting and spreading the virus, while also maintaining the practice of personal hygiene.

He described civil Servants as pivotal to the success of the policy implementation of his administration adding that, when the civil service is properly positioned, every aspect of government runs smoothly.

“The impact of the government’s policies and programmes on the citizens is determined by whether they have been implemented excellently or shoddily. This, in turn, depends on the efficiency and effectiveness of the civil service,” the governor said.

He also assured the workers of his administration’s commitment to give priority to their welfare and development for optimal performance, promising that conducive atmosphere will continue to be provided for the private sector to thrive as they have been adding value to the state.

UN Tells Firms To Make Worker Returns Safe As COVID-19 Lockdowns Ease

(FILES) In this file photo, The United Nations flag is seen during the Climate Action Summit 2019 at the United Nations General Assembly Hall on September 23, 2019, in New York City. Ludovic MARIN / AFP.

 

As some countries begin to ease their lockdown restrictions, governments and employers must prepare workplaces and ensure people can return safely to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19, the UN said Tuesday.

In a new study, the International Labour Organization stressed the importance of ensuring that workplaces meet strict occupational safety and health criteria before allowing people to return to their jobs, in order to minimise their exposure to the novel coronavirus.

“Without such controls, countries face the very real risk of a resurgence of the virus,” the United Nations agency said in a statement.

The ILO’s report comes as a number of European countries are beginning to gingerly scale back lockdown measures, and as authorities in China, which began loosening restrictions last month, fear a second COVID-19 wave could be looming.

The report stressed that by putting in place a range of measures, employers can minimise the risk of a second wave of contagion contracted at the workplace.

“The safety and health of our entire workforce is paramount,” ILO chief Guy Ryder said in the statement.

READ MORE: France To Reveal How COVID-19 Lockdown Will Be Eased

“In the face of an infectious disease outbreak, how we protect our workers now clearly dictates how safe our communities are, and how resilient our businesses will be, as this pandemic evolves,” he stressed.

“It is only by implementing occupational safety and health measures that we can protect the lives of workers, their families and the larger communities, ensure work continuity and economic survival.”

The pandemic, which has killed more than 200,000 people worldwide and infected nearly three million, has taken a devastating toll on economies and businesses around the globe.

After weeks with more than half of humanity told to stay home, many governments and employers are eager to get back to business.

But the ILO highlighted the dangers of allowing people return to their workplaces, stressing the need to prepare properly.

Tuesday’s report stressed that risk control measures should be especially adapted to the needs of workers at the frontline of the pandemic, like health workers and those in food retail, but stressed that other workplaces also needed strategies to deal with the COVID-19 threat.

– ‘Respiratory etiquette’ –

Employers, it said, should map hazards and assess risks of contagion in relation to all work operations, and should continue to make such assessments after work resumes.

They should also adopt risk control measures adapted to each sector and each workplace, including for instance reducing physical interactions between workers, contractors, customers and visitors, improving ventilation, regularly cleaning surfaces, and providing protective gear like masks to any workers who need it.

Most importantly perhaps, according to ILO occupational safety and health expert Manal Azzi, is to remind people of the basic hygiene rules, like frequent hand-washing, covering sneezes and coughs, and keeping a proper physical distance.

“You still see people not respecting respiratory etiquette. So these are basic things that we need to be raising awareness on,” she told reporters in a virtual briefing.

She also suggested that companies could leave doors open “so people don’t have to touch handles.”

Employers should also provide mental health support for staff, ILO said.

AFP

Bauchi Govt Uncovers 596 Dead Workers, Pensioners On Payroll

Mr Adamu Gumba addressing a press conference in Bauchi on January 6, 2020.

 

 

A total of 596 dead civil servants and pensioners have been uncovered on the payroll of the Bauchi State Government in north-east Nigeria.

The Chairman of Bauchi State Authentication Exercise Committee, Mr Adamu Gumba, disclosed this to reporters on Monday in the state capital.

