United Kingdom: TUC elects Black woman president

At its general council meeting in mid-September, the Trades Union Congress of the United Kingdom elected Gloria Mills to be the next TUC president. Mills, a senior official with public services union UNISON, is the first Black woman to hold the position.

An active trade unionist since 1978, Mills has long been a leader in print and public worker unions. In the last 12 years, as UNISON’s director of equal opportunities, she has led union campaigns on equal pay, childcare, women, employment, race and human rights issues. She has been a leader in bringing equality issues into the mainstream of the trade union movement.

“During my year as TUC president, I would like to concentrate on trying to help make British workplaces and our towns and cities more inclusive places to live and work,” Mills said.

Nicaragua: Sandinistas make oil deal with Venezuela

Nicaragua’s opposition Sandinista Party has announced an agreement to buy Venezuelan oil at discounted prices, the BBC reported. Sandinista leader and former president Daniel Ortega said Sandinista-led local governments could buy oil at a 40 percent discount. Over half the local governments are Sandinista-led.

Venezuela has made a similar arrangement with many other Caribbean countries.

Nicaragua has been experiencing an energy crisis as a result of rising oil prices worldwide. The country’s main energy supplier, Fenosa, started rationing power for up to eight hours a day last month.

The national government, which is not part of the arrangement, has questioned the deal, suggesting the Sandinista Party doesn’t have the infrastructure to carry it out.

President Enrique Bolanos is proposing energy rate hikes for consumers that would hand over $30 million to private energy companies.

Gulf States: Strikes highlight expatriate workers’ plight

Recent strikes by foreign workers in Persian Gulf states demanding months-long unpaid wages and better conditions show the need for effective legal measures to assure their rights, Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News said.

The governments of the affected countries forced employers to pay, but rights advocates are calling for “an effective legal framework to govern employer-employee relations.”

About 13 million of the Gulf states’ 35 million people are foreign workers and their families. They send home some $30 billion a year, though over half are paid less than $400 a month.

Rights advocates blame a “sponsor system” that lets companies fire workers and then keep them from seeking jobs in the same country for much of the difficulty.

Thabet Al Harun, ILO country representative in Kuwait, said the ILO rejects the sponsor system and urges Gulf states to end it and establish laws upholding workers rights as well as protecting employers’ interests.

Ghana: Mine safety promoted

With help from the European Union (EU), Ghana’s Minerals Commission is working to improve mine safety including in small mines, to end the use of mercury and other dangerous chemicals in extracting gold and diamonds, and to protect the environment.

The Ghanaian Chronicle said the minerals commission had highlighted safety concerns in persuading the EU to include small illegal mines in the program. Now, owners of small illegal mines will be encouraged to register and become legal, and will be provided with safety equipment.

Bangladesh: Garment workers urge minimum wage

Union leaders last week called on the government to set a monthly minimum wage of just under $46 per month for garment workers. The Daily Star said leaders of the Bangladesh Sanjukta Garments Sramik Federation raised the demands at their second national conference in Dhaka.

State Minister for Labor and Employment Amanullah Aman told the conference that the government is taking steps to improve the wage structure, workers’ rights and the working environment in the garment industry, the country’s major source of foreign exchange. Aman also said measures are underway to allow trade unions to organize in the country’s export processing zones.

Garment workers also demanded fair compensation for all the accidents that have occurred in garment factories including the tragedy at Spectrum Garments in Savar on April 11, where a factory building collapsed, killing 64 workers, injuring 84 and leaving hundreds jobless.

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (mbechtel@pww.org).