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InBev/Quilmes Workers in Argentina Repel Cost-Cutting, Layoffs

Posted to the IUF website 17-Jul-2007

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Solidarity and effective mobilization by all distribution and production workers at the giant Buenos Aires brewery and soft drinks bottler Quilmes have beaten back a cost-cutting plan which would have entailed the loss of 3,000 distribution jobs.

AmBev, the Brazilian arm of the Belgium-based brewery TNC InBev, acquired Quilmes earlier this year and announced in April that the company's distribution network would be cut from 24 to 8 contracted providers. The plan - which envisaged 2,500 job cuts in addition to the 500 jobs already eliminated when 2 distributors were dropped - was immediately contested by the transport union, which stressed that Quilmes' distribution network was key to the company's success.

The drivers' union, together with the bottling plant workers of the IUF-affiliated FATAGA, took industrial action and demonstrated in front of the Brazilian and Belgian embassies in Buenos Aires. A successful day of strikes and mobilization, aided by the mediation of the Labour Ministry and the ambassador of Brazil, brought the company to the table and an agreement was reached April 11. The agreement put on hold until July 31, 2008 the contract termination of the 2 Quilmes distribution operators and established a performance review process for any changes to the distribution system.

In July, however, Quilmes drivers denounced some of their companies for failing to pay June salaries and bonuses, blaming AmBev for the renewed conflict. Company management denied the charges, accusing a group of contracted distributors of not paying wages in order to extract concessions and negotiate better commercial terms with Quilmes/AmBev.

The drivers' union and FATAGA initiated a new round of industrial and protest actions, culminating in a nation-wide strike. The Quilmes distribution network was paralyzed for eight days, affecting as well Coca-Cola and PepsiCo products distributed in Argentina through the same network. A new demonstration was held in front of the Brazilian embassy, where demonstrators where attacked by the police.

The Argentinean Labour Ministry convened a new mediation meeting and agreement was reached on July 11, 2007 between Quilmes/Ambev management and the distribution companies, who agreed to settle all wage arrears. Quilmes and its distributors also agreed on contract terms and the national strike was called off.