TAHITI UNIONS CALL GENERAL STRIKE

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PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, May 26) – Tahiti's major labor unions have officially announced a June 1 general strike to protest a controversial "Sommers Law" approved by the French Polynesia Assembly on May 14 to modify the rules for labor union representation.

The strike is scheduled to start on the same day that the French Polynesia Assembly is due to once again debate the Sommers Law with a second reading of the legislation's text.

The only union not included in the announced general strike represents public school teachers, who do not want to interrupt scheduled high school baccalaureate exams that start throughout French Polynesia next week.

This would be the first general strike in Tahiti since last December when a 16-union confederation staged a four-day work stoppage against the Temaru government's proposed increase in a solidarity tax on all wages. That strike was successful after blocking west coast motor vehicle access to downtown Papeete and blocking the entrance to the Port of Papeete's docks and warehouses for inter-island and international shipping.

This time the unions are using the same all-or-nothing approach to try and force the Temaru government to withdraw the Sommers Law approved by the French Polynesia Assembly. The Temaru government's majority coalition voted for the legislation despite a lack of support from Temaru's labor minister, former powerful union leader Pierre Frébault, and the French Polynesia Economic, Social and Cultural Council (CESC), a cross section of Tahiti's management, labor and cultural institutions.

During his first press conference since returning from an official week-long visit to Japan, French Polynesia President Oscar Temaru said Monday, "I think that to organize a general strike for a procedural question is more like a political strike that someone wants to start."

Temaru and members of his government have called for negotiations to try and settle the dispute, but that has been thwarted by the unions' insistence that there be no compromise solution. They want the Sommers Law taken off the books for good. Complicating the situation is Temaru's insistence that the negotiations between his majority coalition in the assembly and the unions, leaving him on the sidelines.

The legislation is named after its sponsor, Eugène Sommers, who is head of the French Polynesia Assembly's Employment and Civil Service Commission. When Labor Minister Frébault attempted to have a second reading of the Sommers legislation and a proposed amendment debated on May 18, Sommers rejected the amendment and the second reading was postponed until Temaru's return from Japan. That reading will now be held on June 1.

Meanwhile, the Temaru majority coalition in the assembly appears to have lined up solidly behind its president and Sommers, despite a constant chorus of protests from both the labor unions and the political opposition.

But what stands out as different from the confrontation Temaru faced and lost against the unions in December is that instead of directly entering the Sommers Law dispute Temaru says its up to his majority coalition in the assembly to find a settlement with the unions.

May 30, 2006

Tahitipresse: http://www.tahitipresse.pf/index.cfm?lang=2

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