“This is not the way to make poverty history”. Casual work at the heart of IUF/Coca-Cola discussions in Atlanta

April 16, the Coca-Cola Alliance Steering Group met for its first meeting jointly with the IUF Coca-Cola contact group in Atlanta, USA. All delegates also joint the next day the meeting with Coca-Cola management, including CEO Muhtar Kent and Global Labour Relations senior management.
At its meeting, the Steering Group reviewed the first year of the Alliance’s activities and discussed working priorities for the next year.
Participants expressed satisfaction with the work done around establishing the Alliance’s “Charter of demand against job destruction”. “Now, we’ll have to work on realizing this charter step by step at local and national level”, commented Johan Botella from the IUF’s affiliate NGG, chair of the General Coca-Cola Works Council in Germany. The Alliance will be contributing to supporting unions at all levels to bring this agenda forward.
Problems of management demands for extension and flexibilisation of working time and machine running times were also raised at the meeting and will be followed up by the Alliance.
In order to enable smooth communication within the Coca-Cola Alliance, the Steering Group reviewed and discussed its current communication structure, proposing some important changes to the way the development and current affairs of the Alliance are being communicated to membership.
Some regional developments within the Coca-Cola Alliance were also reviewed, such as the contribution of the Alliance to consolidating Coca-Cola Unions in Africa and the Maghreb countries through regional meetings and the respective follow-up.
The development of FELATRAC, the Latin American Coca-Cola union’s federation was also received very positively by delegates. Since it is been set-up in last spring, FELATRAC is consolidating unions in different Latin Americas countries and strengthening its base at plant and national level. It has made progress in establishing a relationship at regional level with Latin Americas biggest bottler, FEMSA.
FELATRAC and FEMSA would also be the appropriate structures through which to discuss a thorough follow-up on the ILO’s report on Labour relations at Coca-Cola in Colombia. This should especially deal with the question of “solidarismo”-like, “yellow” worker representative structures, and with reducing the use of casual work in FEMSA operations throughout Latin America. The latter, apart from infringing workers job security and labour conditions, represent serious threats to workers right to freedom of association, according to the ILO.
The Steering Group renewed the mandate for the Coca-Cola contact group to proceed with regular biannually meetings with management, adding possibly two members from Russia and Africa in order to complete the union team responsible for pursuing Global Labour Relations in the Coca-Cola system.
The discussions about casual work, as well as some country and region-specific workplace rights issues, were at the heart of the discussion with Coca-Cola Senior Labour Relations management as well. As agreed at the last meeting, the discussion this time focused on India. IUF Asia-Pacific regional secretary Ma Wei Pin, pointed out that previously quoted research on the huge number of casual workers in Coca-Cola India operations had been confirmed by recent findings, and spoke to the piteous living standards that these workers are living in. “By providing income close to or below the poverty line, Coca-Cola in India is not only not contributing to making povery history, but rather adding to extend the history of poverty even to the children of these workers”, he said. Nick Wall of Coca-Cola’s Bottling Investment Group, presenting the company’s position on the issue, said the company was employing about 7500 casual workers in India. A double-digit number of those had been made permanent in the last months and Coca-Cola India would continue to hire more permanent workers with the progress of automatization (which however would cost more irregular jobs than it would create regular positions).
IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald concluded that the example of India again showed that the world of contract agency work is a murky world of exploitation. He acknowledged that the company is not in denial of the problem and proposed a joint working group composed of IUF and its affiliates and Coca-Cola and its Indian management should look at ways to substantially reduce casual work in India.
The Coca-Cola Company CEO Muhtar Kent joined the meeting for a session. Commenting on the global economic crisis, he pointed out that Coca-Cola was keeping up its determination to invest in its business, but also intensifying its efforts to cut cost. Looking at the crisis as opportunity, the company is preparing for new perspectives at the end of the tunnel. Delegates raised a number of question regarding the companys strategy with regard to certain markets, distribution systems, and possible bottler restructurings. At the end of the discussion, Kent pointed out that the global relationship with trade unions is seen as a positive development in the company.
On country-related issues, substantial progress was reported this time on labour relations in Pakistan. A number of new issues were raised concerning other countries, which will be followed up in the next weeks between the parties.
Other general discussion items included the Global Workplace Audits, the influence on high concentrate prices on bottler performance, and the need for an European level consolidated discussion forum between unions and the Coca-Cola system in order to overcome communication problems in a very complex management system.
The next meeting, scheduled for November 2009, will focus on casual work as well as negotiations over a global IUF/Coca-Cola framework agreement covering union rights and recognition.

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