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Unilever Pakistan Tells Fired Temps: Give Up Your Struggle or Give Up Benefits!

Posted to the IUF website 01-Oct-2008

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Resistance by the Action Committee for the Dismissed Workers of Unilever Rahim Yar Khan, Pakistan, has won out against the latest round of management threats and coercion.

In October last year, management instantly terminated 292 "temporary" workers - most of them with many years of service - at its plant in Rahim Yar Khan in direct response to the plant union's announcement that it would open its ranks to temporary workers and assist them in winning the permanent employment status due them in law. The mass sackings were facilitated by the presence of heavily armed police and Elite Troops operating inside the factory (and comfortably installed in the "guest" facilities. The dismissed workers were instantly replaced by casual workers recruited through a new labour hire agency hastily set up by relatives and cronies of the plant management.

Dozens of dismissed workers filed individual petitions in court against unfair dismissal, asserting both their legal right to permanent employment and the right to join the union.

In December 2007, the dismissed workers founded the Action Committee for the Dismissed Workers of Unilever Rahim Yar Khan and have been actively supported by the IUF-affiliated National Federation of Food, Beverages and Tobacco Workers (NFFBTW).

In retaliation, Unilever management refused to issue payments from the workers� profit participation fund of 2007 unless the dismissed workers withdraw their legal cases challenging the dismissals. Under Pakistan law companies employing more than 50 workers are required to put 5% of profits into the workers� profit participation fund every year. This money is then paid to workers, forming one of the most important economic benefits workers that are legally entitled to. All of the workers at Unilever Rahim Yar Khan, including the 292 dismissed temporary workers, should receive payments from the 2007 fund.

Without wages or work for the past 11 months in a company town, Unilever has savagely exploited the workers' desperate situation by insisting that they withdraw their legal cases as a condition for receiving the money.

In response to this coercion the Action Committee filed a complaint with the local Labour Directorate and held a protest demonstration during the recent visit of the Labour Minister for Punjab Province. The protest succeeded in getting the attention of the Labour Minister and as a result government officials warned Unilever that it must immediately issue payments from the workers� profit participation fund to all workers, including the dismissed temporary workers.

The dismissed temporary workers will therefore continue their legal cases against Unilever's unfair dismissal and union-busting, and at the same time still receive the much needed workers� profit participation fund entitlements they are rightfully due.

Of the 8,000 persons involved in manufacturing Unilever products in Pakistan, only 371 are directly employed by Unilever. Heavy reliance on casual, temporary and agency workers, workers whose contracts bring them no job security and inferior pay and benefits to those formally employed by Unilever, is the rule throughout the company's operations. The Action Committee is challenging Unilever's ruthless elimination of permanent employment, and deserves the support of unions around the world struggling for trade union rights.