trade unions

Amazon’s Christmas season was marked by labour unrest at its German warehouses, and as the US retail giant expands into central Europe, building five centres in Poland and the Czech Republic, it is hoping that unions do not follow.

“In terms of unions themselves, we don’t see a need for that,” Tim Collins, director for Amazon´s EU logistics operations, told beyondbrics. “Any friction that gets between us and our associates slows down innovation, slows down change, slows down improvements on the shop floor, and we don’t see that as being good at all.”

However, the Solidarity labour union, heir to the organisation that helped end communism in Poland, plans to support any unionisation drive among Amazon’s Polish workers. 

By Jonathan Berman

It was 1996, and Sam Jonah knew he was in trouble.

Jonah was chief executive of AngloGold and had just led the company’s listing on the New York Stock Exchange, making it the first African company on the Big Board. He was on a routine follow-up roadshow when the Rwandan genocide filled the airwaves, and Jonah spent much of the next year explaining that his company had no operations in Rwanda. “Most investors then still thought Africa was a country,” he recalls, “one country. And once Rwanda hit the airwaves, we were all Rwanda.” 

When members of South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers agreed to a revised pay offer from the country’s main gold producers – bringing to a close a strike by tens of thousands of miners – struggling companies must have breathed a collective sigh of relief. Instead of the protracted strike many executives had feared, the industrial action lasted just a few days with virtually all workers returning to work by Sunday evening. 

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. 

Worrying news from South Africa. London-listed miner Lonmin has said that talks with Amcu (Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) – the more radical and growing union – will not resume on Thursday.

Amcu previously said that strikes would follow if negotiations over union recognition went unresolved. Amcu now represents over 70 per cent of Lonmin workers, usurping the more closely government-aligned National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). 

It’s been a messy fight with violent protests and hostile exchanges between the parties. Monday’s announcement of a farmworkers wage hike may cool some temperatures for now, but the battle is far from over.

Labour minister Mildred Oliphant said the new minimum wage level will increase to R105 per day, up from the current R69. Some workers welcomed the news, but made it clear they still want to put up a fight for their initial demand of R150 per day. 

Despite a big round of minimum wage hikes, Indonesia’s manufacturing belt hasn’t seen the end of the recent wave of labour disputes.

Wednesday witnessed the latest in a series of mass protests organized in recent weeks in Jakarta by workers’ unions complaining about “outsourcing”— local lingo for taking on temporary workers without the additional cost of providing healthcare and pension benefits. 

South Africa’s mining industry is again confronted by labour unrest. Production at the Marikana platinum mining complex run by Lonmin PLC, the world’s third largest platinum producer, has been halted since August 10 by 3,000 striking rock drillers demanding higher wages.