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European Edition
17th March 2023
Protests as French government pushes through higher retirement age
Police in Paris have clashed with protesters after the French government decided to force through pension reforms without a vote in parliament. Crowds converged on Place de la Concorde in response to a raise in the retirement age from 62 to 64. Unions vowed to maintain their opposition to the pension changes. The Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) said another day of strikes and demonstrations is being planned for Thursday 23rd March. “By resorting to [constitutional article] 49.3, the government demonstrates that it does not have a majority to approve the two-year postponement of the legal retirement age,” tweeted Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT, one of the unions leading the protests.
Google workers in Switzerland stage walkout
Hundreds of Google staff members at the company's office in Zurich, Switzerland, walked off the job on Wednesday after more than 200 workers were laid off. In January, Google's parent company Alphabet announced plans to cut 12,000 jobs around the world, equivalent to 6% of its global workforce. A representative for IT workers' union Syndicom said more than 2,000 employees had offered to reduce their wages and working hours in a bid to prevent job losses. Google apparently rejected this proposal. "Our members at Google Zurich and all employees joining the walkout are showing solidarity with those laid off," a Syndicom spokesperson said, adding "They are bothered by the non-transparent nature of the layoffs, and are especially disappointed that Google is laying off workers at a time when the company is making billions in profit every year." A Google spokesperson said the company had made cuts to ensure the number of roles remained aligned with its highest priorities. "The consultation process has now concluded in Switzerland and employees whose roles were impacted have been notified,” the spokesperson said.
Swiss banks oppose idea of forced merger
UBS and Credit Suisse are opposed to a forced merger, Bloomberg has reported, citing people with knowledge of the matter. UBS prefers to focus on its own wealth-centric strategy and is reluctant to take on risks related to Credit Suisse, the report said, as the smaller rival seeks additional time to complete its restructuring efforts after receiving financial support from the Swiss central bank. Wall Street bank JPMorgan on Wednesday said that Credit Suisse's takeover by another lender, probably UBS, was the most likely scenario for the beleaguered bank.
Courts siding with large companies in privacy appeals
The Wall Street Journal looks at how big companies are winning appeals to overturn regulatory decisions they claim violate European privacy laws. In recent rulings, courts in the UK, Spain, Italy and Germany sided with companies including Experian, Amazon and Italian energy giant Enel SpA, in some cases quashing multimillion-dollar fines and reaffirming companies’ arguments that their data practices comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Edward Machin, a lawyer in the London office of Ropes & Gray, said: "We’re starting to see the through line of companies starting to pick their battles and spend the time and effort on the appeals they think they can win and would have an effect on their business models." Flora Egea Torrón, a partner at Spanish law firm Legal Army S.L., said appeals of major GDPR decisions show a significant amount of “grey area” where privacy lawyers, regulators and courts disagree over what the law allows. “There’s so much room still to interpret GDPR, so that’s why [companies] have to fight against the decisions” from regulators, she said. 
Microsoft adds OpenAI technology to Word and Excel
Microsoft says it is bringing generative artificial intelligence technologies such as the ChatGPT chat assistant to its Microsoft 365 suite of business software. The company said the new AI features, dubbed Copilot, will be available in some of its most popular business apps including Word, PowerPoint and Excel. In February, Microsoft debuted a new version of its Bing search engine that included a chatbot powered by OpenAI’s GPT-4 language technology. OpenAI publicly revealed its GPT-4 software earlier this week and pitched it as being more capable than the GPT-3 technology. “Today marks the next major step in the evolution of how we interact with computing, which will fundamentally change the way we work and unlock a new wave of productivity growth,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said, adding “With our new copilot for work, we’re giving people more agency and making technology more accessible through the most universal interface — natural language.”
ECB hikes interest rates to highest level since 2008
The European Central Bank (ECB) has hiked interest rates to the highest level since during the financial crisis in 2008. The 0.5 percentage point rise pushes the bank’s main rate up to 3.5%, while the rate paid on eurozone bank deposits left at the ECB increases to 3%. Christine Lagarde, the president of the ECB, said “there were three or four dissenters” on the ECB’s governing board who had argued for a pause in rate rises, but otherwise it “moved quickly” to a decision in favour of a 0.5% rise. Meanwhile, ECB officials have insisted that the “euro area banking sector is resilient, with strong capital and liquidity positions.” The comments come amid market concerns about Credit Suisse and other European lenders after share prices slumped.
