UNSC expresses concern over situation in Myanmar

Myanmar police officers patrol along the border fence between Myanmar and Bangladesh in Maungdaw, Rakhine State, Myanmar. (Source: AP Photo/File) Related News

The UN Security Council has expressed concern over violence in Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state from where thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh, asking the government to take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation and re-establish law and order. An estimated 380,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees have fled Myanmar and reached Bangladesh after a crackdown by Myanmarese security forces in response to an attack on a military outpost by Rohingya militants on August 25.

Expressing concern over the situation, the UN Security Council called for immediate steps to end the violence, de-escalate the situation and re-establish law and order. In a statement, Security Council “expressed deep concern” about the situation in Rakhine State. Acknowledging the initial attacks on Myanmar security forces on August 25, the 15-membered body condemned the subsequent violence which has led to over 300,000 people being displaced.

The members called for protection of civilians in Myanmar and restoration of normal socio-economic conditions. “This is the first time in nine years that the Security Council has agreed on this particular issue, on Myanmar,” British Ambassador to the UN Matthew Rycroft told reporters at the UN headquarters in New York.

“We were united in our concern about the situation, in the deterioration of the situation and we have heard graphically from the Secretary-General and Jeff Feltman who briefed us on the catastrophe that is befalling Rakhine State and Rohingya there,” he said. Rycroft said the members agreed that there must be an end to the security operations and there must be full humanitarian access wherever it is needed.

“And the Government of Myanmar has an important obligation in looking to the longer term in implementing the recommendations of the Annan Commission,” he said. The Security Council also welcomed Bangladesh’s efforts to provide assistance to refugees and welcomed UN and other international efforts to support Dhaka in this regard.

Noting the commitments made by Myanmar to provide humanitarian assistance to all displaced individuals without discrimination, they called on the government to fulfil these commitments, facilitate humanitarian assistance to those in need in Rakhine State, and to ensure the protection and safety of humanitarian actors. They encouraged further dialogue and cooperation among states concerned.

Agreeing on the importance of a long-term solution to the situation in Rakhine, members of the Security Council called for implementation of the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. “In that context, they welcomed as a first step the Government of Myanmar’s establishment of the ‘Ministerial Implementation Committee’ for the Rakhine Advisory Commission. They confirmed that the international community stands ready to support the Government of Myanmar with its implementation,” the statement said.

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German wage talks to include new focus: reduced working hours

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The trade union powerhouse that won the 35-hour work week for Germans more than two decades ago is mobilising for a new campaign to reduce working hours at annual wage negotiations about to kick off nationwide. IG Metall, Germany’s biggest union with 2.3 million workers mainly in the car and manufacturing industries, says shorter hours will help shift workers and those who need to care for children or elderly relatives, with wide implications for how German society evolves in the 21st century.

If the union’s gambit is successful, economists counting on strong wage rises will be watching to see if there are deflationary effects as domestic consumption overtakes exports as the driver of the euro zone’s biggest economy.

The union begins internal discussions at the local level on Thursday, just as campaigning in Germany’s parliamentary election enters its final phase, with issues of work and family high on the agenda.

“The timing could have been made to order for a wage round in which our issues will have great support from society,” IG Metall President Joerg Hofmann told a union conference in late June, as he launched the initiative.

“The value of time and the value of money will carry equal weight,” Hofmann told journalists last week.

IG Metall will release its national list of demands at the end of October. Negotiations with employers begin in November.

Buoyed by record employment, a shortage of skilled labour and a strong economy, it is in its strongest bargaining position for years.

Employers are rattled.

“Working time is our number one concern,” Oliver Zander, chief executive of the Gesamtmetall umbrella association of employers that mirrors IG Metall, told reporters last week. “We need more hours to be worked.”

Reducing working hours now could be problematic, particularly for small companies, he said, and argued productivity gains were not keeping up with unit labour costs.

“We have a very tough wage round ahead of us.”

TAKING CONTROL

IG Metall, whose members work at giants like Volkswagen and Siemens as well as thousands of smaller firms, is trying to wrest back control of working conditions as employers demand ever more flexibility.

According to the plan laid out in June, the union wants to establish that workers can reduce weekly hours to 28 for up to two years with a right to return to full-time work. In the cases of low-paid workers who need the extra time to care for relatives, employers would help make up the pay shortfall.

A poll of nearly 700,000 workers at its plants earlier this year found that many shift workers in particular were dissatisfied with their influence over working patterns. One in three of those surveyed worked shifts.

IG Metall acknowledges there may have to be a trade-off with the headline pay rise.

“Where big sums are involved, such as compensation for the shortfall, the employers will certainly want their payback,” Hofmann told Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio last week.

