Palestine: Workers’ situation worsening

While domestic output grew in 2004 following four years of recession in the Palestinian economy, the International Labor Office (ILO) said in a May 31 report that fewer than half the men of working age and only 10 percent of women are employed. Thus, every employed person supports six members of the total population.

The report was based on missions sent to assess the situation of workers in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan.

“The mission observed a prevailing feeling that the economic situation of Palestinians must improve rapidly in order for them to continue to support the policy of dialogue and negotiation with Israel,” the report said. “This calls for a rapid lifting of closures, better access to the Israeli labor market, and improved trade facilities, as well as putting an end to discrimination against Arab people in the occupied Syrian Golan.”

Argentina: Private water firm pulls out

The transnational water corporation Suez has withdrawn from Argentina’s Santa Fe province, ending troubled contracts with 13 cities, the Canadian public workers union CUPE said last week.

Community groups had been pressing Suez to leave for more than three years. The company was accused of charging for work it did not do and refusing to make needed investments in water systems. At the same time it raised water rates.

Suez’s departure early last month came on the eve of a global day of action against the company. Concerned shareholders who protested Suez’s exploitative activities at the company’s annual meeting were supported by international actions in several countries. Canadian activists sent Suez director Paul Desmarais Jr. letters demanding he stop the havoc Suez is creating with its privatization schemes.

Suez, also operating as Ondeo and United Water, controls drinking water of 125 million people around the world.

Iraq: More journalists murdered

Three Iraqi journalists were assassinated May 22 “in cold-blooded and ruthless executions” on the roadside south of Baghdad, the safety office of the International Federation of Journalists in Iraq said.

After an armed group stopped the minibus in which they were traveling to Kerbala with 10 other passengers, the three were picked out when they showed their press cards. The other passengers were freed, but newspaper journalists Najem Abd Khudair and Ahmad Adam of Al Mada and trainee journalist Ali Jassem Al Rumi of Al Safeer were killed.

Their murders brought to 85 the number of journalists and media staff killed in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in March 2003. Sixty-two of the dead were Iraqis and 14 deaths occurred at the hands of U.S. troops.

The IFJ is demanding independent reports on the killings, and is also demanding the U.S. and Iraqi authorities free eight Iraqi journalists, most working for western media, who were arrested in March on allegations they posed a security risk.

China: Health workers go to rural regions

China has initiated its first pilot program to send skilled medical workers to help develop medical services in rural areas. The web site said under the project, 1,265 medical workers from 10 cities in Gansu province will spend at least a year working at 43 county-level and 350 township hospitals.

Urban medical workers will help train their rural colleagues in treating both common diseases and ailments that are difficult to diagnose and cure.

At the project’s kick-off May 16, Vice Provincial Governor Li Ying said the program also has broad implications for rural medical services throughout the country.

The Gansu project is part of a national program, “10,000 physicians support rural health work,” launched jointly by the Ministries of Health and Finance and the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The program, funded by the central government, will ultimately involve 600 hospitals in 592 poverty-stricken counties in central and western China.

Pakistan: Phone workers strike vs. privatization

Some 55,000 workers at the Pakistan Telecommunication Company (PTCL) walked off the job May 26 to protest the planned privatization of the government-run company, BBC news reported.

PTCL is the country’s most profitable public utility and is a key part of the government’s privatization policy. The government holds 88 percent of PTCL and plans to sell a 26 percent controlling interest in the firm, in the largest business sale in Pakistan so far.

“If the government sticks to its privatization plans, we’ll shut down all the company’s operations,” said Zia Uddin, leader of a nine-union alliance representing PTCL workers. A deal is expected to be completed by the end of this month.

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (