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FNV Decent Work Conference Highlights Indecent Work at Unilever/Dutch Trade Unionists Launch Postcard Campaign to CEO Polman

Posted to the IUF website 14-Mar-2009

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Ruth Vermeulen launches FNV's Casual-T postcard campaign (© Merel Maissan)

The Decent Work Conference organized in Utrecht, the Netherlands, by FNV Bondgenoten and FNV Company Monitor on March 6 in cooperation with the IUF and ICEM built a new layer of global union support for the IUF's Casual-T campaign to defend casual workers at Unilever's Lipton/Brooke Bond tea factory in Khanewal, Pakistan. The conference, which brought together FNV shop stewards, officials and activists and political representatives, was convened to share experiences and develop a common union strategy for rolling back the insidious spread of precarious employment.

In the Netherlands, 25% of all workers are on precarious contracts and completely lack employment security. Supermarket workers, taxi drivers, cleaners and other workers shared their stories, underlining how labour agencies and subcontracting feed social insecurity and the violation of basic human rights.

IUF representatives at the conference demonstrated Unilever's crucial role in aggressively promoting insecurity through massive reliance on outsourcing and casualization around the world, highlighting the importance of the Lipton Pakistan campaign. The Khanewal workers' struggle for permanent employment resonated strongly with participants, with hundreds signing the FNV's postcard
message to Unilever CEO Paul Polman:

Your website claims that “Unilever people are doing jobs that contribute to the environment and society. Yet over 700 workers at the Khanewal Lipton factory who make one of your “billion-dollar brands” are not “Unilever people” — they are disposable workers hired through labour hire agencies, with no employment security and inferior wages and benefits though many have worked continuously for decades. Make the Khanewal workers permanent through direct negotiations with the National Federation of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Workers of Pakistan!

The Decent Work conference was well covered in the Dutch media, forcing Unilever to respond on the Khanewal situation. A company spokesperson denied the facts of the situation when questioned by the daily De Telegraaf, stating "There's a lot of seasonal work, that's why we don't need the people all 12 months a year. We only work with third parties that comply with the Business Principles, and therefore pay decent salaries."

The truth is that over 700 workers are employed the year around, demand for tea is not seasonal, the labour hire agencies only pay the minimum wage to those who work 26 days in a given month, those who work less receive less than the minimum under the "no work, no pay" regime, and the minimum wage is an indecent, not a decent salary. Workers at Khanewal earning the minimum wage cannot afford to drink Lipton, and struggle to provide their families with 2 meals a day.

You can support the Khanewal workers by downloading the postcard HERE to send a message to Unilever.

To view the history of indecent work at Unilever (powerpoint format), click HERE.