Weekend News and Commentary – March 7 & 8

Published March 8th, 2015 -  - 03.08.152


On Friday, Germany’s lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, passed legislation requiring some of Europe’s largest companies to give 30 percent of supervisory seats to women beginning next year; to pass, the legislation will have to be approved by Germany’s upper house, the Bundesrat. CNBC reports that the legislation was prompted by a survey finding women grossly under-represented in business life. Indeed, the survey revealed that there are no female chief executives among the thirty largest firms in Germany’s blue-chip DAX index. The new quotas, which will come into force in 2016 if the legislation is passed, will affect more than 100 companies which have employee representation on their supervisory boards; additionally, 3,500 medium-sized companies will have to determine their own quota for executive and supervisory board seats. According to Deutsche Welle, Family Minister Manuela Schwesig called the legislation a historic step for Germany and a historic day for equality, while Justice Minister Heiko Maas called the bill “the biggest contribution to equality since women were granted the right to vote.”

On Friday, police blocked several hundred oil refinery workers from entering Shell Oil Co.’s downtown Houston headquarters. The workers rallying outside Shell’s headquarters were participants in the ongoing United Steelworkers (USW) strike, which began in early February. No workers were arrested, but the police steadfastly guarded the entrances to the 50-story building. In other news pertaining to the USW strike, the Chicago Tribune reports that some members are beginning to cross the picket line and return to work at the BP Whiting Refinery, the sixth largest refinery in the U.S. and one of the fifteen plants where refinery workers are currently on strike. However, BP has not yet disclosed how many of the 1,100 refinery’s workers who went on strike on February 8 have returned. USW has reported that it is not yet aware of who the returning workers are or how many may have returned to work, but one national bargaining committee members disclosed that some members at other striking locations had already crossed picket lines when Whiting workers began returning to their jobs.

The Guardian reports that workers at London Underground (LU), the public rapid transit system serving the Greater London area, have resolved to strike in response to the termination of a LU driver, who was fired after failing two alcohol breath tests and 29 years of service. Members of the Rail, Maritime, and Transport (RMT) union walked out at 9:30 pm on Saturday, proceeding to rally outside public transit stations throughout London. According to the Independent, RMT claims that the type of breathalyzer device used on the terminated employee confused the acetone in his bloodstream, a result of his Type-II diabetes condition, with alcohol consumption—a technical shortcoming recognized last year when a diabetic manager tested positive on the same type of machine. However, LU denies this allegation, asserting that their “fuel cell” breathalysers do not produce false positives for diabetic employees. As of Saturday night, the strike was slated to continue until 4:00 am on Sunday.

The China Post and the Taipei Times report that Taiwan is expected to reopen its doors this year to domestic helpers and workers from Vietnam for the first time in ten years. Although Vietnamese maritime and domestic caretakers were originally banned by the Ministry of Labor in 2004 and 2005, respectively, due to allegedly high rates of job abandonment, the Taiwanese government is considering lifting the ban in the wake of Indonesia’s vow to stop exporting its laborers. If negotiations between Taiwan and Vietnam go smoothly, the ban on Vietnamese migrant workers in Taiwan could be lifted as soon as April. The plan has drawn criticism form migrant workers’ advocates, who have accused the Ministry of failing to address demands from foreign governments to protect the labor rights of guest workers, instead seeking out alternative sources of labor.

The New York Times reports that about ten foreign workers are missing after an attack on a Libyan oil field. According to Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek, the workers included Czech, Austrian, Bangladeshi, and Filipino workers. Although he has not yet been contacted from any group claiming responsibility, Zaoralek has speculated that the workers may have been taken hostage.

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