Coca-Cola workers In Russia maintained night shift pay levels

It’s no secret that many companies try to push “unpopular” measures during recession times, i.e. cut wages, reduce guarantees, lay off staff, expecting that workers won’t protest, since they are afraid of losing their jobs. All these changes are usually justified by quoting “difficult economic situation” – it’s an economic meltdown, tough times for everyone, they say. Coca-Cola is no exception, but the unions haven’t accepted the plans of the management.

In January the management of Coca-Cola’s Russian division decided that 40% additional payment for night shifts is too much for workers. Government regulation “On the minimum additional payment for night-time work” adopted in summer allows setting just a 20% raise. It was decided to cut additional night shift payments to this level at all Russian Coca-Cola plants.

However, even so Coca-Cola workers’ earnings are more than modest, and many of them take night shifts to feed their families at any cost.

Apparently this decision is nothing more than a part of typical corporate policy - pay as little for work as possible – since Coca-Cola has no catastrophic financial problems. Its president for Russia, Ukraine and Belarus Zoran Vucinic has recently announced that the company plans to invest 1.2 billion dollars in its Russian infrastructure in the next 3-5 years. He noted that the company can afford to conduct an aggressive policy on the Russian market as it has a “healthy” financial base in the United States. (http://en.rian.ru/business/20090211/120085245.html)

However, the plans of the management haven’t been realized yet. Coca-Cola workers’ unions represented by the Coordination Council protested against the changes and took measures to prevent cuts in workers’ earnings. In particular, unions in Krasnoyarsk and Saint Petersburg prepared petitions to the Labor Inspection and the prosecutor’s office asserting the illegal character of the changes introduced by the management. The executives had to engage in negotiations. The decision to cut additional payments was cancelled at all Russian plants of the company.

Needless to say, the fact that this situation was resolved to the benefit of the workers doesn’t mean that the company won’t try to cut workers’ real earnings in the future. In the period of recession which one is tempted to use as a cover for the attacks on workers’ employment conditions, coordinating activities and sharing experiences is more important for the unions than ever.

Mikhail Leschev, deputy president of the Coca-Cola Coordination Council in Russia, says:

“The management fears workers’ discontent, since it could lead not only to the increase in union membership, but also to the creation of new shopfloor organizations at Coca-Cola facilities in Russia. We all know how we are exploited: we are not paid for multi-skilling, replacing workers on vacation, doing tasks which are not covered by our contracts, working overtime; the employer saves on bonuses, occupational safety… - and it’s by no means a complete list.

And the management likes to stress that we are one team. But somehow we don’t get the profits from the team’s work…

Paying for night-time work is important for a lot of people, and the management didn’t have heart to trouble so many workers. The financial meltdown led to the situation when not only the company but its employees have to scrape and save. That’s why the workers approach the subject of selling their labor in a more responsible manner. Whether the management likes it or not, we will strive for normal market relations: want the work done – pay for it”.

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