IUF | Coca-Cola Workers Network | Monthly : January 2005

Russia: The quiet War of local management

Update on the union situation at Coca-Cola HBC Eurasia (Russia), January 2005.

Coca-Cola Trade Unions in Russia, although meanwhile officially recognised by management, still are fighting to achieve factual recognition.

Whereas in the plant in Moscow, management is avoiding violating basic provisions of labour code and normal routines s of labour relations, in the two other recently unionised factories of Volzhsky and Petersburg, they have declared what local activists call a “quiet war”.
Avoiding big scandalous violations, harassment of union members and sabotage of negotiations and union work continue daily.

Especially, negotiations about wage increases, one of two key issues, are delayed or blocked for many months now in all three factories. Only in Moscow there is a commitment to start negotiations in the new year.
Wage rates in the whole company Coca-Cola HBC Eurasia have not been increased since the financial default in Russia in 1998 despite yearly inflation rates way above 10% every year since then. Workers have partly compensated for this by increasing their qualification and work load, but still wages in dollar terms have decreased considerably: according to estimates by half or even more for some. On the other hand, workers have been faced with increased demands for time flexibility and effectivity, seeing their premiums reduced for “lack of effectivity” while officials at the same time declare their pride about rising effectivity at the plant (in Moscow).

The unions are now developing a common approach to wage negotiations and will insist in a wage increase that at least partly compensates for the losses suffered by inflation in the last years.

A second issue are work schedules, overtime (and pay regulations for overtime), and excessive flexibility at the arbitrary will of management. Work and holiday schedules are often issued violating the labour code or CBAs in procedures and/or contents. In at least one case in St. Petersburg this has been confirmed by the state labour inspectorate recently (December), ruling that
“the order (…) from 28.9.2004 “About changes in the work day routine”, work schedules and tables of work of departments for January-April 2005 have been issued by [management] under violation of the provisions of article 73, 103, 123, 125, 373 of the Russian labour code, the conditions of point 8.6, 11.1 of the collective agreement”.
These are all violations linked to insufficient information to workers and ignorance of union participation rights. Several grievances are pending in court.

Workers quote a lack of respect from management site. Apparently, as soon as they start demanding being considered as serious partner in negotiations, local human resources managers start seeing a red rag. Fed up with constant blockage, union activists have started to rely on more formal procedures, having discussed the necessity for written documentation of violations at a joint, IUF-organised seminar in late November.

Workers in Petersburg documented cases where supervisors produce false or greatly exaggerated allegiations of violation of work discipline against workers insisting in their right to go on holiday according to the labour law, issuing dissuasions (despite existing proofs of the workers being not guilty) that in future could be used to justify dismissals of activists.
The union will challenge these unjust dissuasions.
Management is also trying to spread rumours discrediting union leader Volodya Okhrimenko, and to have a new management-dependent union leader installed instead. At a union meeting in Petersburg in November, examples were told about supervisors linking union members career chances to their exit from the union.
Okhrimenko also was told privately, that “such people as you will not stay long here” (he is working at the factory since 1996).
Management openly and in written form is refusing to give the union basic information about simple figures such as wage levels in 1998 and 2004, the list of staff, and sales figures, for the preparation of wage negotiations. In their refusal they call such information “commercial secret” (which it is not, according to Russian law, and even if so, this is no reason not to share it with the union), and argue that “from your request it was not obvious that the demanded information touches upon the immediate interest of workers”. They even point to personal data protection for the workers.

Promises to provide the unions with room, office equipment and infrastructure so far have not been realised in all three factories, albeit to different extents.
In Volzhsky, workers are put under pressure to leave the union by threats to take revenge on their relatives working at the plant if they don’t back down. Apart from this, management so far tries to ignore union demands, not answering sometimes even written requests.

Local management interferes with IUF activity, repeatedly trying to prevent union committee members from attending seminars and meetings (Volzhsky), and using ridiculous excuses to make union meetings with IUF attendance impossible at the plant (Petersburg).

It seems that local management still think they can drown the union slowly but constantly, that people will give up as so many have been forced to give up before.
But workers are fed up with being mocked by management. They have started to question unjust behaviour, initiated grievance procedures at the labour inspectorate in several cases, and won some corrections in work and holiday schedules and pay systems. These gains increase worker’s confidence into the union and are much needed to fight off the constant attacks of the quiet war of local management. But winning substantial wage increases and stopping the constant neglect of legal norms by management will be crucial to change the balance of power at Coca-Cola HBC Eurasia.