South Africa: COSATU urges support for jobs action

South African workers downed tools June 27 in a protest organized by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) to demand decent jobs for all who want to work.

“We are here to demand a development strategy to ensure that growth in the economy benefits all our people, creating jobs and overcoming poverty on a massive scale,” COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi told a Johannesburg rally.

In remarks before the strike, Vavi said unemployment stands at 40 percent of all those who want to work. “The Freedom Charter 50 years ago declared there will be work and security for all,” he added.

COSATU said nearly all miners joined the strike, as did 86 percent of textile workers.

The South African Press Agency said up to 30,000 participated in demonstrations in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Actions also took place in cities and towns throughout the country.

Britain: Union takes up clergy rights

Amicus, the United Kingdom’s largest trade union representing manufacturing, technical and skilled workers, met last week with European Employment Commissioner Vladimir Spidla in an effort to win statutory employment rights for UK clergy. The European Parliament had said it would launch a public inquiry into the lack of employment rights for clergy, but the union said progress had been slow.

Amicus said the government now allows faith-based institutions to determine how to resolve disputes with their employees.

Clergy are extremely vulnerable to unfair and discriminatory employment practices when things go wrong, said Amicus National Officer Rachael Maskell. Though the government is due to review clergy employment rights in two years, this may be too late for many who face the loss of their professions and livelihoods, she said.

Amicus, with 2,000 clergy and chaplains among its members, has been campaigning for clergy employment rights for 10 years.

Argentina: Court ends impunity

In a 7-1 decision June 14, Argentina’s Supreme Court struck down two laws that blocked prosecution of crimes committed during the 1976-83 military dictatorship, the Miami Herald reported. The decision opens the way for prosecution of police, military officers and soldiers accused in the “disappearances,” torture and killing of tens of thousands under the military junta.

Argentine President Nestor Kirschner called the decision the beginning of the end of impunity in Argentina, the country’s greatest “shame.” Rosa Tarlovsky de Roisinbilt, vice president of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, whose grandchildren were kidnapped during the dictatorship, said the decision gave her group’s members “new hope.”

About 150 top military officers were convicted before amnesty laws were passed in 1986 and 1987. Justice Department and military sources say between 400 and 1,000 former military officers, soldiers and police could now face charges. But human rights groups warned that prosecutions will not be easy.

Palestine: China backs peace process

After meeting in Ramallah last week with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, China’s Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing pledged his country would use its role as a UN Security Council member to work for peace in the Middle East, Agence France Presse reported.

“As a member of the Security Council and a faithful friend of the Palestinian people, China is ready to deploy necessary efforts to support the peace process in the region,” Li said.

During the visit, Li and Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser al-Qidwa also signed an agreement that China will fund a new foreign ministry building for the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and will help finance the training of Palestinian diplomats in Beijing.

Li’s visit to Ramallah came after he held talks with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. Both Shalom and Abbas have recently visited Beijing.

Fiji: Workers win overtime pay

Last week’s strike by over 3,300 government workers over unpaid overtime wages was resolved June 24 when the government and union representatives agreed that overtime payment entitlements would be verified by the two sides over a two-week period and payments made accordingly.

The workers struck last week to protest the government’s failure to pay overtime allowances dating back to December 2002. Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions General Secretary Attar Singh said it was disappointing that Labor Minister Kenneth Zinck’s promise in March to pay the arrears within four weeks had not been fulfilled.

Workers had erected sheds and picketed with banners at various locations around the country to support their fellow workers, the Fiji Sun reported. Departments affected included hospitals, utility departments and some government offices.

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (