Experiences how to fight outsourcing - Interview

Interview with Ratko Malinovic, President of the Trade Union in a juice bottling plant of Coca Cola Helleninc in about the experiences of the Union with outsourcing. 

NCB juice producer existing as a state owned enterprise and was overtaken by CCHBC in 2005. After acquisition the number of workforce was reduced form 750 to 250. Now 250 workers are contracted permanent and about 50 workers have temporarily or outsourced status. Fresh and Co is one of the most important juice producers in Serbiaand in other countries of former Yugoslavia. The Union has been established in 2001. It became a member of Nezavisnost and IUF in the same year of 2001 and a founding member of the Coca Cola Alliance.

IUF Coordinator: Mr. President, could you give us a short introduction of the Fresh & Co Trade Union?

President:My name is Ratko Malinovic, I am the president of Nezavisnost Trade Union in Subotica/Serbia, and I am the president of the Fresh & Co Union in the plant since 2001.

IUF Coordinator: How could you summarize the most important developments since your presidency?

President:: The most important thing was that we organized a trade union at Fresh and Co Company directly after privatization. Before 2001 there was no Union at Fresh&Co. The basic reason why the Union was formed was the fact that basic labour rights were jeopardized and conditions of work were terrible. Not only the working conditions but also the low price of work was humiliating workers dignity. In that times it was forbidden by our owner to organize a trade union. So organizing first was totally against the willing of the owner. We we had to act completely concealed and outside of the factory. We were one of the first Unions organized in private companies at that moment in Serbia. Of course we knew what we wanted and immediately after we organized the union we organized protest activities. We sent our demands in written form to ask for their fulfillment. Workers understood it and they supported us to continue our struggle. Finally we got an Collective Agreement. We succeeded in recruitment of new members, many people joined. We made things possible people had not believed we could, we have been fighting for labour rights.

Of course it was not the end of our problems. In 2005 the company was sold, our new employer became CCHellenic. What did it mean for us that moment? It meant all results we achieved were lost. The future was uncertain again for all the employees at our plant. We had no contact with our new employer for 2-3 months after the acquisition. Wages were delaid, salaries were on the wait.
We soon recovered, understood that we had to restart our struggle. We requested in written form an urgent meeting with our new employer. We required our wages for the work we did and we asked our employer to inform us about the future of the production of our company. Getting information about the production plan was the main issue because the number of employees was depending on it. We got the answer that indeed, salaries were late and would be now paid. So we solved this urgent problem quite soon. But the production was decreasing. As a consequence a certain number of employees were sent for leave.

It is common knowledge that employers in multinational companies first send workers to leave before they make them redundant. The attitude of our new employer was completely different compared to the previous. Before we had bad conditions, humiliating salaries and lot of overtime, which was not paid. In the first time with the new employer CC Hellenic we got on paper paid overtime, but there was less production and people were sent on leave. I can tell you that it is more difficult from psychological viewpoint to fight this situation. Because people who work have a clear expectation of their demands to the employer, they know they work, they request salaries, salaries for their work. In the first time with the new employer people didn’t work, and they felt guilty for that.

There were some general changes in Serbian labour law in the meantime, which had to be introduced in the new collective agreement. We made contacts with our trade union colleagues from Coca Cola Croatia, of course with the help and assistance of Head Quarter of Nesavisnost and the coordination of IUF. For us it was important to get information from our Colleagues in Croatia about how to deal with the multinational company CCHellenic as our new employer to understand their achievements. We got a lot of advices how to fight in the future. We got informed, that it will not be an easy struggle. We heard, that a lot of people could be made redundant. Another problem was that the new employer was applying outsourcing in it’s system. We understood how we should organize ourselves. First thing was to start negotiations for a new collective agreement to keep all the acquired rights we managed to include in previous agreement- and improve these if possible. We put emphasis on compensations in cases people are going to be made redundant. The strategy was to insist on very high compensation for those who will be made redundant. The purpose was to make that list of redundance as small as possible. We also made a kind of ’social mapping´ of our workers and that helped us to diversify the most vulnerable groups. The result of that was that most vulnerable group of workers with low qualifications, the other group related to their workplaces in the company. All parts which were not part of the so called “core competencies” in the production were endangered. For example: logistics, transport, security, restaurant, HR services, financial services and so on. We educated our members about the most dangerous points of outsourcing and how they can fight against it.

IUF : Could you give us an example of how you fought outsourcing?

President:. There was a group of unionized women colleagues. They were performing cleaning duties in our company. In a meeting the employer showed us a redundancy list. We asked for explanation: Do they have any complaints about their work? They said no, but they wanted a specialized agency to perform the cleaning. They wanted this work to be outsourced, did not want cleaning positions to stay in the factory. We did not agree, we did not want to accept that. We made our counter proposal according to the law. At the end since the employer repelled that possibility, we made a kind of compromise. They are going to get the compensation which was stated in collective agreement, and the employer was obliged to hire them again through an agency for the same work place under the same conditions and wages they had from the employer CCHellenic before. But the agreement had some deficits as we saw later. As formally the employer was changing, it was said that there was no basis for them to remain members of the trade union. From that point we did not have legal possibility to represent them in front of the employer.

IUF : What was your way to deal with this problem?

President: We went on representing them; even they were no longer our members. The outsourced workers were not payed in first 3 month from the agency. And other basic labour rights were not respected like free time, overtime, protection at work. Since we had an agreement with the employer, we informed them that the agency isn’t fulfilling the obligations. There was one proposition in the agreement saying that if obligations are not fulfilled the agreement will be renounced. It needed up to 4 months to make them accepting this. Finally a compromise was made: The cleaning women organize their own agency. They are self-employed now. But the question was how to include them in the trade union. We contacted the Headquarters Nezavisnost, got the information that there is a possibility according to the constitution. Exceptionally workers can be organized in the union even though they are not employed by the company. Individual membership is possible. That gave us the opportunity to act as their representative in the future. This is only one example with partial success, I know and therefore I would like to use this opportunity to call all workers to get unionized. And I call IUF and other international organization of trade unions, lets act together to find a way how to protect the rights of workers who are not organized in trade unions.