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Mass Firing of Temporary Workers at Unilever Pakistan as Management Escalates Anti-Union Assault

Posted to the IUF website 15-Nov-2007

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Unilever management has escalated its assault against the union at its Rahim Yar Khan factory with the mass firing of hundreds of casual workers who were seeking recognition of their legal right to permanent employment status.

When casual workers arrived for the first shift (6 AM to 2 PM) on 20 October, armed police officers posted at the factory gate ordered them into a meeting room where management staff, backed by police officers, handed out termination letters. The police then forced the workers to sign these termination letters. Casual workers on the second shift entered the factory and started work, but at 6 PM - before the end of the shift - management staff started handing out termination letters.

Termination letters were also sent to workers’ homes by courier. As a result nearly all of the 300 casual workers were terminated in a single day.

The union responded by asking casual workers not to join the third shift (10 PM to 6 AM), which left the factory at a standstill. Management responded by deploying more armed police at the factory.

Management also retaliated by illegally terminating 23 casual workers who had already applied for permanent status at the Labour Court. The terminations were illegal because as long as the cases remain in Court the workers' employment status should not be changed. The management plan now is to use labour hiring agencies to supply casual workers - a move that the union opposes.

Renewed support was given to the Unilever Rahim Yar Khan union on at a special meeting of the IUF-affiliated Unilever Employees Federation of Pakistan held in Rahim Yar Khan on October 25. The meeting was attended by unions from other Unilever sites, where members had raised protest banners in support of the Rahim Yar Khan workers, continuously worn black arm bands to demonstrate their solidarity and held factory gate meetings to raise awareness of the struggle and update all union members.

A joint meeting of labour organizations was held on October 26 in Rahim Yar Khan in which more than fifty representatives from trade unions, journalists and NGOs participated. An Action Committee was set up to broaden and intensify support for the struggle for union rights at the Unilever Rahim Yar Khan plant.

At the outset of the struggle, when Unilever responded to the union's attempts to prevent covert outsourcing by posting police and Elite Troops in and around the plant, IUF members around the world responded to our call for solidarity by sending messages to Unilever. The company has replied to those messages with a standard e-mail explaining its version of the events as a "socially responsible" employer. The IUF has replied to these assertions in a letter which sets the record straight. You can read the IUF response to Unilever (in pdf format) by clicking here.