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Pakistan Food Workers Challenge Mass Casualization at Unilever Spinoff

Posted to the IUF website 19-Jun-2008

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In 2004, Unilever Pakistan sold its Dalda brand plant manufacturing edible oils and fats in Karachi to a group of former company managers, who incorporated as Dalda Foods (Pvt.) Limited. With competition growing in the edible oil sector, Dalda management has been busily applying the lessons it learned at Unilever: buy out the competition, and reduce permanent employment and potential union influence to an absolute minimum. Earlier this year, Dalda acquired a majority stake in rival Wazir Ali Industries. But workers are now challenging the denial of rights to agency workers by fighting back through a newly formed union.

Encouraged by a successful challenge to casualization at Coca-Cola Pakistan, Dalda workers contacted the Coca-Cola union and the IUF. Over 430 workers have signed up as members in the Dalda Food Employees Union, which applied for official registration with the authorities on May 13. Fearing a backlash - like Unilever's savage reprisals against temporary workers at the company's Rahim Yar Khan factory - the union successfully applied for a "stay order" which prohibits the company from terminating workers or closing the plant. Management violated the order and terminated 266 workers on May 24.

On June 2, the union received its official registration from the labour department, and, with support from the IUF-affiliated National Federation of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Workers applied for collective bargaining status. Management challenged this procedure in the court, arguing that the agency workers are not employed by Dalda Food, but by...the labour hire agency. The Court then stopped the application status for collective bargaining, and fixed June 23 as the date for a further hearing.

The workers have set up a permanent camp in front of the company, with support from the Federation. With daily visits from trade unions and representatives of political and civil society organizations, the camp has become a living symbol of the struggle against Pakistan's brutal regime of outsourced and casualized labour.

You can support the union's struggle for union rights for all workers by sending a message of solidarity to the workers through the through the IUF Pakistan office and the National Federation of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Workers. The message below can serve as a sample. Please send copies of any messages you might send to the IUF secretariat. We thank you in advance for your solidarity and support.

Sample Message to the Dalda Food Employees Union

Dear Sisters and Brothers

I have learned of your struggle from the IUF. I fully support your struggle for union rights and recognition at Dalda Foods. I am outraged to learn that management has sought to prevent your union from obtaining collective bargaining status by contending that employees hired through a labour agency should be denied trade union rights because they are not technically employed by Dalda Foods. You work for Dalda Foods, and Dalda management has fired 266 workers simply because they joined the union. Trade union rights are universal human rights, and by denying those rights Dalda management is violating international Conventions which the government of Pakistan is obliged to defend and uphold. Your have my full support - may your struggle end in a victory which will be a victory for workers everywhere!

Yours sincerely