IUF | Coca-Cola Workers Network | Monthly : December 2004

Union leaders dismissed in Philippines

In October and November 2004, Coca-Cola management at two different plants in the Philippines targetted union leaders for dismissal as part of a wider attack on unions.

On 25 October, Carmelo Marcos, President, United Sales Force Union, Tacloban City, and Vice-President for Visayas of Alliance of Coca-Cola Unions Philippines (ACCUP) was dismissed.

Carmelo was dismissed for "non-issuance or mis-issuance of invoices and/or receipts and acts of negligence or inefficiency in the performance of duties" following a traffic accident involving their delivery truck on 27 July 2004. The delivery truck overturned on the way back to the warehouse in a traffic accident, and dockets were lost. Carmelo's two co-workers gave sworn statements to the police immediately after the accident.

According to the union, after a meeting with management both co-workers went back to the police station and changed their statements. This included changing the date and time of the accident from 27 July to 28 July. The new version of what happened in the accident was used as grounds to dismiss Carmelo.

The United Sales Force Union then demanded Carmelo’s immediate reinstatement arguing that management is engaged in union-busing and violated grievance procedures. The management refused, so the union filed a notice of strike on 3 November. The first Labour Department hearing on strike notice was held on 12 November.

Less than a fortnight after Carmelo's dismissal, the Vice President of the Iloilo Coca-Cola Plant Labor Union, Richie Inesoria (also in the Visayas region), was dismissed. Richie -elected union Vice President in June - was dismissed for alleged insubordination on 2 November.

Richie, a Filler Operator for 9 years, was instructed by a supervisor to perform additional tasks, such as collecting samples and conductinfg fill-height testing. He was told that recent changes in the duties of specific jobs (under restructuring) required him to perform these additional tasks. Richie refused to undertake these taska and requested to see a copy of the company memorandum specifying ad explaining these changes.

According to the union, no such memo existed, and no official document was presented regarding these changes. Richie temporarily stopped the filling machine while discussing the request for the company memo, and was subsequently was dismissed for insubordination.

The Iloilo Coca-Cola Union challenged dismissal as illegal, but the management refused to negotiate. In response, the union filed a case of illegal dismissal at the National Labor Relations Commission.

Closing the Casualisation Gap (part I)

Closing the casualisation gap throughout the Coca-Cola system is one of the major challenges faced by unions in the region. This involves some basic steps that often seem unimportant, but in the end could bring success.

In most of the Coca-Cola plants in India, including unionised plants, the majority of workers are casual. Several unions organise casual workers as union members, and are fighting to secure their regularisation (shift to regular status). This is often a slow process, involving minor gains that play an important role in future struggles.

In Bangalore in southern India, for example, the union at a company-owned plant has won medical benefits, accident insurance, overtime pay and annual bonus for casual workers, even though they are not union members. Casual workers are also now included in the regular health checks conducted at the plant. They are now looking at securing transport allowance and other benefits.

Winning this benefits is important not only in terms of economic benefits and fairness, but raises union awareness among casual workers and mobilises union members around casualisation issues. It also forces the company to accept that the union has the right (and strength) to represent casual workers. Unionising these casual workers and fighting for full regular benefits is the longer-term goal.

Why should unions demand official recognition/registration of casual & part-time workers for benefits like old age pension, even if they are not going to receive those benefits?

In Pakistan, one of the unions in a CCC-owned plant demanded the right of casual workers to be issued with social security and provident fund cards. The company complied to this request because it cost them nothing - no funds were ever deposited in the provident funds or social security because they were not regular workers.

Later the union went to the Labour Court on behalf of the casual and part-time workers to demand their right to regular employment. According to the law, any worker employed continuously for more than 90 days should be hired as a permanent employee. To exploit this legal loophole, casual and part-time workers were employed regularly for periods of less than 90 days over a period of years.

In Court, the dates on the social security and pension cards of the casual and part-time workers was considered the legal date for the commencement of employment - proving that they were employed regularly for MORE than 90 days. As a result the Court ruled that they were entitled to permanent employment status.

All India Forum of Cola Workers drafts Common National Charter of Demands

At a meeting of the Steering Committee of the All India Forum of Cola Workers convened in Kolkata, West Bengal, on 16 December, important advances were made in drafting the Common National Charter of Demands that will serve as the basis for a nation-wide organising drive in 2005.

The 10-point Draft Common National Charter of Demands was adopted at the Forum's first national meeting in Bangalore on 20-21 September 2003. Now these points have been elaborated further, together with a plan of action that will be proposed to all of the unions currently involved in the Forum.

New proposals/revisions agreed by the Steering Committee and to be proposed to the Forum members include:

* guarantees on freedom of association and right to bargain collectively; and immediate end to victimization of unions leaders and union busting;

* regular employment status to be granted to casual workers who are employed in jobs deemed permanent and/or who are employed on a perennial (repeatedly over a long period of time) basis; and full medical, insurance, provident fund, gratuity and bonus and other benefits to be granted to all other casual workers

* establish the right of unions to negotiate with the company over restructuring, future business planning, etc

* parity in wages throughout the Coca-Cola system/Pepsi Cola system (designed to resolve inequality between franchises and company-owned plants, and between permanent and casual workers)

* advocate a minimum monthly wage of Rs.3,500/month (59 Euro; US$80) plus VDA for all workers employed in the Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola systems. Note that VDA (variable dearness allowance) accounts for differences in living costs according to region.

* sustainable use of water resources, adequate compensation for exploitation of natural resources like water, protection of environment and interest of local population; proper treatment of effluents;

Essentially the Common National Charter of Demands will be an organising & mobilisational tool in 2005. Regional meetings will be held in the North/Northeast, Central, Western and Southern zones in the coming months. This will culminate in a national conference at the end of 2005.

At the 16 December meeting, the Steering Committee also tabled a draft constitution for a federation of Cola unions. The draft was discussed briefly and it was agreed that this will be circulated among all the relevant unions for discussion, revision and approval by February 2005.

The All India Forum of Cola Workers currently involves unions with a total of 2,789 members in Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola plants across the country.

PLEASE NOTE: In the documentation from the Coca Cola Global Strategic meeting held in Rome (14-15 November), references are made to the All India Council of Cola Workers. This is the SAME as the All India Forum of Cola Workers reported here.

Move to regularise 100% casual plant in West Bengal, India

The company-owned Hindustan Coca-Cola plant was opened in Raninagar, West Bengal about 3 years ago. It employs 370 workers, ALL of them on casual, non-permanent contracts.

Given the strong presence of CITU in West Bengal, the plant was soon unionised and is a CITU affiliate. A charter of demands (collective agreement) was signed in the second year of the plant's operations, and a new charter of demands will be signed in January 2005.

Under the frst agreement, the union won pay and benefits equal to permanent workers' entitlements in a similar workplace. This was critical since 100% of union members are casual workers. In the upcoming agreement the union is demanding that all members are granted regular employment status. The union is confident of winning this. (Note: this is not to be announced until AFTER the agreement is signed).

An interesting question is why the management would agree to pay & benefits equivalent to regular employment status for the 100% casualised workforce. There key reason is that under Indian labour laws, the employer must secure permission from the local government before dismissing any permanent employees. So a 100% casualised workforce enables the company to avoid this legal 'restriction' (protection of job security).

Even after the union wins regular status for its union members, it must then fight to reduce the gap between the pay and benefits of company-owned plant workers and workers in bottling franchises. Wages and benefits are higher in franchises. In cases where CCC has taken over plants from franchises, bonuses and other benefits have been cut.

Closing the gap between franchises and company-owned plants, and preventing thos downward pressure on wages and working conditions, is a key part of the agenda of the All India Cola Workers Council/Forum.

Coca-Cola Business Strategy

Cover story in Business Week on Coca-Cola Company, titled "Gone Flat." Good historical analysis of why Coke's current business strategy is suffering from its past successes.

Click here to read the article.

KCTU's Coca-Cola Korea affiliates win regular status for casual/subcontracted workers

In collective bargaining negotiations with the Coca-Cola Korea Bottling Company (CCKBC) that concluded in July 2004, the CCKBC Labour Union won permanent employment for casual workers as part of a broader KCTU struggle against casualisation.

According to Brother Jun Guy Kang, President of the CCKBC Labour Union, an affiliate of KCTU’s Korean Chemical and Textile Workers’ Federation (KCTF), the KCTU issued a directive for all of its affiliates to include in their collective bargaining the “regularization” of all irregular workers at their workplaces (i.e., securing permanent status for irregular workers, including casual and subcontracted workers). This is viewed by the KCTU and its affiliates as a central strategy in the fight against neo-liberal globalization.

One aspect of this is the need for unions to counter discrimination against irregular workers by winning equal pay and working conditions for irregular workers, organizing irregular workers (including casual and subcontracted workers) as union members, and securing regular status through collective bargaining demands.

Through its implementation of KCTU’s strategy, the CCKBC Labour Union won permanent status for 55 subcontracted workers employed by CCKBC, with 12 workers gaining immediate regular status in July at the conclusion of the agreement, and another 43 workers securing regular status in September.

In a Side Agreement to the Collective Bargaining Agreement signed on 20 July 2004, the clause on ‘Non-regular workers’ reads:

“The Company should make the best efforts to directly hire and regularize its non-regular employees on a step-by-step basis.
The Company should proceed hiring of non-regular employees who were presented by the Union during 2004 Collective Bargaining Negotiations as shown below and passed the recruiting process:
Sales Area: North Region 11; Southeast Region 12; Southwest Region 15. Non-Sales Area: North Region 7; Southeast Region 5.”

In addition to the 50 irregular workers identified at the time of the agreement, another 5 workers were subsequently added to this list and given regular status. At the same time, the company’s agreement to ongoing discussions of regularisation of casual workers was secured.

The union has not only succeeded in winning regular employment for 55 casual/subcontracted workers, but has also set an example for future collective bargaining demands. This has led to the third Coca-Cola Korea union disaffiliating from the FKTU and joining the KCTU. A report prepared for the IUF and CCKBC Labour Union by Hyewon Chong, the IUF Liaison Officer in Korea, observes that successful collective bargaining by the two KCTU-KCTF affiliated CCKBC unions led to the third union’s disaffiliation from the FKTU:

“Although the previous CBA was the outcome of a joint collective bargaining front of all 3 coke unions in Korea, in this year’s collective bargaining, the union at Kwangju City refused to join. The other 2 unions carried out joint collective bargaining and concluded the CBA with supplemental agreements in mid-July, and the Kwangju-based union concluded its CBA in the wake of that, getting an upward pull by simply following the jointly-organized CBA. The union members at the Kwangju-based union criticized the Kwangju-based union leaders on this issue heavily, and that contributed to catalyzing the vote to change affiliation from the FKTU-FKCU to the KCTU-KCTF.”

This move has now consolidated all 3 Coca-Cola unions in Korea under one federation and one CBA, and sets the stage for the ongoing fight to eliminate irregular work and win permanent employment for casual/subcontracted workers.

Union-busting in Pakistan: Management refuses to allow union president to re-enter plant despite Labour Court and High Court rulings

For the past 3 years the management of Coca-Cola Beverages Pakistan Ltd. (owned by CCC), has tried to bust the Coca-Cola Beverages Pakistan Ltd (CCBPL) Employees Union at its Rahimyar Khan bottling plant: dismissing the union president, Khalid Pervaiz, on false charges; and filing a series of legal petitions to have the Collective Bargaining Agent (CBA) status of the union cancelled and declared illegal.

Despite this sustained attack on trade union rights, the CCBPL Employees Union won a series of rulings in the Labour Court and High Court, recognizing the union’s legal status and dismissing management’s claims. This includes a ruling by the High Court on 15 July 2004, dismissing management’s charges against the union, and a Labour Court decision on 25 September 2004, ordering the immediate reinstatement of the union president and payment of wages owing since his illegal dismissal on 16 October 2001.

Although the management was forced to reinstate Brother Khalid Pervaiz and pay Rs.150,000 in back-wages in accordance with the Court order, he is STILL refused permission to enter the plant to resume his job as a machine operator and carry out his duties as union president. At the same time, the management of Coca-Cola Beverages Pakistan Ltd has appealed in the Supreme Court against the High Court ruling.

Challenging the Legal Status of the Union

On 23 June 2000, the CCBPL Employees Union applied to the Registrar of Trade Unions in the Labour Department for registration as the Collective Bargaining Agent (CBA) in Coca-Cola Beverages Pakistan Ltd., Rahimyar Khan. The union was officially certified as the legal CBA on 1 July 2000.

