Pakistan: Troops jail workers

Pakistani security forces took over Pakistan Telecommunication Co. Ltd. (PTCL) June 12 and arrested more than 300 workers and union leaders after they called a strike against the company’s privatization, The Hindu reported. The government threatened to try strike leaders as “terrorists.”

The government had earlier postponed privatization of the country’s largest telecommunications firm to end a 10-day standoff with 55,000 PCTL workers. It then announced that bids would be taken June 18 for a 26 percent share of the national firm.

“We have asked the staff to perform their duties as usual,” said an army officer in the central city of Multan. “However,” he added, “we would not let them switch off or discontinue the telecom system in any case.”

Said union leader Shahid Ayub, “This is a profit-earning organization. There is no ground for it to be sold.” He said thousands of its workers would lose their jobs.

Finland: Paper strike/lockout continues

Talks between the Paperworkers’ union and pulp and paper manufacturers to end a strike and lockout in effect since mid-May broke off June 15 with the two sides still far apart, negotiators said. If the dispute is not resolved soon, the Hensingin Sanomat newspaper said, a government working group will take over.

The biggest sticking point is the use of outside subcontracted labor. In particular, the union is upholding the job rights of 900 cleaners whom the companies want to replace with contracted workers. Paperworkers’ union chairman Jouko Ahonen dismissed the employers’ claims that the cleaners are causing economic hardship to the industry, pointing out that the pay they earn “corresponds to that of just 18 executives of the pulp and paper industry.”

Meanwhile, other unions have taken solidarity actions against the Finnish Forest Industries Federation.

Venezuela: Int’l oil firms owe big tax bill

A preliminary audit of the first three private firms running fields for Venezuela’s state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, shows they owe nearly $300 million in taxes, the Houston Chronicle has reported. Venezuela’s Tax Superintendent Jose Vielma made the announcement at a June 8 news conference in Caracas. Nineteen companies are still to be audited, he said.

Vielma said the overall tax bill from the 22 companies “could be higher than $3 billion.” Private oil firms manage 32 of Petroleos de Venezuela’s fields, for a per-barrel fee.

Energy and Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez had warned May 25 that private companies, including Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and ConocoPhillips, must put their operations in order if they expect to stay in the country.

In April, Venezuela raised the companies’ income tax rate to 50 percent, from 34 percent, retroactive to 2001.

China: Boost developing countries role in UN

Amid the growing debate about reform of the United Nations, China earlier this month issued a position paper emphasizing that changes should heighten the organization’s attention to developing countries’ needs.

China called for increased Security Council representation by developing countries, which amount to more than two-thirds of UN members, with emphasis on small and medium-sized countries.

The paper also suggested that all the regional groups should first of all reach agreement on reform proposals concerning their respective regions.

A few days before the document was released, Chinese UN Ambassador Wang Guangya told reporters that China opposes putting to a vote the G-4 (Germany, Japan, Brazil, India) proposal that the G-4 and two African countries should have permanent Security Council seats.

Angola: Desperate plight of children

Three years after the end of the country’s 27-year civil war, Angola still has one of the highest rates of child mortality in the world, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Country Representative Mario Ferrari told the UN’s IRIN news agency last week.

“The long period of war had the effect of dismantling the social services,” Ferrari said. “The effect is that this country has a child mortality rate of 250 per 1,000.”

Many children are not in primary school and very few go to secondary school, he said.

Ferrari said some progress has been made. Campaigns against polio have continued and there have been no new cases since 2001. An effective anti-measles campaign was waged in 2003 and there have been number of other health-related measures, especially benefiting children and women.

But, he emphasized, aid agencies and the government have “a long road ahead of us” to reduce the child mortality rate.

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (