minimum_wage_law
Ending months of negotiations, Germany’s legislature voted on a minimum wage law mandating $11.61 an hour. The vote passed despite opposition from both trade unions and businesses calling out the program’s potential flaws.

The vote is considered to be a piece of landmark legislation for Germany, as in the past wages were set via agreements between employers and employees. Before this vote, Germany was one of a group of seven countries in the European Union who did not have a national minimum wage.

Opponents of the legislation, however, are outraged over some changes to the legislation in the eleventh-hour before the vote. Citizens under the age of 18 do not fall under the protection of the new law. Opponents claim that having a minimum wage would prevent younger citizens from being able to hold an apprenticeship.

For the first six months after the law is enacted, those who have been without employment for a long period of time will also fail to be covered by the law. Supporters of this restriction claim that if the long-term unemployed were paid $11.61 from the point of the law’s enactment, it would just make it more difficult for the unemployed to find jobs.

Compulsory work placement, something which mainly affects students, will also not be covered by the new minimum wage law, along with newspaper publishers for two years.

According to the Federal Association of German Newspaper Publishers, around 160,000 newspaper sellers will be affected by the lack of pay and the total number of people who won’t be covered by the new law is approximately 3 million.

There are around 7.1 million people in part-time employment in Germany, according to a 2012 report. The report also stated that around 4.8 million people were unemployed.

“These exemptions hit the most vulnerable in the labor market, of all people,” said Frank Bsirske, the head of the white-collar trade union Ver.di. “Millions of people will continue to be exposed to the arbitrariness of starvation wages.”

The bill has also drawn criticism from the European Union executive body. According to László Andor, the European Social Affairs Commissioner, the European Commission requires that countries who are members of the E.U. have a minimum wage that includes everyone in order to prevent citizens from falling into poverty even though they may be employed.

German economists and lobbyists for many of Germany’s businesses have argued against the minimum wage bill as well; stating that a rise in the minimum wage may run the risk of driving prices up for consumers and could potentially end thousands of jobs in the weaker regions of Germany.

Supporter of the bill argue, however, that having a period of time to allow businesses to adapt is necessary.

“This has dominated the political debate in our country for ten years,” said Labor Minister Andrea Nahles, one of the supporters for the bill. “It’s coming now and that’s reason to celebrate. Millions of employees in this country will finally get a fair wage.”

– Monica Newell

Sources: World Socialist Web Site, The Wall Street Journal
Photo: Arab News

tajikistan
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Tajikistan, a small country between Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and China, erupted in a civil war between the Moscow-backed government and Islamists.

The war lasted for five years, greatly hurting the nation’s economy. Around 50,000 people were killed and more than 10 percent of the population fled the country. The war only came to an end in 1997 when the United Nations facilitated a peace agreement.

Since the civil war, the economy of Tajikistan has not recovered and the country is currently Central Asia’s poorest nation. Almost half of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is earned by its citizens working out of the country. Meanwhile the nation itself relies on the economies of Russia and China, as well as oil and gas imports.

During the war one in every five schools were destroyed. Since the war, Tajikstan has worked to improve the country’s education.

Tajikistan currently has an enrollment of 97 percent for primary school, 80 percent for secondary school, and 17 percent for tertiary school. Late entry, combined with the early dropout of school aged children, especially girls, lower Tajikistan’s attendance for later schooling.

Although there is a very high rate of literacy, other issues affect its educational system.

Salaries paid to teachers are very low, which leads to low staffing and poorly qualified teachers in schools. This is in part due to the lack of government spending on education. In 1991, 8.9 percent of the GDP was spent on education. In 2005, this figure was down to 3.2 percent.

Due to the negative effects of the civil war on the Tajikstan economy and the immense loss of life, the school systems have been suffering ever since. Although the government has been working to improve access to education, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

– Lily Tyson

Sources: BBC, UNICEF, Eurasia
Photo: Asianews

Education in kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan has been transitioning into its own government after the rule of the Soviet Union, which ended in 1991. Throughout the 1990s, Kyrgyzstan struggled economically due to a decline in production output after the termination of its reliance on the USSR’s industrial regulations.

Due to the country’s difficult economic history, there is a high poverty rate among its citizens; 22 percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day and 41 percent live below the poverty line. Due to the difficult economic situation in Kyrgyzstan, education in Kyrgyzstan has not been a priority. Here are five facts about education in Kyrgyzstan:

1. Low Employment Leads to Low Demand for Education

Due to the low employment rates, citizens of Kyrgyzstan saw less of a value for education after 1991. As a result, the government lowered the required education to nine years while changing other educational policies. Recently, the government has been re-investing itself in education, increasing educational spending and increasing access to education.

2. Decreasing Enrollment

The enrollment in Kyrgyzstan’s pre-primary schools is 10 percent; 87 percent for primary schools, 80 percent for secondary schools and 37 percent for tertiary schools. Throughout the past five years, these numbers have decreased. It is possible that this is due to the 2007 decree that a school uniform is mandatory for all students. Many families are unable to afford this uniform.

3. The Urban-Rural Gap

There is not a significant gender gap in education. There is, however, a gap in urban versus rural access to education. For secondary school, there are 6 percent fewer children attending in rural areas than in urban areas.

4. Struggling Academic Performance

In 2006, Kyrgyzstan scored 57 out of 57 countries for educational performance in reading, mathematics and science.

5. Low Teaching Wages

The student to teacher ration in Kyrgyzstan is one student to 24 teachers. In addition, teachers are paid less than 40 percent of the average national earnings.

Although Kyrgyzstan has been reforming its education — such as a $12.7 million grant to improve preschools — the country has many reforms left to be made in order to improve the quality of education offered to its citizens.

— Lily Tyson

Sources: 24 News Agency, UNICEF, Ministry for Education
Photo: Partnerships in Action

gold-mining

Artisanal gold-mining is nothing new to Zimbabwe; in fact, it’s a practice that is centuries old. What is especially interesting about the practice today, though, is how innovative Zimbabweans are using mining as a means of supporting their families in difficult economic times.

The correlation between economic strain and accelerated entry into the mining sector is strong. Zimbabwe has undergone a decade and a half of economic turmoil that began in 2000 with the collapse of its agricultural economy when the government forced out large farms only to replace them with much smaller ones run by inexperienced staff.

As a result, swaths of the population were forced to seek alternative employment, such as small-scale mining. By 2018, it is estimated that so many Zimbabweans will have adopted artisanal gold-mining that Zimbabwe’s gold output will double.

As an industry, gold-mining has the power to support thousands of hard-working Zimbabweans. According to the South African Institute of International Affairs, which in May 2014 published a comprehensive policy briefing on the topic, “artisanal gold-mining has emerged as one of the few means of poverty alleviation for poverty-stricken people in mineral-rich communities.”

Despite this, however, the government of Zimbabwe has yet to support the industry – in fact, it has criminalized small-scale mining altogether.

Government opposition to mining is a result of concerns that mining leads to environmental degradation and political instability. To some extent, these concerns are legitimate – mining relies not only on the use of dangerous chemicals but can also lead to water pollution and landscape erosion, as well as result in community tensions when workers of differing ethnicities and ideologies flood into mining towns.

Traditionally, Zimbabwe has enforced the criminalization of artisanal mining, arresting those who are caught engaging in the practice. However, because artisanal miners move between gold mines very quickly, law enforcement alone has not managed to end non-commercial mining in Zimbabwe.

The government of Zimbabwe would be smart to regulate rather than criminalize artisanal mining, as it benefits the country as a whole. Increased gold output over the past several years has earned Zimbabwe a reputation for being mineral-rich, and in turn, has led to increased international investment.

Mining gives individuals who would otherwise face unemployment an income, allowing them to participate in local economies, perhaps put down roots and in some cases, even undertake their own entrepreneurial ventures.

Lacking the violence with which it is often associated, supporting mining would be a no-brainer for Zimbabwe. Regulation (including environmental regulation) as a means of “formalizing” the mining industry could be incredibly effective in reducing its social costs and in turn, make the industry even more productive. Zimbabweans have found a way to ward off poverty – their government should listen.

— Elise L. Riley

Sources: Eldris, Info Please
Photo: The Zimbabwe Mail

german_poverty

As a country that focuses on eradicating global issues such as hunger and poverty, we must make as many people as possible aware of our efforts, and where these issues occur. Recently, it has been reported that poverty in Germany is on the rise. Although we do not always associate Western European countries with poverty, poverty has become a global issue, affecting all types of people.

Around one-fifth of German youth live in poverty. Poverty among young Germans is on the rise due to lack of proper education and vocational training. According to Simon Rapp, Chairman of the Federal Association for Catholic Youth Welfare (BAG-KJS), “this poverty occurs due to the absence of equal opportunities in the German education system, which often results in young people being excluded from society.”

In addition, “German youths have been having an increasingly hard time” finding a job, due to the lack of educative opportunities.”

According to a study from the Bremen Institute for Workplace Research and Career Support, around 220,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 live in households dependent on Hartz IV state welfare. Around 90 percent have reported that they have never received vocational training or had access to education. In Berlin alone, 20 percent of the youths are dependent on welfare and unemployment benefits.

To make everything clearer, a study from the Hans-Böckler Foundation estimated that 18.9 percent of young people live in poverty in Germany. Thanks to the study, German officials have calculated that more than 2.5 million children and young people are poor.

To make matters worse, poverty among German youths is expected to increase. Lack of proper education, vocational training and unemployment is expected to rise for Germans within the coming years. According to The Local, a study by German officials found that for young people aged 15 to 24, education played a key role in which youngsters would end up in poverty. Moreover, the study found that teenagers with leaving certificates from Hauptschule schools were “the lowest rung on the academically-tiered German school system, or those who drop out early.”

Education is the best protection against poverty. The question is, how can we help German youths access education?

 — Stephanie Olaya

Sources: The Local, WSWS
Photo: The Spiegel

labor unrest
Protesting has emerged in Cambodia since the first of 2014. Chevron employees demand wages to be increased from $110 to $160 a month. Over 200 workers from the multi-million dollar company, Chevron, have organized a strike for salary increases. The strike has forced 17 of Cambodia’s Chevron gas stations to temporally close until the strike is over.

The Chevron employees have also been joined by several of the country’s garment factory workers in protesting to raise not only the company’s wages, but the national minimum wage to $160 a month.

Because Chevron is a U.S. company, Cambodia is reaching out to the U.S. government officials for help. The thoughts among Cambodia’s factory and service workers have pushed the labor unrest to continue. Laborers in Cambodia‘s large textile industry staged strikes and protest late last year and in the beginning of 2014 for a higher minimum salary and has steered toward political resistance.

The Cambodia Daily states that local worker “Ly Heng, a 29-year-old gas pumper at the Stung Meanchey station, said he is only paid $75 per month and wanted to join the strike but had feared losing his job.”

Chevron released a statement stating, “We are disappointed that our unionized service station colleagues have taken the drastic action to stop work instead of following legal processes to resolve the matter that would have enabled us to continue the supply of fuel products and minimize inconvenience to the public.”

Chevron has been working with authorities to ensure the safety of civilians and the workers participating in the strike.

In the past, Cambodia has seen a fair share of wage strikes. The garment factory strike was a great success with an estimate of over 200,000 workers that participated. This made it one of the largest garment-worker strikes in the history of Cambodia.

So far this year, factories in Cambodia have enforced an inspection of current safety related policies due to the six deaths related to a garment factory accident. The deaths have resulted in not only a strike, but further inspections on current wage circumstances in Cambodia.

The strikes from the garment workers have inspired other members of the work force to fight for higher wages.

Teachers demand $250 a month because the current $75 a month is not a livable wage. According to the Cambodian Independent Teachers Union, there are 87,000 teachers in the country. Several of these teachers protested for higher wages, shocking Cambodia with the current salary that they receive.

The strike ended with Chevron’s agreement to increase the monthly wage by $20 back in May. The agreement stated that workers would head back to work and end the strike. The Chevron cashiers will have their salaries increased to $150 and petrol pumpers will make $130. Also, the Chevron employees participating in the strike will not receive a pay dock from the time spent during the wage strike.

– Rachel Cannon

Sources: The Associated Press, The Diplomat, Global Post
Photo: VOA

unemployment
In his first speech since his father Juan Carlos abdicated the throne, Spain’s future King, Crown Prince Felipe, addressed his country’s begrudgingly slow economic recovery. He referred to Spain as “united and diverse.” These remarks came a week after a new report noted that 1.26 million Spaniards have been without jobs since 2010. These citizens, unemployed for at least three years, are representatives of the 500 percent increase in Spain’s long-term unemployed population since 2007. They are 23.1 percent of Spain’s unemployed population and their numbers are continuing to grow with each passing year.

In the first quarter of 2014, Spain’s unemployment rate fell to 25.73 percent, down from a record high of 26.94 percent last year. During the same quarter, Spain’s economy grew at a quarterly rate of 0.4 percent, its best period since 2006. These increases have caused politicians and the International Monetary Fund to reassert their confidence in Spain’s recovery prospects, but that confidence has proven divisive within Spain.

Fiscal policies by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his conservative Popular Party have been lukewarmly received by the general public. On June 6, the Spanish government approved a $15 billion stimulus package to spur growth and promote their renewed confidence in the economy. However, 26 percent of Spain’s population remains on government benefits. This figure is second in the EU only to Greece.

As reform efforts begin to take hold throughout Spain, civil unrest has resurfaced. Much of the focus is now geared toward high levels of income inequality. There has recently been a boom in tourism in Barcelona, accounting for a record high of 7.5 million visitors in 2013, but the unemployment rate still looms at 18 percent. Protesters are noting changes in government policies which have only affected the well off and have left the despondent with little to aspire to.

Spain’s corporate tax rate has recently been lowered to 25 percent from 30 percent, but the ability of the country’s educational institutions to produce well-trained students for prospective employers is questionable at best. Two-thirds of Spain’s 38.6 million residents over the age of 16 have only a basic education. Of these residents, 32.5 percent are currently unemployed. The youth unemployment rate is also nearly double that of the national rate. Slow recovery rates have dissuaded international investment and stymied growth in Spain’s financial sector.

Spain recently announced an early 1.3 billion euro repayment of a 41 billion euro EU banking rescue loan. This announcement was positioned as a confidence boosting measure. Whether it proves a catalyst for a Spain bereft of chronic unemployment, only time will tell.

– Taylor Dow

Sources: Digital Journal, Euro Weekly News, Fox News Latino, Latin Post, The Local, RTE News, The Spain Report
Photo: Wall Street CN

employee_benefits
It is difficult to consider that America has fallen behind in achieving a balance between family and workplace life. Most western nations, particularly in Europe, have a mandate for employees’ paid vacation time. The United States does not mandate these benefits, nor does it mandate paid maternity leave for mothers. Other countries that do not offer maternity leave are Papua New Guinea and Swaziland. These are the only three countries in the world that do not provide such benefits to employees. Although each and every country is distinct, several countries have advantages that make them better than others in terms of livelihood and work.

Germany holds a high standard of living and is one of the strongest and most powerful economic systems in the European Union. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Germans work about 27 hours per week and still deliver a solid economy. Germans ranks 7th out of the 36 countries for time spent on leisure activities and are also the most traveled, with extra time to spare in other countries. Germany is high on the list for best countries to work in.

Bulgaria is one of the best countries to start a family in while working. Bulgarians receive over 400 days of paid maternity leave with almost 100 percent of the mother’s salary. There are also paternity benefits offered to the father and even grandparents if necessary.

Finland offers 40 days of paid vacation to its employees, and on average, less than .04 percent work more than 50 hours a week. Finland ranks high on the happiness indicator because of these employee benefits.

The Netherlands has a healthy gross domestic product rating and high standard of living. The employees working in the Netherlands work the least compared to other countries, and the economy remains stronger than ever. Employees receive 28 paid vacation days per year, and 16 weeks of paid maternity leave with full salary. This high standard of living is reflected in high levels of childhood satisfaction and high literacy rates.

The U.S. ranks 33rd out of 36 countries for time spent on leisure activities. Currently, there is a severe lack of balance between work and family life in the states. The typical American spends 60 percent of the day on working, leaving a mere 14 percent for spending time with loved ones.

One way the U.S. can improve the livelihood of its citizens is by helping reduce working family poverty rates. This can be done by concentrating more on a child’s early years and providing both maternity and paternity leave. Such changes can often yield a better and stronger economy. The U.S. is one of the only nations that does not offer strong benefits to employees, and as a result, the country is falling behind economically with a low overall happiness rating.

– Rachel Cannon

Sources: Fast CoExist, Equal Times, OECD Better Life Index
Photo: Amsterdam Traveling.com

Latin American youth are finding it increasingly difficult to find gainful employment. Of the region’s 108 million people in the 18 to 24 year age bracket, 21.8 million of them are known as NEETs – not in employment, education or training. In Spanish they are called NiNis – ni estudian ni trabajan (they do not study, nor do they work). NiNis are a stigmatized group, pegged as lazy, unmotivated and apathetic.