He explained that the dead persons have been on the state government’s payroll and were receiving salaries for several years.

“In the process of this particular exercise, we have also discovered about 596 deceased officers,” he revealed.

Gumba added that the government has put more than 4,000 people on the same payroll under suspicion of being ghost workers.

According to him, the persons were placed under watch after they failed to turn up for the month-long verification exercise.

The committee chairman said, “Despite the extension of time that we have waited for officers (civil servants) to come around to appear before us for verification, we have a huge number that did not turn up.

“Our seven sub-committees travelled to all the local governments and in two instances spent almost a week working in the local governments, but some people decided to be absent.”

“These people that were absent in the process total about 4,578 – both staff and pensioners … and those found to have correct documents were cleared,” he stressed.

Gumba explained that the committee has completed its assignment and would submit its report with a list of recommendations to the state governor, Bala Mohammed.

The state government inaugurated the committee authenticate over 30,000 workers and pensioners after it found out that most of them were without the Bank Verification Number (BVN).

Minimum Wage: We Want Workers To Boost Productivity, Not Down Tool, Says Fayemi

The Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) and Ekiti State Governor, Mr Kayode Fayemi, speaks on the issue of minimum wage during an interview on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics on October 20, 2019.

 

The Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) and Ekiti State Governor, Mr Kayode Fayemi, says Nigerian governors do not want workers to down tool on the issue of minimum wage.

Fayemi who spoke during an interview on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics, said the N30,000 minimum wage recently signed by President Muhammadu Buhari should rather be an incentive that will boost the productivity of Nigerian workers.

He noted that it was on the basis of this that the NGF collectively agreed to increase the salaries of workers in their domain.

“We don’t want workers to down tools, we want productivity to increase and that is why we said we are ready to pay N30,000.

“We are even ready to pay a level of consequential adjustment but that has to be determined on a state by state basis,” he said.

READ ALSO: My ‘Impeachment’ As Kogi Deputy Governor Is Unconstitutional, Says Achuba

Although the governor agreed that not all fingers are equal, indicating that not all states are financially buoyant, he however, wants a situation whereby the labour leaders will strike an understanding with the respective state governors.

This to him is because when the governors are being put under undue pressure, it may rather affect the plight of the workers rather than assisting them in view of the current economic realities.

“But clearly fingers are not equal at the state level, there will be challenges and I hope labour and state governments will both display a level of understanding that will assist the workers,” he stated.

Explaining further, he said: “The challenge that we have at the level of governors is on the consequential adjustment which has now been agreed by labour and the Federal Government.

“And for us, we will be meeting. I don’t want to give you a view until my colleagues and I have met to review how we are going to look at the template that has come out of the negotiations at the federal level and see how that can be applied.”

When asked when his administration intends implementing the minimum wage payment, the governor replied saying: “We are starting this month in Ekiti State.”

‘We Begged To Apply’, Governor Makinde Vows To Serve Oyo People

Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde.

 

Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State has vowed to serve the people of the state, saying that he begged to apply.

He stated this during an interfaith prayer session which held in his honour at his Office in Ibadan, the state capital.

When the bishop was preaching, he said we should rule with the fear of God. Well, there is nothing like ruling here.

We came to Oyo State people, we begged to apply, and they gave us the opportunity. So, it is a service. I am here to serve the people of Oyo State. So, we will serve with the fear of God, he stated.

While addressing residents of the state, the governor noted that the progress and development of the state are not negotiable.

READ ALSO: Sanwo-Olu Promises To Structure Minimum Wage For Lagos Workers

He, therefore, called on the workers to cooperate with the new administration, adding that the bulk of all responsibility rests on his table as such he will govern with equity.

Makinde, who took over the helm of affairs of the state yesterday, also recalled his commitment to plug loopholes in governance.

In doing this, he called on the people to hold his government responsible for any decision making, adding that the people also will be responsible for their actions.

