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New Management Tricks to Block Negotiation over Mass Firings at Unilever Pakistan

Posted to the IUF website 08-May-2009

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In 2007, nearly 300 workers at the Unilever factory in Rahim Yar Khan, Pakistan, after struggling for years to feed themselves and their families on "temporary" contracts, sought permanent employment status and union membership. They were fired in the presence of armed policemen and Elite Troops - and instantly replaced with contract workers performing identical tasks. With the support of the IUF and the National Federation of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Workers, they formed an Action Committee to fight for full reinstatement as directly employed, permanent workers with the right to join the union.

Unilever's factory in Rahim Yark Khan makes make some of the company's leading billion dollar "global brands", including Lux, Sunsilk and Lifebuoy products. In 2007, 292 workers employed continuously on renewable "temporary" contracts demanded permanent employment. Unilever called in police and Elite Troops - and the workers were instantly fired.

To support the Rahim Yar Khan Lux workers' fight for justice, the IUF filed a complaint with the OECD, whose Guidelines for transnational companies include adherence to ILO Conventions on the right of workers to organize trade unions and bargain collectively with employers. For a year-and-a-half, Unilever corporate management strongly resisted negotiating a solution to the conflict. Now that negotiations are at last supposed to be proceeding under the auspices of the UK government, the company has taken to reshuffling the plant operations in order to thwart the negotiation process.

Since the number of permanent workers is in constant decline, and the dismissed Action Committee workers are demanded reinstatement as permanent workers (a status to which they are entitled by law after having worked continuously for more than 9 months), Unilever is desperate to prove that there are no permanent positions to be filled - even as they keep hiring more casual workers from dozens of labour agencies and contractors!

Unilever's desperate "No Job Openings" improvisation has recently included transferring to the production lines drivers, security guards, clerical and engineering staff and even staff from the medical dispensary!

For sick or injured workers at Rahim Yar Khan, this is clearly not the best of times to contemplate a visit to the dispensary´┐Ż

With virtually no one left on Unilever's direct payroll, consumers may well ask whether quality control is as disposable as the workers who make the products.