In the aftermath and shock of the Rana Plaza disaster, in which more than 1,100 people died, many promises were made. Yet the Bangladesh government has been lethargic and its promises of action on factory safety and labour relations have hit familiar walls. Foreign powers, meanwhile, have produced contrasting responses. Read more

Alexander Lukashenko is living up to his reputation as Europe’s last remaining dictator. The president of Belarus has decided to bring back serfdom on farms in a bid to stop urban migration.

Lukashenko has announced plans to introduce legislation prohibiting farm labourers from quitting their jobs and moving to the cities. “Yesterday, a decree was put on my table concerning – we are speaking bluntly – serfdom,” the Belarus leader told a meeting on Tuesday to discuss improvements to livestock farming, reported. Read more

South Africa’s upstart miners’ trade union, Amcu, is starting 2014 with a bang.

Not content with becoming the recognised union over the older, more established National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), it is looking to pull off the impressive feat of organising strikes at South Africa’s three biggest platinum companies – Lonmin, Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), and Impala Platinum (Implats). That’s a combined 70,000 workers. And, more importantly, around two-thirds of the world’s platinum output. Read more

It’s all looking up for the US this week. New figures show manufacturing activity is growing at its fastest pace since April 2011. Analysts have braced themselves for better than expected jobs data on Friday. Oh – and Indian IT outsourcing companies are funnelling money into the country. Read more

By Nguyen Van Phu of the Saigon Economic Times

Activists in Vietnam fight tenaciously for many things. They’ve advocated land ownership for farmers, equal footing for the state-owned and private sectors and the suspension of a costly bauxite project that is neither financially viable nor environmentally friendly. And yet, they have never raised their voices against the dark sides of free trade agreements as have their peers in other developing countries. Read more

For BMW in South Africa, genug ist genug.

Strikes are a fact of life for many companies in Africa’s largest economy but last week German carmaker BMW said that wage disputes had gone too far and cancelled plans to ramp up production at its Rosslyn plant. The response from the union? BMW is “blackmailing” the country. Read more

It has been a while since South African manufacturers have had much to cheer about as they have endured rising costs, increasing competition and the economic crisis in Europe, their main market. But as the rand has been trading at four-year lows against the dollar for much of the year, it seems they may finally be getting a lift. Read more

Kgalema Motlanthe, South Africa’s deputy president, on Friday unveiled a draft agreement for sustainable mining – a government attempt to bring some stability to the sector. It’s about time. In recent weeks, the unions have been making a lot of noise about strikes.

But in the past few days it has been the turn of the mining companies to put their point across, and threaten job cuts. Read more

After that ad, and a drop in profits, some good news for Hyundai. To the relief of many investors, the labour union has ended its seven-week dispute with the company over weekend work.

The 45,000-strong union will resume their overtime work from this weekend after refusing it for the past eight weekends, demanding higher wages. The temporary work stoppage cost the company more than Won1tn ($900m) in production losses. Read more

By Ifty Islam of Asian Tiger Capital Partners

The collapse of Rana Plaza, the eight-storey building housing garment factories in Savar, near Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, has seen more than 300 killed and over 1200 injured, with many hundreds still missing.

Coming only five months after 111 deaths in an earlier factory fire, the overwhelming sentiment in Bangladesh has gone from shock to moral outrage about the scant regard for human life among the factory owners. There have been violent protests across Dhaka by thousands of enraged garment factory workers. Read more

South Korean companies are facing growing public pressure to convert contract workers to permanent staff amid increasing calls for a so-called “economic democratisation,” which is likely to improve workers’ conditions at the price of increasing employers’ costs.

The latest response to this pressure came from E-Mart, the country’s biggest supermarket chain, which said last week it would convert 10,000 temporary salespeople to regular staff from April 1. Read more

Higher wages and rising labour costs lie at the heart of the economic questions facing China’s leaders as they gather this week in Beijing for the National People’s Congress.

For hard-pressed exporters the developments are clearly negative. But for China as a whole they should be positive -with millions of workers earnings more pay and creating a growing consumer market – as long as the transition is managed properly. Read more

Huawei, the Chinese telecoms group, is the latest international investor to feel the brunt of Indonesia’s increasingly vocal trade union movement.

Union activists and current and former employees have launched a campaign against what they say is Huawei’s use of illegal foreign workers, its union busting practices and other alleged violations of Indonesia’s tough labour laws. Read more

Saudi Basic Industries Corp, Saudi Arabia’s biggest publicly-traded company, has a very non-Saudi problem: striking workers.

The Riyadh-based petrochemicals behemoth is facing the wrath of the labour unions – not at home in the kingdom where such groups are banned but at its Chemicals Geleen plant in the Netherlands. Read more

Foxconn, the contract manufacturer whose biggest customer is Apple, is preparing genuinely representative labour union elections in its factories in China for the first time, a powerful sign of the changes in the workshop of the world demanded by an increasingly restive workforce.

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