As I said yesterday during my inaugural address, I want you to hold me accountable for all decisions that this administration will be taken henceforth.

At the same time, I will also hold you accountable as we work as partners to lift Oyo State to its predestined position.

This translates to our determination to plug all holes and weak areas that allow the enterprise of the bad ones, he stated.

Speaking on the welfare of workers, the governor stated that the government will train the civil servants both locally and internationally for better efficiency in service delivery.

Thousands May Lose Their Jobs As British Steel Collapses

Employees of Saint-Saulve former Ascoval steel mill, recently bought by British steel are gathered outside their plant on May 22, 2019 in Saint-Saulve, following the announcement of the collapse of British Steel after last-ditch talks with the UK government failed to secure a financial rescue.
FRANCOIS LO PRESTI / AFP

 

British Steel collapsed on Wednesday after the government said last-ditch talks with its owners failed to secure a financial rescue.

The High Court in London ordered British Steel Limited into compulsory liquidation, a statement said.

“British Steel Limited was wound-up in the High Court” on Wednesday, meaning its assets would be sold to help pay debts.

“The government has worked tirelessly with British Steel, its owner Greybull Capital, and lenders to explore all potential options to secure a solution for British Steel,” said Business Secretary Greg Clark.

“We have shown our willingness to act, having already provided the company” recently with funds.

READ ALSO: May Implores Parliament To Back Her Brexit Plan

Tim Roache, general secretary of the GMB union, described the collapse of Britain’s second-biggest steelmaker as “devastating news for the thousands of workers” in the UK.

Some 5,000 people are employed by British Steel and an estimated 20,000 more have links to the firm’s supply chain.

Greybull has blamed Brexit strains for its financial collapse, while the steel sector faces other uncertainties.

“While Greybull cannot be allowed to walk away scot-free and must be held to account for its stewardship of Britain’s second-largest steelmaker, ministers cannot wash their hands of the Brexit farce and ongoing uncertainty that has placed the company in difficulty,” Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of the Unite union, said Wednesday.

“To do so would be a betrayal of a loyal workforce that has made great sacrifices to make British Steel a success and send economic shockwaves throughout the steel industry, UK manufacturing and the households of 20,000 workers in the supply chain who rely on the steelmaker for their livelihoods.”

There are clouds also over the future of Tata Steel’s main European operations based in the UK after German industrial conglomerate ThyssenKrupp recently scrapped merger plans with the Indian giant.

A deal was seen as positive for Tata’s Port Talbot plant in Wales that employs more than 4,000 staff.

Following the merger collapse, ThyssenKrupp said it would slash 6,000 jobs worldwide in a structural shakeup.

British Steel is owned by investment firm Greybull Capital, who founded the long steel products maker in 2016 after snapping up assets from Tata Steel.

Long steel products include plates, rails for railways, sections used in construction, and wire rod. The latter can be used as steel rope for infrastructures like suspension bridges or filaments for car tyres to give rigidity.

AFP

States Can Pay New Minimum Wage, Says TUC

 

The President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Mr Bobboi Kaigama, has reacted to the new minimum wage recently signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Kaigama who appeared on Lunchtime Politics which aired on Channels Television on Friday said that states can meet up with the N30,000 monthly payment for the Nigerian workers if the right priorities are placed.

“We are pretty sure (that) they (states) have the political, economic will except for the fact that corruption has eaten deep into the fabrics of the state systems.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: Buhari Signs N30,000 Minimum Wage Bill Into Law

“So it will interest you to know that pin the just concluded governorship elections, so many of these states had reserved money to go out, buy voters, compromise electoral officers, compromise security (personnel) and that is why in most of the states now, they cannot pay salaries,” he stated.

President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Mr Bobboi Kaigama.

He also decried a situation whereby some governors said to be owing workers’ salaries would still source for loans, hence plunging the states into more debts.

