IUF logo; clicking here returns you to the home page.
Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers World-Wide

Unilever Lipton Tea Agency Workers Launch Struggle for Permanent Jobs

Posted to the IUF website 27-Oct-2008

Share this article.


Over 700 contract agency workers at Unilever's Lipton tea factory in Pakistan launched their campaign for permanent jobs with a mass protest action on October 16.

Unilever Pakistan's tea factory in Khanewal, Punjab province, produces two of the biggest packaged tea brands in the country - Brook Bond and Lipton. Lipton is among Unilever's top "billion dollar brands", the 2 dozen brand products that generate 75% of corporate revenue.

But Unilever's Khanewal factory employs just 22 permanent workers, union members who are covered by a collective agreement. Another 723 workers are hired through six contract labour agencies. The majority of these workers have worked for more than 10 years at the Khanewal factory, with an average of 15 years and some as long as 30 years. But since they're not formally employed by Unilever, they are barred from joining a union of Unilever workers.

All of these workers should by law have been granted permanent jobs as soon as they completed 9 months of continuous employment. More than a decade later - and in some cases three decades later - they are still contract agency workers.

These workers should not only have permanent employment status in accordance with the law, but they should be directly employed by Unilever. The labour hire agencies supply labour exclusively to the Unilever Khanewal factory. The agencies hold bogus addresses in the nearby town but in reality operate their offices inside the Unilever factory itself.

While the major contractors registered the workers with the Punjab Employees Social Security Institution (PESSI) and the Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) in accordance with the law, they illegally deducted contributions from workers wages, and then withheld funds that workers are entitled to. In addition, contractors withheld workers' registration cards, only giving them to workers who demanded them (about half).

Two Lipton workers dismissed in August after 30 years of working at Unilever's Khanewal tea factory at minimum wage, received no social security, medical benefits or pension. Determined to build a more secure future, and to avoid the victimization which was the fate of workers involved in earlier struggles challenging precarious employment at the factory, the contract agency workers formed the Unilever Mazdoor Union Khanewal. Supported by the IUF-affiliated National Federation of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Workers of Pakistan, the union has already assisted 86 contract agency workers to file petitions in the Labour Court to secure their right to permanent employment, and another 52 are in the process of filing petitions.

Despite threats by management and attempts by contractors to force the workers to do overtime, nearly 200 workers joined the protest action on October 16, 2008.