Bundesbank Chief Economist Jens Ulbrich said IG Metall’s ideas about working time autonomy and partial compensation for reductions were uncharted territory.

“It’s quite difficult to assess what the implications of the wage round will be on working time arrangements and wage growth,” he told Reuters.

Both the Bundesbank and the European Central Bank are keeping a close eye on the negotiations for any sign that wage growth is picking up, potentially lifting inflation and allowing the ECB to start winding down its massive stimulus programme.

Despite robust growth across the euro zone, wages have barely risen for years, likely reflecting hidden slack in the labour market – the shortfall between the work people want and the amount available. This is putting the ECB in a tight spot as it has missed its price growth target for nearly five years.

The Bundesbank’s latest forecast, for 1.4 percent German inflation in 2018, assumes actual wage rises of 2.9 percent, up from 2.4 percent in 2017 and 2.5 percent in 2016.

AUTOMATION

It’s not the first time the German work week has been cut. A decade ago, Germans voluntarily cut their hours to share the available work more equally during the global economic crisis.

But where that was a crisis measure, this could be the beginning of a social trend, experts say.

Employers got a hint of the mood this year, when most of the more than 100,000 employees at national rail operator Deutsche Bahn were given a choice of more money or more holidays and chose the extra days off.

“I do believe the trend will go in the direction of shorter working hours,” said Anke Hassel, academic director of the Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI) of the trade union-affiliated Hans Boeckler Foundation.

“IG Metall is the pioneer.”

Germans already work fewer than any other nation in the OECD – 1,363 hours a year on average – partly due to large numbers of women working part-time.

Jon Messenger, working time specialist at the International Labour Organisation, said the fall in working hours could be seen as a natural evolution of working life, especially in the face of enormous technological change.

“That type of working hours reduction is not something I see much of, although I think it would be a good thing,” he said. “It seems to me like it would be a very logical response to increasing automation of production, for example.”

Willem Adema, senior economist at the social policy division of the Organisation of the Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), agreed, especially when a reduction was coupled with the right to return to full-time work.

“Long hours are not necessarily more productive,” he said.

IG Metall’s wage settlement will affect as many as 3.9 million workers, including members at plants not directly covered by the pact, and will have a strong influence on other agreements among the 44.4 million workers throughout Germany.

“If IG Metall goes a step further with working time, it will certainly send out signals in many areas,” said Thorsten Schulten, wage expert at the WSI.

“I can well imagine that we will experience this as a broader issue perhaps already in the next wage rounds, and also in future rounds,” he said.

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UN chief Antonio Guterres calls for political solutions in Afghanistan

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks at a news conference ahead of the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, September 13, 2017. (Source: REUTERS) Related News

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said that there can be no military solution to the problem in Afghanistan and it should work for creating political solution in the country. “I believe it is important in Afghanistan to invest in the conditions to create a political solution. I believe that is possible,” Guterres told reporters at the UN headquarters in New York.

He was responding to a question on resolving the lingering crisis in Afghanistan. “I don’t think there is a military solution to the crisis in Afghanistan, as I don’t think there is a military solution for practically any crisis in the world,” he said.

Guterres said he believes that investing in creating such a condition means the engagement in dialogue with the relevant parties. “Even when the US have announced their surge, they were also saying that they believe a political solution is necessary,” he said.

“So, it is clear for me that, independently of short-term measures that might be taken, the political solution is the long-term road that we need all to move on,” Guterres said.

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Brazil police arrest JBS CEO Batista, plea deal in limbo

Wesley Batista, chief executive of JBS, the world’s largest beef producer, gestures as he speaks during the Reuters Latin American Investment Summit in Sao Paulo, Brazil March 25, 2011. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker/File Photo Top News

Brazil’s federal police on Wednesday arrested the chief executive of JBS SA, the world’s No. 1 meatpacker, accusing him of insider trading ahead of a plea bargain he signed this year whose disclosure pummeled the company’s stock.

Wesley Batista, who has been at the helm of JBS since 2011, was detained under an arrest warrant against him and his younger brother, Joesley, for suspected insider trading. The billionaires, both in their mid-40s, control 42 percent of JBS.

The Batista brothers’ lawyer, Pierpaolo Bottini, called the insider trading allegations and the arrest of the meatpaker’s CEO “unjust, absurd and regrettable.” If convicted, the Batistas may be the first people in Brazil jailed for insider trading.

JBS shares rose 2.4 percent, erasing early losses, on optimism that Wesley Batista’s arrest will accelerate his ouster as chief executive.

The accusations could hurt a plea deal that both brothers signed in May in relation to a three-year graft probe that has shocked Brazil’s political and business establishment.

The insider trading case involving JBS follows probes by markets watchdog CVM on trades that took place before the plea deal was leaked to the press on May 17. The impact from the leak, which ensnared senior politicians, led to Brazil’s worst financial market selloff in at least a decade.

