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Unilever Pakistan Calls on Paramilitary & Police as Union Resists Outsourcing

Posted to the IUF website 28-Sep-2007

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Elite Force paramilitary troops and police have been deployed at the Unilever factory in Rahim Yar Khan, Pakistan, as the union protests against management's attempts to transfer machinery to an outsourced production site.

At 20 minutes past midnight on 17 September managers attempted to transport machinery out of the Unilever factory to the nearby Asad soap factory, a third-party subcontractor which already produces some LUX soap products for Unilever.

Initially the security guards refused to open the gate since the managers involved didn't have a security pass. Eventually the operations manager and HR manager intervened and forced them to open the gate, allowing the machinery to be taken away.

The union, which is a member of the IUF-affiliated Federation of Food, Beverages & Tobacco Workers, immediately wrote to management protesting the removal of equipment from the factory.

While the outsourcing of some LUX soap production was agreed by the union in the past, the secretive transfer of machinery raised concern that the company plans to outsource even more production, impacting directly on the employment of the union's 250 members. The union believes that the longer-term plan of management is to outsource 100% of production to local factories in the area.

While the union was pursuing this issue with management, another incident occurred just two days later on 19 September. A union member was told by management to leave his work unfinished and go home for the day, and a casual worker was assigned to finish the task. On the following day the union member confronted the management staff involved, demanding to know why he'd been replaced by a casual worker. A physical confrontation followed and management subsequently filed a police complaint against the union member as well as the union President and General Secretary. In that complaint management falsely claimed the "attack" had been ordered by the union President and General Secretary.

The union immediately called on management to withdraw the complaint, but management refused. In response the union called a mass meeting on 24 September which was also supported by other unions in the area. The Unilever Union Federation called for solidarity actions at all factories in the country.

Meanwhile the management reassigned 10 security guards away from the main gate and brought in a private security company. In addition, the management requested police and paramilitary to be deployed at the factory.

On 25 September a protest action was held, with protest banners raised outside the factory and a press conference denouncing management's actions. On 26 September the Federation of Food, Beverages & Tobacco Workers sent a protest letter to the Chairman of Unilever Pakistan condemning the unfair labour practices and false police charges at the Rahim Yar Khan factory and called for a peaceful resolution of the conflict through negotiations with the union.

Workers at the Rahim Yar Khan factory have good reason to fear further outsourcing and casualisation. In 1970 there were 1,200 permanent workers employed at the factory. Today there are just 250. There are 350 workers employed on 9-month contracts (and paid daily wages), and another 800 workers hired through labour agencies as casual workers.

Despite increased profits and record production levels, the company refuses to hire a single new permanent worker. It also refuses to grant permanent employment to the hundreds of casual and contract workers that have worked at the factory for more than 5 years. And now machinery is being taken out of the plant after midnight…