When asked if the increase in the minimum wage would not lead to inflation and further devaluation of the nation’s currency, the TUC president stated that prices of commodities were already on the increase.

He, however, noted that if the situation deteriorates to the point that the workers cannot meet his basic needs, agitations would come up for another salary review.

“We already have inflation; we already have a devaluation of our naira. So it’s already taking a toll on the worker’s take home.

“Unless we allow it to go to the extent of the worker not even taking a single square meal, otherwise where we have inflation, devalued naira, the worker has the right to demand a corresponding increase in his salaries,” he stated.

Pope Issues New Child Abuse Legislation For Workers

Pope Francis speaks as as Prefect of the papal household Georg Gaenswein (L) looks on during an audience with participants in the Course on the Internal Forum, on March 29, 2019 at Paul-VI hall in the Vatican. Andreas SOLARO / AFP

 

Pope Francis issued stringent child abuse legislation for Vatican City employees on Friday, as part of the Church’s bid to address a wave of sex abuse allegations against priests.

The legislation requires officials and employees in the Vatican City State as well the Roman Curia, the central administration of the Catholic Church, to immediately report any abuse against minors and vulnerable people or face fines or a prison sentence.

Anyone convicted of abuse must be “removed from office” under the new rules, which set a statute of limitations for such crimes at 20 years from the date victims turn 18.

Francis said in a letter released with his “motu proprio” decree that it was the duty of everyone “to generously welcome children and vulnerable persons, and to create a safe environment for them”.

READ ALSO: Pound Climbs Before Vital Brexit Vote

Previous church guidelines on handling sexual abuse cases did not cover officials and employees in Vatican City or the Curia.

The new legislation also mandates increased training for the affected staff on how to prevent abuse.

A new service will also be set up to provide victims and their families with medical, psychological and social support.

The Church is moving to tackle a series of recent scandals in Europe, North America, Latin America and Australia involving widespread claims of abuse — and cover-ups — by clergymen and lay members.

AFP

Hundreds Of Travellers Stranded In Kenyan Airport As Workers Strike

Passengers are blocked from entering Kenya Airways’s departure terminal due to a strike by the airline workers at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi on March 6, 2019.  Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP

 

Hundreds of travellers were stranded at Nairobi’s international airport Wednesday as riot police deployed and teargas was fired to disperse striking workers.

With flights grounded since midnight, passengers were advised Wednesday morning not to come to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) — East Africa’s busiest according to the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) — until further notice.

“Kenya Airways regrettably wishes to inform its customers and the general public that due to the illegal strike by Kenya Aviation Workers Union (KUWA), the airline will be experiencing disruptions in normal flight operations,” a company statement said.

Inside the terminals, strikers faced off with police who fired teargas as they moved in to arrest union officials they accused of inciting workers.

READ ALSO: North Korea Is Rebuilding Satellite Launch Site, Research Shows

Passengers waiting for flights, some for hours, were asked to leave the airport and gathered in parking and waiting areas outside the building.

“I have been here since 3:00 am, and there is no flight, there is no information, we have just been told now to wait for communication,” stranded passenger Mercy Mwai told AFP.

Another, Christine, questioned: “why are police using unnecessary force with teargas at an airport?”

Some passengers received medical treatment on-site for tear gas inhalation, according to an AFP journalist at the airport.

The workers, who had not announced their labour action beforehand, are angry about the planned takeover of the airport, operated by the state-run KAA, by national carrier Kenya Airways.

But Transport Minister James Macharia said workers need not worry.

“What they were fearing is that the proposed merger between KQ (the acronym for Kenya Airways) and KAA will result in job losses but we gave assurances that that will not happen,” he told journalists at the airport, and promised flights will resume shortly.

“So this (strike) is completely uncalled for because the deal has not happened.”

According to the KAA, more than 7.6 million passengers and 313,000 tons of cargo passed through JKIA in more than 111,000 aircraft movements in 2017.