According to police investigators, the Batistas were aware of the market impact that their plea deal would have on JBS shares and the currency. Police said the brothers created a strategy to protect their JBS holding and help the company amass large foreign-currency positions ahead of the leak.

On May 18, the stock shed 9.7 percent, while the Brazilian real tumbled 8.2 percent – its biggest daily decline since January 1999.

“A day ahead of the leaks, JBS rose to the No. 2 spot in currency purchases, an unheard of fact,” police investigator Rodrigo de Campos Costa said in a news conference.

SUPER WEDNESDAY

The arrest was the marquee development on a day dubbed “Super Wednesday” by local media because of developments in the dizzying array of graft scandals that have implicated top politicians.

The Supreme Court ruled that Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot should continue to handle a corruption case against President Michel Temer, while ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was questioned by federal judge Sergio Moro, Brazil’s leading anti-corruption crusader.

Topping things off, another household name in Brazilian politics, former Rio de Janeiro state governor Anthony Garotinho, was arrested in a separate corruption probe in the midst of hosting a radio show.

The detention of Wesley Batista comes as his plea deal with prosecutors is unraveling due to alleged omissions in the brothers’ testimony. Some minority shareholders were already seeking to remove him.

“It is not every day that a CEO getting arrested for insider trading can be viewed as a credit positive, but we see the latest events as weakening Batista’s push to remain as CEO,” analysts at CreditSights Inc wrote in a note to clients.

Certain units of JBS on Wednesday suspended cattle purchases temporarily following Batista’s arrest, a source familiar with the matter said, adding that it was unclear how long the suspension would stay in place.

The yield on the company’s 7.75 percent bond due in October 2020 rose about 0.17 percentage point to 7.966 percent on Wednesday.

Joesley Batista has been under arrest since Sunday after recordings suggested he tried to take advantage of prosecutors and conceal details during negotiations that led to the plea deal. He has denied any wrongdoing.

In their testimony, the brothers accused Temer of working to obstruct a corruption probe, which Temer has repeatedly denied. The family’s investment holding company, J&F Investimentos SA, paid a record fine of 10.3 billion reais ($3.3 billion) as part of the plea bargain deal.

Since that agreement was signed on May 31, Temer and the Batistas have traded barbs – taking their rift to corporate boardrooms. State development bank BNDES, whose investment arm owns 21 percent of JBS, is seeking to oust the Batistas from the company’s management and board.

In a statement, BNDES said the company should pick a new chief executive officer in the next shareholders meeting. A person familiar with the matter said JBS’s board did not discuss succession plans for Batista at a Tuesday meeting.

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UN chief Antonio Guterres calls for political solution to Korean crisis

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks at a news conference ahead of the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, September 13, 2017. (Source: REUTERS) Related News

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for a political solution to the current situation in Korean peninsula, which has worsened in recent months in the wake of series of ballistic missile and nuclear tests by Pyongyang. “The solution can only be political. Military action could cause devastation on a scale that would take generations to overcome,” Guterres told reporters at a news conference at the UN headquarters in New York.

Noting that nuclear and missile tests by the North Korea have created great instability and tension on the Korean peninsula, throughout the region and beyond, the UN Secretary General said unity in the Security Council is critical.

This week’s unanimous adoption of a new resolution by the Security Council sends a clear message that North Korea must comply fully with its international obligations, he said and called on all Member States to ensure the full implementation of this and other relevant Security Council resolutions. “But Security Council unity also creates an opportunity for diplomatic engagement – an opportunity that must be seized,” Guterres said.

Meanwhile in an interview to Atlantic Council, a top American think-tank, Nicholas Burns, a former top American diplomat said that the new sanctions imposed by UN Security Council on North Korea are not enough. “The sanctions are a step forward, but they are not significant enough. It is disappointing that Russia and China will not agree to tougher sanctions because that is what is required,” he said.

“We are in a new and dangerous phase of the crisis following the apparent hydrogen bomb test and also the ballistic missile firing by North Korea over Hokkaido,” Burns said.

“The world community has got to take stronger actions against North Korea to convince the North Koreans to freeze their nuclear program and agree to negotiations to try to diminish this crisis,” he said.

Noting that the Chinese have a direct interest here, he said, but they are hesitating in deepening their own leverage and coercion against North Korea. “It may be that China worries that a dissolution of the North Korean regime could lead to a flow of North Korean refugees into China, ” Burns said.

“It is certainly true that the Chinese worry that any kind of crisis that could weaken or destroy North Korea and could lead to the unification of the Korean Peninsula with its capital in Seoul—a country that is aligned with the United States—is not in China’s interests,” he said.

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