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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Vietnam police widens probes into oil and gas giant PetroVietnam

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Vietnamese police have widened their investigation into alleged graft and mismanagement connected to the state-owned oil and gas giant PetroVietnam that caused $69 million in losses. Three PetroVietnam subsidiaries are being investigated for alleged abuse of power in appropriating $5.3 million, the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement late Wednesday.

The case centers on Ocean Bank, which was taken over by State Bank in 2015 at no cost after reporting losses of $445 million. PetroVietnam had owned 20 percent of the bank and lost all its investment after the takeover. Ocean Bank’s former chairman and general director face embezzlement charges. A total of 51 bankers and businessmen including 46 senior executives at Ocean Bank are standing trial in Hanoi.

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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.”


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.


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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Hurricane Harvey to make mild dent in US economic growth

Barclays predicted a 1.0 to 1.5 percentage point hit, which was the most pessimistic call in the poll. (Representational Image.) Top News

US economic growth will take a mild hit in the current quarter from Hurricane Harvey that slammed into Texas, but the outlook for the coming year remained steady in the latest Reuters poll, suggesting lost output will likely be recouped. Harvey was the most powerful storm to hit Texas in more than 50 years, killing over 60 people and displacing more than 1 million citizens. It also forced a temporary closure of refineries and the governor of Texas said the damage was around $180 billion.

Asked about the impact of Hurricane Harvey on economic growth in the current quarter, the median forecast from 48 economists who answered an extra question was for a 0.3 percentage point hit to seasonally adjusted annualised growth.

But the impact was expected to be short-lived according to economists, who responded to the survey Sept 7-12 before and as another powerful storm, Hurricane Irma, ripped through the Caribbean and then Florida, killing more than 60, displacing and leaving millions of households without power.

Previously, major hurricanes like Katrina in 2005 and Sandy in 2012 had cost more than half of the GDP growth rate for the respective quarters the storms hit. But data following those storms also suggest that the U.S. economy was able to add solid job numbers and bounce back from government reconstruction efforts.

“A storm of this magnitude is likely to have negative near-term effects on nationwide economic data. If flooding remains disruptive for several weeks, we would expect a drag on non-farm payrolls, but the historical experience here is mixed,” said James Sweeney, chief economist at Credit Suisse. “The effect on GDP is even more ambiguous, since many costs of dealing with the storm actually boost growth, offsetting some of the lost income and output.”

President Donald Trump’s administration struck a deal with Democrats that includes $15.25 billion in aid for areas affected by Hurricane Harvey and other natural disasters. Still, the range of forecasts suggests not everyone is convinced of just a mild dent in growth. “Hurricane Harvey could pose a sizeable drag, given the presence of high-value-added energy sectors in the Gulf Coast region and the timing of the storm’s landfall,” wrote Michael Gapen, chief U.S. economist at Barclays, in a note to clients.

Barclays predicted a 1.0 to 1.5 percentage point hit, which was the most pessimistic call in the poll.

Despite that, the latest Reuters poll consensus was for the US economy to expand an annualized 2.6 percent in this quarter and 2.5 percent in the next. That was up a bit from the previous predictions of 2.5 and 2.4 percent for the respective quarters in the August poll as economists had already begun upgrading their growth forecasts for the current quarter before Hurricane Harvey struck.

But inflation expectations have been lowered slightly from the previous month, with the core PCE price index – the Federal Reserve’s preferred measure of inflation – not expected to reach the central bank’s 2 percent target at least until 2019.

The consensus is for core PCE inflation to average 1.4-1.9 percent in each quarters from the current through the end of next year. In the August poll, the predictions were for it to average 1.5-2.0 percent. Still, the Fed is widely expected to announce steps at its meeting next week to start shrinking its balance sheet, worth over $4 trillion.

The survey of nearly 100 economists showed the central bank is expected to raise the federal funds rate once more in the final three months of this year, to 1.25-1.50 percent. But 44 of 73 economists who answered an extra question said their conviction for another Fed rate hike this year has decreased. The remaining 29 said it had stayed the same. “We still have a December rate hike call, but recent developments are making the path to a December rate hike more narrow,” said Sam Bullard, senior economist at Wells Fargo.

That lack of confidence amongst poll participants is mainly driven by the divide among Fed policymakers on the outlook for inflation and future interest rate hikes.

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Democrats say deal struck with President Trump to protect immigrants affected by DACA termination

President Donald Trump, (above). According to South Asian Americans Living Together (SAALT), a non-profit organisation, over 27,000 Asian Americans, including 5,500 Indians and Pakistanis, have already received DACA. (AP) Related News

Two top US Democrats have said they reached a deal with President Donald Trump to protect about 800,000 young immigrants who came to America illegally as children under an Obama-era amnesty programme, that has also benefited thousands of Indians. Trump had scrapped the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme earlier this month which protects some 800,000 people who came to the US illegally as children.

The measures also provide temporary permits for work and study. Trump had said he would cancel the scheme, while giving Congress six months to enact a replacement plan for DACA recipients.

Following talks over dinner at the White House, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said: “We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall (Mexican), that’s acceptable to both sides.”

“We also urged the President to make permanent the cost-sharing reduction payments, and those discussions will continue,” they said in a joint statement.

While Democratic leaders sought to declare the deal as a victory for their priorities, Republican votes will be needed for any immigration overhaul.

The White House, however, pushed back on the account of the agreement provided by the Democratic leaders. “While DACA and border security were both discussed, excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.

Trump wants to build a wall along the United States’ border with Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants.

According to a White House official, Trump had a constructive working dinner with Senate and House Minority Leaders as well as administration officials to discuss policy and legislative priorities. “These topics included tax reform, border security, DACA, infrastructure and trade. This is a positive step toward the President’s strong commitment to bipartisan solutions for the issues most important to all Americans,” the official said.

“The Administration looks forward to continuing these conversations with leadership on both sides of the aisle,” said the White House official.

According to South Asian Americans Living Together (SAALT), a non-profit organisation, over 27,000 Asian Americans, including 5,500 Indians and Pakistanis, have already received DACA.

An additional estimated 17,000 individuals from India and 6,000 Pakistan respectively are eligible for DACA, placing India in the top ten countries for DACA eligibility, it said.

With the termination of DACA, as announced by the Trump administration, these individuals could face deportation at the discretion of the administration, it said.

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