To make matters worse, many Latin American youth who do find jobs end up working in poor conditions and lack the protection of labor rights. Six in every 10 young people in Latin America work in unlawful labor conditions, according to a recent International Labor Organization report.

The ILO study, titled Trabajo decente y juventud: políticas para la acción (Decent Work and Youth: Policies for Action), also reported that the youth unemployment rate is three times as high as that of adults and twice as high as the overall rate. Young people are unable to find decent jobs even though the current generation is better educated than any previous cohort.

In Guatemala, 78 percent of NiNis work informal positions doing housework and other menial chores. Yet the hard core of NiNis exists in Paraguay and Uruguay, with 48 and 45 percent of young people respectively neither employed, nor enrolled in an academic institution.

Several causes for youth unemployment exist. Education is key – if the education system is not in sync with an area’s labor market, graduates will not leave their educational institution with the necessary skills to break into and thrive in the workforce. Population growth has also contributed to the existence of such high numbers of unemployed youth around the globe. Additionally, during times of economic hardship, employers are more likely to lay off younger workers who do not represent as significant of an investment as their older, better trained counterparts.

The fundamental problem, outlined by the ILO report, is that not enough opportunities exist for Latin American youth. Guy Rider, director of the International Labor Organization, says that the “lack of access to opportunities for decent work generates frustration and discouragement among youth. There are 108 million reasons why we must act now.”

The good news is that some organizations are acting. Work4Youth, a collaborative project between the ILO and MasterCard Foundation, seeks to match underprivileged youths aged 14 to 24 with local businesses in order to give young people the resources they need to break into the workforce. W4Y has operations all around the globe, and it maintains a presence in Brazil, Peru, El Salvador and Colombia.

The young generation currently entering the workforce is a valuable resource. Some estimates hold that if unemployment among young people were halved, the global GDP would experience an increase of 4 to 7 percent. In the words of 21-year-old Astrid Estefanía Garibay of Mexico: “People think ‘young’ and ‘NiNi,’ and they think about drug addicts and bums.” These young people simply need help connecting with opportunities rather than being stigmatized for their employment status.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: IB Times, ILO, Pravda.ru, Press TV
Photo: Work4Youth

UN_women_latin_america
Over the past decade, Latin America’s economy has improved due to the rising quantity of exports. At the same time, rapid growth of urban centers has created socioeconomic problems like an increase in prostitution and sex trafficking. One of the consequences of the urbanization of Latin America is a rapid increase in population, which in turn results in a larger number of unemployment and homelessness. The high population outnumbers the amount of jobs available for people, especially women. The consequence is that more women living in these urban slums resorting to commercial sex work. These women then become vulnerable to diseases and to violent environments.​

In Brazil, over 40,000 women have murdered for simply being women in the past 10 years. And Honduras is labeled one of the most dangerous places to live for a woman. There, the violent killings of women there have tripled. Unfortunately, only 5 percent of these crimes have been investigated and the murderers prosecuted.

Columbia is facing significant gender-based violence because of military conflict within the country. Women are often attacked who take part in activism to encourage political and social reforms for more representation and rights.

The third most violent place in the world for women is Guatemala. The county ordered a new law to prevent violence against women in 2008, making it the first Latin American country to do so. Yet since the law was implemented, not much has been done to support the new reforms. Women continue to have problems finding prosecution for the culprits.

Not only does violence cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of women in Latin America, but it decreases the region’s social and economic development. The killings are preventing these women from contributing to the economic growth of the country. Seven Latin America countries rank in the top 10 countries in the world for most domestic violence against women.

One answer to this matter is the program U.N. Women, which helps to strengthen the representation of women in government and politics. New policies are developed for women’s economic development; particularly, women in isolated and rural regions in Latin America. These policies aim to create equal and fair workplaces for all women who are seeking or already have employment and to create job opportunities.

UN Women is helping to end gender based violence against women in Latin America by creating services for victims and survivors. This will help by implementing laws to protect women and provide justice for those in need.

— Rachel Cannon

Sources: CSIS, UN Women 1, UN Women 2
Photo: UN Women