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Nestl� Brutally Shuts Down a Factory in the Dominican Republic

Posted to the IUF website 11-Sep-2008

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Workers arriving at the Nestl� ice cream factory in Santo Domingo for the morning shift on June 19 found their factory surrounded by security guards, police officers - and ambulances and paramedics. They were herded into the parking lot where they were told that the factory was being shut down with immediate effect. Then their severance cheques were handed out.

As this was unfolding, a Dominican union leader, who happened to be at the Department of Labour, discovered by sheer coincidence that Nestl� was about to close a factory in complete disregard for legal provisions and binding agreements. However, it was too late to act.

The workers were stunned by Nestl�'s action in bringing in uniformed officers, ambulances and paramedics, while human resource staff, headed by HR Director Ana Isabel, made it quite clear that they had no recourse but to accept the payout.

Plant closed, union busted, rights denied, lives shattered

Despite Nestl�'s violation of CBA provisions concerning redundancies, the Department of Labour did not intervene, presumably because Nestl� indicated it could re-hire some of the sacked ice cream workers at its two other plants in the Dominican Republic. Nestl� has since publicly announced that it has indeed re-located employees, but in fact only management and administrative staff have been re-employed or been assisted in finding other employment. The unionised production workers remain unemployed.

Nestl� has also announced publicly that its compensation payments and provisions extend beyond those provided for under Dominican law, citing its obligation, under the Nestl� Corporate Business Principles, to treat employees with dignity.

The workers, however, tell a different story, as evidenced by the testimonies gathered from union members by IUF Latin America and published on their website in Spanish, Portuguese and English:

"Nestl� is inhumane"
Rosa Iris Reyes: "The day the factory was shut down it was crawling with police officers. They fenced us out, as though we were criminals. And all that hostility felt really awful." "The country's economic situation is in really bad shape and it's getting worse every day, and to find out that we were out of a job - it was terrible." She suffered a miscarriage four days after the plant closed down.

"Nestl� is ungrateful to the country and its workers"
Nereyda de la Cruz, a 17-year veteran of the factory: "They promised that they would maintain our health insurance for six months, but that was just another lie. I went to the doctor to see if I could be treated for these emotional problems I'm having, because I just can't find any peace, and they told me that I had no coverage because Nestl� had stopped paying the insurance."

"Nestl� is a monster"
Agueda Sosa: "[The Human Resource Manager Ana Isabel] created a climate of tension and intimidation. She had the full support of the company and I understand that this is the same policy that Nestl� has applied elsewhere because it doesn't maintain good relations with the working class. My experience in the union allowed me to realize how Nestl� was abusing its workers."

"Nestl�: the wolf in sheep's clothing"
Felipe Ozna: "What they did to us was an atrocity. To go to your place of work like any other normal day and find it crawling with security officers like a militarized zone� it was a shock." "I don't know how we're managing through sacrifice and the help of friends. And when you're a unionist, it's even harder to get work because they check your job record and in many places they shut the door on you." As Nestl� had stopped insurance payments, he used the entire severance payout to pay for the operation his wife underwent in July.

"The two faces of Nestl�"
Jos� Manuel Paulino: "What the management did was heartless, especially considering the effort we the workers had been making since 2005, putting in 3 shifts seven days a week, an effort in which all workers participated, so the company could get ahead, and what we received as payment for our efforts was this terrible blow out of nowhere."

In Latin America, Nestl� has a history of closing factories by stealth, circumventing the union and tricking workers into accepting redundancy packages.

In March 1998, Nestl� closed its factory in Tres Cora��es in Brazil over the course of a weekend, informing the workforce at the last minute on order to avoid dealing with the union.

In April 2003, the company closed its Llopango plant in El Salvador overnight, sacking 97 workers, and in Ecuador, changed the legal registration of its dairy plant, obliging the 200 workers to sign new contracts. These provided generous incentives for those who would volunteer to resign. Two years later, all permanent workers - and their union - were gone while the plant operates with casual labour.

In September 2003, Nestl� rid itself of the union and the permanent workforce of its Valledupar (Colombia) milk plant by coercing the workers to take a redundancy package while union leaders were meeting with the company in far-off Bogota.

Prior to this final offense, the ice cream plant had been the scene of numerous abusive management practices, most notably in November 2007 when Nestl� fired 11 workers in the wake of tropical storm Noel (> click here for story) and in January 2007, when the company fired 45 workers, only to replace them with contract workers.