In response to the certification of the union, the management immediately filed a petition in the Punjab Labour Court on 26 July 2000 against the union and its office bearers and against the Registrar of Trade Unions. The petition calls for the cancellation of the union’s CBA certification and for it to be declared illegal.

The employer made two claims against the union’s certification: that the union does not represent more than one-third of the workers (as required by law); and that the company was not informed by the Registrar of the union’s application to register by the Labour Office. However, in Court it was shown that the union does meet legal requirements regarding its membership, and that the employer had failed to respond to the Registrar’s request to join the inquiry before certification was granted. Finally, the Punjab Labour Court finally ruled on 5 June 2003 that the management has no grounds to challenge the Registrar’s decision to certify the union as the CBA, and dismissed the petition.

Firing the Union President

While trying to challenge the legal status of the union, the management also began targeting union officers for dismissal. On 30 June 2001 a dismissal notice was issued against the union president, Khalid Pervaiz, the union treasurer, Mohammad Rafiq Anjum, and a union member. The management claimed that Brother Khalid Pervaiz had called a “strike” by instigating two workers to stop the filling machine lines on 27 and 28 June 2001.

The reality was that the management’s failure to respond to union demands regarding excessive overtime and under-staffing (with too much reliance on casuals), led the union to call on its members to cease additional overtime beyond 8 hours until the matter was resolved. Every shift was completed, with no work stoppage during 8 hour shifts. The so-called “strike” was in fact a brief delay in starting one of the filling lines in the morning due to the lack of sufficient workers on the line. The line was started when casual workers were reassigned from other duties in the plant. The union argued that such delays are caused by under-staffing and heavy reliance on casual workers. However, the management seized this as an opportunity to accuse the union of leading an illegal strike.

As the internal inquiry into the illegal strike began, the union filed a petition in the National Industrial Relations Commission in Lahore against the dismissal notices. Two weeks later - on 18 July 2001 – the Commission ordered the suspension of the dismissal notices and an end to the inquiry. Despite this, Brother Khalid Pervaiz, together with the union treasurer and a union member, were dismissed on 16 October 2001.

In response, the union filed a petition against the dismissals in the National Industrial Relations Commission in Lahore, resulting in a decision by the Punjab Labour Court on 14 August 2003 that Khalid Pervaiz be reinstated and paid all outstanding wages for the period in which he was illegally dismissed.

The management refused to carry out this order and instead appealed to the Lahore High Court. The High Court then dismissed the appeal on 15 July 2004, concluding that Khalid Pervaiz had not called a “strike”, and that the company’s claims were “factually incorrect”. In its continued attack on the union, the management also rejected the High Court’s decision and filed an appeal in the Supreme Court (which is still pending).

Faced with the management’s attempt to prolong the legal battle through a series of appeals, the union returned to the Punjab Labour Court and filed an application for the enforcement of the Court’s ruling made a year earlier (14 August 2003).

As a result, the Punjab Labour Court made a final ruling on 25 September 2004, ordering that Khalid Pervaiz be reinstated immediately the following day (26 September), and that his wages be paid in full. Management tried to appeal against paying back wages, but the Court rejected this appeal and ordered that the sum of Rs.150,000 be deposited with the Court within a week of the ruling.

Locking Out the Union President

The management of Coca-Cola Beverages Pakistan Ltd. was forced to comply with this Labour Court ruling (backed by the High Court’s rejection of its appeals), and reinstated Khalid Pervaiz on 26 September 2004 to his position as a utility operator, with full pay. The company also deposited Rs.150,000 with the Labour Court as the agreed sum for back-wages.

Even with the clear legal victory of the union and the management’s failure to legally dismiss the union president, the company’s assault on union rights continues. Not only has it appealed in the Supreme Court against the union’s legal status, but it also obstructing Khalid Pervaiz’s ability to carry out his role as union president. While Khalid Pervaiz has been officially reinstated, the management refuses to allow him to enter the plant. He was informed by the management that he would receive is full wages, but is not allowed to return to work.

The union has denounced this harassment of union office bearers by the management, and has demanded that Khalid Pervaiz be granted access to the plant as is the right of any employee. At this time the management has refused and the union president remains locked out.