Men to get almost four times more than women in Danish tax proposal
A planned tax break for some of Denmark’s richest is set to worsen the country’s gender wage gap, which is already lagging Nordic peers. Men in Denmark will this year get a combined $2.33bn in extra income from a new tax proposal on high earners while women will get about $630m, according to calculations by the finance ministry, conducted following a request from a lawmaker from the Red-Green Alliance opposition party. Denmark, which Bloomberg notes often prides itself as a pioneer in equality, only ranked 32nd in last year’s Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum.
Amazon fights EU tax call
Amazon has argued that the EU decision ordering the firm to pay about €250m in back taxes is without merit. In 2017, the European Commission said a Luxembourg tax arrangement allowing Amazon to channel profits to a holding company tax-free meant it paid no taxes on almost three-quarters of its profits from EU operations. It added that this, in essence, amounted to illegal state aid. The online retailer challenged the EU tax order in 2021, convincing a tribunal to scrap the back tax ruling. The commission has since appealed to Europe's highest court, the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Couche-Tard in talks on $3.3bn TotalEnergies stores deal
Convenience store operator Alimentation Couche-Tard (ATD.TO) is in exclusive talks to buy some of French energy firm TotalEnergies retail assets for €3.1bn ($3.29bn) in cash. The Canadian firm said it has made a firm offer for all of the French oil company’s retail assets in Germany and the Netherlands, as well as a 60% stake in the businesses in Belgium and Luxembourg. The Canadian company, whose brands include Circle K, has been looking for acquisitions since its bid to buy Carrefour  failed two years ago amid government opposition. The transaction announced Thursday will also help Total achieve its target of reducing its petroleum product sales by 30% by 2030 as part of the group’s plan to cuts carbon emissions. The company has divested its service station networks in Italy, Switzerland and the UK since 2015.
Urgent investment is needed to improve conditions for key workers, ILO says
The International Labour Organization (ILO) says the essential workers who kept societies and economies going while the world was in COVID lockdown urgently need better pay and conditions if countries are to be ready for the next global crisis. “In a number of countries, key sectors are facing labour shortages, because people are increasingly reluctant to engage in work which is not properly, adequately, fairly valued by society and rewarded in terms of better pay and improved working conditions,” said Manuela Tomei, Assistant Director-General for Governance, Rights and Dialogue at the ILO. According to a new report from the ILO drawing on data from 90 countries, key workers remain severely “undervalued” and their contributions insufficiently recognised. Key recommendations in the ILO report include the strengthening of regulation in essential areas such as wages and workplace safety, and targeting investments in the health and food sectors and in support of small businesses.
Bank of Israel chief warns on risks from legal plans
Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron say the government's proposed legal overhaul could harm judicial independence and precipitate a dangerous brain drain. “The changes in the judicial reform could weaken some of this independence” of the legal system, Yaron said in an interview with CNN. “Moreover, the process itself is a hasty one and does not have a wide agreement in the public.” He added: “The independence of the governor, the independence of the central bank, are critical to the economy . . . Any country that has tinkered, let alone weakened, the independence of the central bank has suffered dire economic consequences. I believe all our leaders and decision-makers ultimately understand this and therefore would not come close to touching the independence of the bank.”
Tesla wins bid for more details on probe of race bias claims
California’s Civil Rights Department, which is suing Tesla over alleged widespread race discrimination at the company's flagship assembly plant in Fremont, California must detail the investigation it conducted prior to filing the lawsuit, California Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo in Oakland has ruled. The judge's tentative ruling could give the electric carmaker an opportunity to narrow the lawsuit filed last year by the state’s civil rights agency. California law requires the department to investigate discrimination complaints by workers before suing employers. If the agency did not investigate certain claims against Tesla before suing, the carmaker could seek to have them removed from the case.
TikTok partners with UAE organisation on future of work
TikTok and INJAZ UAE, a member of the world's largest non-profit business education organisation for education and training in workforce readiness, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship across the Arab World, have partnered to explore the future of work through workshops and panel discussions at a day-long session examining shifting workforce trends, emerging industries, and the impact of technology. Talal Alfayez, Head of Public Policy, TikTok MENAT, said: “At TikTok, one of our long-term aims has been to educate and empower the region's youth with workforce readiness and entrepreneurship and help connect the right skills with the new opportunities emerging across the Middle East. Our partnership with INJAZ will strengthen the region's pivot to a knowledge economy and equip young people to be ready for the future, thereby transforming today's youth into tomorrow's leaders.”
Post-Brexit deal faces Commons vote
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's post-Brexit trade deal for Northern Ireland faces its first hurdle next week, with MPs set to vote on a key part of the so-called Windsor Framework. The full statutory instrument relating to the ‘Stormont brake’ will be published on Monday, and a vote in the Commons is due to take place on Wednesday. The mechanism will give the UK a veto over any new EU laws applying to trade in Northern Ireland.

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