Reuters Investigates

Insight and investigations from our expert reporters

No room at the Inn … but maybe a job in the Outback

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By Rebekah Kebede

You wouldn’t think you’d have to make hotel reservations months ahead of time in Karratha, a small, dusty town on the edge of the Outback  a 16-hour drive from  Perth, the nearest city. But with Australia’s commodities boom, Karratha is bursting at the seams and nowhere is it more apparent than when trying to find a place to stay.

(Above photo: A kangaroo stands atop iron ore rocks outside the remote outback town of Karattha in Western Australia. Reuters/Daniel Munoz)

 

About two weeks ahead of my trip up to Karratha, to do a special report on Australia’s hunt for foreign labour, all hotel rooms within a 60-km radius were fully booked and after more than 20 calls, the travel agent was still coming up empty.

A few more desperate calls turned up a couple of rooms in a town called Roebourne, about 30 minutes away from Karratha at the Ieramugadu Inn, an old motel, which like many others in the area, had become worker accommodations as Karratha struggles to house the influx of labour into town. The bill came to over $200 a night—just shy of what it costs to book a room with a view of the Opera House in Sydney.  The amenities at the Ieramugadu were somewhat different: a complimentary can of bug repellent, tin-foil covered windows to keep out the light for those on night shift, and a view of a truck parking lot through a hole in the tin foil.

An economic giant’s Achilles heel

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A year ago, Nick Carey went on a road trip around America for a project called “Route to Recovery” that took him to places hit hardest by the recession. Nick went to Saginaw, Michigan, this time for a follow-up special report on the manufacturing sector and structural unemployment: “Is America the sick man of the globe?”

One of the characters he met was Olen Ham, a retired GM worker and UAW member who is among the last of those who took part in the historic “Sitdown Strike” in 1936 that he says helped create America’s middle class. You can hear from Olen in this video:

China’s rebalancing act puts consumer to the fore

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consumerWal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, now has 189 stories in China, according to its website. Soon it will have many more.  The U.S. chain has announced plans to open a series of “compact hypermarkets”, using a bare-bones model developed in Latin America, the Financial Times said.

Wal-Mart stores are a bit different than the one’s you might find in, say, Little Rock Arkansas. They sell live toads and turtles for one thing, The Economist reported. But they also sell the appliances, gadgets, and housewares that Wal-Mart stores merchandise everywhere.

Inside the Pirates’ Web

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CHINA-PIRACY/Reuters trade correspondent in Washington Doug Palmer had an unusual assignment: buy a fake Louis Vuitton handbag on the Internet, and take it to a LVMH store for a comparison test, before handing it over to U.S. authorities.

    What was startling was how easy it was to find websites selling a dazzling array of stuff online. This is the new face of
piracy and its costing businesses billions.   No need to skulk around back alleys or some pirate’s rental van to browse through footwear, watches, DVDs and whatnot. Just pick out your LV shoulder tote from a virtual catalog on a website based in China. It looks and feels like the real thing at a fraction of the price.

This is going to hurt

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In Britain, the coalition government is readying its “comprehensiveAUSTERITY-BRITAIN spending review” later this month. Rather than get caught up in chasing which government departments or bodies will be cut, two of our reporters focused on a single council – in this case, the City of Birmingham, which happens to be the biggest local authority in Europe – and explored what it’s doing to prepare for the change ahead.

For a lot of people, the most visible sign of cuts in Britain will be at a local level, as services are pulled back and jobs are lost. In the leadup to the spending review details,  lobbyists in London have been doing great business. Check out their tactics for survival – although if you’re worried about your government contract but haven’t done anything about it, you’re probably already too late.

Have Europe’s unions had their day?

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Here in Europe, as spending cuts bite ever deeper, you might expect people to have taken to the streets in their thousands and be up in arms, in defence of the hard-won rights that this round of austerity is threatening. Some are, but not in anything like the numbers they have been in the past. With a Europe-wide day of action coming up on Sept 29 that may change…

But, so far at least, the most remarkable thing has been just how tame the strikes have been, how ineffective the unions look. Why is it that? Are Europe’s unions less powerful? Or less relevant? Sarah Morris in Spain and Gavin Jones in Italy found a host of reasons why young and old today are not rallying to the cause — and not just that they’re scared of losing their jobs.

In case you missed them

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Just because it was summer, doesn’t mean we weren’t busy here at Reuters. Here are a few of our recent special reports that you might have missed.

IRAN-OBAMA/ECOMOMYTracking Iran’s nuclear money trail to Turkey. U.N. correspondent Lou Charbonneau – who used to cover the IAEA for Reuters –  followed the money to Turkey where an Iranian bank under U.S. and EU sanctions is operating freely. Nice to see the New York Times follow up on this today, and the Washington Post also quizzed Turkey’s president about it.