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Unilever Drives Casual Tea Workers Deeper into Poverty for Claiming Rights

Posted to the IUF website 16-Jun-2009

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Unilever Pakistan management has escalated its vicious attack on casual workers at its Lipton/Brooke Bond tea factory in Khanewal, Pakistan, punishing workers who are demanding direct, permanent employment by denying them work and driving them deeper into poverty.

In a section of the "Sustainability" portion of the Unilever website ludicrously entitled "Respecting Rights", Unilever states that "Our Khanewal factory employs a mix of permanent and outsourced workers", and "To keep operations effective and competitive, Unilever Pakistan uses third-party service providers to supply workers for our non-core operations." They agree that running a factory with just 22 permanent workers out of an average employment level of 533 (which in fact has usually exceeded 700) "raises issues", but claim to be "addressing" them. Here's how Unilever has been "respecting rights":

Beginning April 27, Unilever began sending home without work some two-thirds of the 237 casual workers who have joined the Action Committee. Casual workers were paid the legal minimum wage of 6,000 Rupees, just 33% of the lowest wages (without benefits) of the 22 direct employees. But in order to receive their 6,000 Rupees per month they are required to work at least 26 days each month. If they donít get 26 daysí work in a month, they are only paid 252 Rupees per day - the equivalent of slightly over 3 US dollars.

Under the latest "No work, no pay for Action Committee members" policy, workers who joined the Action Committee and filed legal cases in the courts contesting their permanently precarious status are being given just eight days to a maximum of eighteen days' work per month. That is just 9% to 24% of the lowest wage of permanent workers. At the same time, new casual workers are being employed as Unilever deliberately foments divisions through intensified competition for poverty wages, perhaps hoping to foment a violent incident which would serve as a pretext for a frontal attack on the Action Committee and an excuse for scuttling the negotiation process it cynically parades on its website.

Since Unilever has set about deliberately impoverishing Action Committee members through employment discrimination, many have been forced to supplement their starvation wages with work in the countryside, either as agricultural labourers or as helpers on construction sites. The meager extra revenue this provides is still not enough to support the workers and their families, many of whom have been forced to borrow money and are sinking into debt.

The policy of reprisals against workers claiming their rights has been ratcheted up even as the UK National Contact Point for the OECD, a government body responsible for monitoring breaches in the OECD's Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, has officially called for mediation under its auspices between the IUF and Unilever corporate management to resolve employment issues at Khanewal in line with international standards. The attacks on the workers are therefore aimed not only at the increasingly impoverished workers and their families. They are directed at the Action Committee they have formed with the support of the IUF and the National Federation of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Workers of Pakistan and ultimately is an attack on Unilever unions around the world. These attacks demonstrate Unilever's contempt for the international human rights conventions referenced in the OECD Guidelines and for the UK ministry which has accepted the IUF's OECD submission on the company's systematic, exploitation of precarious workers and is trying to provide a space for negotiation.

Cut through the "sustainability" nonsense and the policy is clear: Unilever is manufacturing poverty, humiliation and permanent insecurity.


Tell corporate management to stop retaliating and start negotiating!. The Lipton Khanewal temporary workers fighting for justice through their Action Committee must be given permanent, direct employment status - and the way to implement this is through direct negotiations with the affiliated National Federation of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Workers of Pakistan.