Following a week-long trip to refugee camps in Africa, top executives of five international companies have pledged to use their business expertise to help the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) in its global mission to help persons who have been forced to flee their homelands. Directors of Nike, Microsoft, Merck, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Manpower visited Somali and Burundian refugees in camps in Kenya and Tanzania.The executives promised to help UNHCR upgrade its information technology in order to better facilitate its international tasks. Nike also announced donations of new sports facilities and classrooms for girls’ education.The five corporations are part of UNHCR’s Council of Business Leaders, set up last year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to build additional bridges between the corporate and the humanitarian communities. “The role of the Council is to advise UNHCR on the best strategies to capitalise on existing joint projects and to develop new and innovative public-private partnerships,” UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis said last week. “The Council also aims to raise awareness of refugee issues in the business world,” she added.There are more than 240,000 refugees in Kenya, the majority from Somalia and Sudan, according to UNHCR, while Tanzania is home to more than 400,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Burundi.
AN INDUSTRIAL ACTION ballot of SIPTU members at the Aer Lingus, the DAA and the Shannon Airport Authority is now under way. The vote is the latest development in a long-running dispute over a pension fund, known as the ‘Irish Aviation Superannuation Scheme’.The vote follows a staff meeting last week at which union members called on the trustees of the scheme to resign. They claim that employers have failed to engage in meaningful discussions on the €800 million deficit in the fund.The decision comes a month after SIPTU said that Aer Lingus had threatened them with legal action if they went ahead with a ballot.A SIPTU spokesperson confirmed this morning that the balloting process had now commenced, and was expected to continue for several more days.Speaking yesterday, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said that the solution to the problem was “simple” and that union members would eventually have to accept reduced benefits.“The problem with the pension fund is like the problems in so many pension funds — the amount of money being paid in by the company and members over the years doesn’t match the promises that were given or the expectations that currently exist.“So the solution is a simple one — the companies will have to put in more money and the pensioners and members will to have to accept reduced benefits and that solution will be arrived at at some point, so ideally let’s avoid a strike that is unnecessary in the meantime.”SIPTU organiser Dermot O’Loughlin has said there’s “extreme anger” over the situation among workers at the three companies.The union’s ballot is inclusive of strike action, and SIPTU has called on Aer Lingus, the DAA and the Shannon Airport Authority to make discussions on the IASS a priority.“Failure to do so will unfortunately lead to very significant industrial episodes at Ireland’s international airports,” O’Loughlin said last week.Read: Staff at DAA, Shannon Airport and Aer Lingus to hold ballot on industrial action >Read: SIPTU threatened with legal action over Aer Lingus pensions row >