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Anti-Union Aggression Intensifies at Unilever Pakistan

Posted to the IUF website 07-Feb-2008

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Unilever management's attacks on the union and union rights at the company's factory in Rahim Yar Khan, Pakistan continue and have even intensified since the IUF submission to the OECD last year charging the company with a fundamental violations of the OECD's Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The IUF made its submission last November when management summarily fired all but 5 of the plant's 292 temporary workers following the union's announcement that it would open its membership ranks to temporary workers and help them achieve the permanent status owed them by law following nine months of continuous service. All the fired temporary workers were replaced by agency workers who do not even enjoy the notional right to eventually achieve permanent status. Agency workers - formally employed by the labour hire agency rather than Unilever - cannot join a union of Unilever workers.

The mass sackings took place after management had called in armed police and Elite Troops and additional armed security guards - in whose presence the fired workers were required to sign their termination letters as they arrived for the first shift. The armed police and security guards continue to be deployed. Management has even placed the former factory guestroom at the disposal of the police!

While the union struggles to defend the fired workers and secure their reinstatement, management has now begun to attack the union's role in collective bargaining and its leadership in the plant. Management now refuses to allow the union General Secretary Said Zaman (who is also General Secretary of the IUF-affiliated Unilever Employees Federation of Pakistan) to participate in negotiations to resolve the dispute. The heavy police presence reinforces the message that union officers may be arrested if they attempt to meet with their members at the plant, and management is encouraging workers to restrict the General Secretary's participation in forthcoming union elections at the plant. Union officers, shop stewards and active members have been transferred from one post to another and even from one machine to another in an obvious move to lessen the union's ability to communicate with and support its members. Union members have been threatened with transfer to a "surplus" labour pool and with having their work performed by yet more agency workers.

While it has been accepted practice to consult with the union in implementing the annual adjustment to wages and salaries, Unilever management this year ignored the union's written request for discussions while paying a larger increase to the few workers who support the anti-union drive Unilever Pakistan thus appears to be pursuing the same strategy Unilever has attempted to implement in Assam, India, where it actively intervened to undermine the existing union leadership, sponsoring a yellow union in the course of a long lockout to supplant legitimate union organization.

Meanwhile, Unilever's management in Asia continues to win new CSR awards - most recently the Asian Corporate Social Responsibility Awards for "excellence in workplace relations"