Uruguay: Important victory for Coca Cola workers. New gain for FELATRAC

The Union of Coca-Cola Workers (STCC) in Urugugay achieved a major agreement with the company after having declared a state of alert that lasted several days and during which it conducted ongoing negotiations.

SIREL, the information service of Rel-UITA spoke with Gabriel San Martín, STCC organization secretary, to learn the details of this agreement, which once again confirms the importance of internationally organized labor struggle.

You can see the article on Rel-Uitas website here in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

- How did the union achieve this agreement?

- After several rounds of negotiation, yesterday, May 12, we signed an agreement before the Labor and Social Security Ministry, in which we were granted all our demands.
The state of alert was declared when we learned that the company would be importing products from Argentina to cover for the shortage in the domestic market. The company claimed that it had to import products because of the low productivity of its machinery, and while the union confirmed this to be true, it found that the true reason was poor management. The lack of maintenance – which the union had reported in time – led the Coca-Cola plan in Montevideo to have a substantially lower output than that of other regions. Now, STCC agreed that future imports will be conducted only within the regulatory framework and as provided by a joint management-workers committee, and provided they are aimed at achieving an optimal level of production in the factory, which is what the workers want.
In this sense, STCC will be closely monitoring the company’s actions, as there is a rumor that the lack of maintenance of the machinery and the resulting low productivity could be part of a business strategy of the Coca Cola Company directed at preparing the sale of the Montevideo Refrescos plant to FEMSA, the largest Coca Cola bottler in the world.

- What were the steps taken by the union?

- Besides filing reports with the relevant agencies, we contacted the Latin American Federation of Coca Cola Workers (FELATRAC). Through Rel-UITA -the IUF's Latin American Regional Office- we contacted Raúl Álvarez and Pablo Quiroga, whose efforts to support us internationally were instrumental in solving this conflict. We’re fully aware that without FELATRAC’s support we would’ve never obtained such results.

- What are the contents of the agreement signed?

- The main point agreed on is that if it ever becomes necessary to import products, the imports will be done within a framework of labor relations with involvement of the union. The agreement also includes a guarantee of full employment, which means that no seasonal or permanent workers will be placed on the temporary unemployment program or fired. Also solved -and this is a very important point- was the situation of the 22 distribution workers who will now be working eight hours a day instead of the four-hour scheme the company had put them on.
Another achievement we secured is that the direct importer will be Montevideo Refrescos and not any other company. With this we are preventing a potentially risky precedent, one that would not only risk our situation but that of the entire beverage industry, as Uruguay recently eliminated the tariff barrier applied on beverage imports (what was known as the “double IMESI” in reference to an internal wholesale tax) and that leaves the door wide open for any company to import freely.

- What is your assessment of the agreement?

- I think it’s very positive. It sets a precedent in the union struggle and clearly strengthens the position of STCC. It also highlights the importance of international solidarity, embodied in this case in FELATRAC’s efforts. The international support and and the support of colleagues at the local level were vital to the outcome of this process and instrumental in obtaining all our demands.

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