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Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 16:50 GMT
World Bank lends support to unions
Unison picket
There are fewer strikes in countries with collective bargaining
Efforts by the World Bank to reinvent itself, in the face of mounting protests over globalisation, have seen it embrace an unlikely icon - the union movement.

World Bank managing director Mamphela Ramphele has urged employers and workers to end the friction which can disrupt economic stability and "national life".

"Co-ordination among social partners can promote better investment climates while also fostering a fairer distribution of output," Ms Ramphele said.

The comments came as a bank report said that union members "earn higher wages, work fewer hours, receive more training and have longer job tenure on average than their non-unionised counterparts".

Fighting poverty

The findings follow a period of soul-searching for the bank.

Its long-term loans, intended to foster economic growth in developing nations, run the risk of increasing poverty, some observers say.

Reform of both the bank and the International Monetary Fund, which is typically concerned with crisis bail-outs, has risen on the international agenda, as concerns over globalisation have mounted.

The role of international lenders in Argentina's economic collapse was a prominent topic at last month's World Economic Forum annual summit, in Davos.

Robert Holzmann, the bank's social protection director, said on Wednesday: "The need for workers, employers, and government to find solutions that cut poverty... is becoming increasingly urgent in an era of globalisation."

Wage gains

Wednesday's report, which analysed more than 1,000 studies on unions and pay settlements, said that workers covered by collective wage agreements typically earned 5-10% more money than employees outside a union.

In the US, the wage-mark-up was 15%.

Union membership also narrowed wage differences between male and female workers, while in Mexico and Canada "unions have been found to reduce discrimination against indigenous people".

Countries with a history of sophisticated wage bargaining, involving factors such as working conditions as well as pay rates, enjoyed "less persistent unemployment... and fewer and shorter strikes", the report said.

Internet threat

But thanks to the rise of new technologies, which have allowed US firms to harvest out data work to India and the Caribbean, labour issues too had crossed national borders, report author Zafiris Tzannatos said.

"You also need international engagement around labour standards," Mr Tzannatos said.

"Individual countries often have very different views on what constitute proper standards, and what the consequences of adopting them might be."

Countries adopting lower standards of labour protection stood to gain "unfair advantages in internationally traded goods", the report said.

See also:

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