Palestine: IDF bars unionists from Workers Memorial Day

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) issued a strong protest last week over the harassment of officials from the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) who were trying to participate in a commemoration of workers killed on the job.

While workers around the world gathered April 28 on Workers Memorial Day, the ICFTU said Israeli Defense Forces soldiers prevented senior Palestinian union officials, including General Secretary Shaher Sae’d, from reaching a ceremony in the West Bank city of Hebron. The Palestinian unionists were slated to address the gathering honoring 14 women workers killed in a gas factory in the city in 1999.

The ICFTU wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, calling the soldiers’ actions “petty and unnecessary harassment,” and demanding the Israeli government uphold the right of Palestinian trade unionists to carry out legitimate trade union activities.

Canada: Hate crime law protects gays

On April 28 the Canadian Senate passed Bill C-250 to extend hate-crime protection to gays and lesbians. After senators voted 59-11 to pass the measure, applause broke out in the ornate red chamber. The bill, proposed by former New Democratic Party member of Parliament Svend Robinson, was passed by Parliament last September and then sent to the Senate for approval. Bill C-250 adds the term “sexual orientation” to the Hate Propaganda Law under Canada’s Criminal Code. Until recently, the law only banned incitement of hatred against identifiable groups distinguished by color, race, religion and ethnic origin.

Botswana: May Day highlights workers’ plight

Tebogo Makhale, head of the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions, said in a pre-May Day interview last week that celebrations of the workers’ holiday this year would highlight the plight of domestic and agricultural workers. In an interview with The Reporter newspaper, published in Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, Makhale said, “This group of workers is still employed under conditions of servitude and slavery. They are still not paid a minimum wage and instead are paid in kind.” He added, “Often, they are punished through the use of corporal punishment.”

The trade union leader also called for a campaign for legal recognition of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 183 on maternity rights, saying, “The current situation in which working women are paid 25 percent of their salaries on maternity leave is not acceptable.”

Makhale warned that unemployment is rising because workers lack skills needed by the labor market – a situation for which “the capital intensive mineral-led economy is partly responsible.”

Italy: Protest proposed airline layoffs

Airline workers virtually halted Italy’s international and domestic air traffic late last week as they protested Alitalia’s plans to stem persistent financial losses by shedding 3,200 of the airline’s 21,000 jobs through layoffs and contracting out. Workers say it is unfair for them to pay the price of years of mismanagement.

Though flights were reported “back to normal” May 3, union members were said to be poised to resume their job action if necessary.

Workers are demanding the government aid the airline, in which it holds 62 percent ownership. However, the European Union warned that any government subsidies would violate EU rules about competition.

Over 700 flights were cancelled April 30, with smaller numbers cancelled May 1 and 2.

Talks between the country’s three main union federations, airline management and the far-right government of Prime Minister Sergio Berlusconi began April 29, and were slated to resume this week after a break.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel ( Tim Pelzer and Julia Lutsky contributed to this week’s notes.