The airport contributes just over five percent to Kenya’s gross domestic product.

Kenya Airways chief executive Sebastian Mikosz said 24 departing flights, and two arrivals, were affected by the strike, but “we expect the situation to normalise during the day.”

“We are set to resume operations, although the process is a bit slow,” he said. “Our flights to London, Dubai, and Mumbai will be departing shortly.”

AFP

Tunisian Workers Kidnapped In Libya

 

 

Militiamen have kidnapped a group of Tunisian workers near the Libyan capital Tripoli, demanding Tunis release a comrade, the foreign ministry and a rights activist said.

“The foreign ministry is following the case of the Tunisian citizens… kidnapped by armed Libyan elements near Zawiya”, the ministry said on its Facebook page late Friday.

Rights activist Mustapha Abdelkebir said the armed group behind Thursday’s kidnappings was demanding the release of one of its members held in Tunisia.

The kidnap victims were workers at Zawiya oil refinery, Tunisian media said. A diplomatic source told AFP that 14 workers had been taken hostage.

“The minister has spoken to his Libyan counterpart to insist on the protection of the detainees, accelerate their release and ensure that they return safe and sound”, the ministry said in a statement.

READ ALSO: India Mourns Dead Soldiers Amid Calls For Revenge

Tunisia reopened a consulate in Libya in 2018, after shutting it three years earlier due to the kidnapping of 10 Tunisian diplomats.

The Libyan militia which carried out the 2015 kidnapping had demanded the release of one of its leaders, Walid Glib, detained in Tunisia as part of a counter-terrorism investigation.

The diplomats were released after several days and Walid Glib was later deported to Tripoli.

Libya’s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord said it had no information on Thursday’s abduction and that it was looking into the matter.

The country has been mired in chaos since the fall of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising, as two rival administrations and numerous militias grapple for power.

AFP

Vodafone To Sack 1,200 Workers In Spain

The logo of British telecom giant Vodafone atop the Spanish headquarters in Madrid. 
GERARD JULIEN / AFP

 

Vodafone said Thursday it planned to cut up to 1,200 jobs in Spain as it streamlines its organisation to cope with a drop in revenue and profits in a fiercely competitive telecommunications market.

In a statement, the group said it would kick off consultations with worker representatives at the end of January with a view of cutting “a maximum of 1,200” posts out of around 5,100 in Spain.

“In the current market context, demand for services is increasing exponentially but prices aren’t: close to 50 percent of… memberships are associated with ‘low and medium cost’ offers,” the statement read.

It added that had caused a drop in revenues and profits “in the first six months of the current tax year.”

The group also said it needed to streamline the organisation.

The news comes after the British telecoms giant in November launched a new 1.2-billion-euro cost-cutting plan as it faced heavy losses.

Newly-installed chief executive Nick Read had said at the time that there were “challenging competitive conditions in Italy and Spain.”

Vodafone launched recently discount brand Bit into the Spanish market and cut prices at its low-cost operation in Italy, as the operator stepped up efforts to address stiff price competition in the two markets.

This will be Vodafone’s third redundancy plan in Spain in seven years, said Diego Gallart, a telecoms representative with Spain’s second largest union UGT.

“There are other ways to manage a telecoms company than carrying out a redundancy plan every three years,” he told AFP.

“Instead it is changing in the management of Vodafone Spain which are needed,” he added.

Vodafone workers in Spain already work a lot of overtime and suffer from work stress while management has made “strategic errors” such as only recently getting into audiovisual content creation, Gallart said.

Vodafone Spain announced in November that it would focus on cinema and TV series after deciding not to offer more football since according to the company this was not profitable.

Also on Thursday, Belgian telecoms operator, Proximus announced it planned to cut 1,900 jobs over the next three years but pledged to recruit 1,250 other people over that period specialised in digital technology.

Proximus boss Dominique Leroy cited “aggressive market conditions… that leaves us no choice.”

AFP