Workers at the Belkozin plant in the northern Ukrainian town of Priluki have won wage increases totaling 54% following strike action in May, a long mobilization and tough bargaining by the plant organization of the IUF-affiliated Agro-Industrial Workers’ Union of Ukraine.
Belkozin is one of the few factories in Europe making collagen-based protein casings for sausages, a product in high demand. Beginning in 2008, however, poor management led to wage arrears and genuine hardship for the plant’s nearly 500 workers, over half of whom are women. In May, the union organized a protest rally and warned of strike action. Management failed to respond, and on May 21 the Belkozin workers halted production for a week in support of their demands for the full payment of all wage and benefit arrears, guarantees that wages would henceforth be regularly paid and an increase in hourly wages which had remained unchanged since 2008. “We have nothing to support our children with, no money to buy food. We won’t work for free anymore!” said one of the women strikers.
The strike ended with an agreement to settle all arrears and to start negotiations for a wage increase by September 1.
The plant union, supported by IUF affiliates in the region, spent the following months preparing for the negotiations. They received additional support from the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, which provided expertise, research and training. Negotiations in September went through several rounds and concluded with a signed agreement covering 464 people (including 260 women). The agreement not only boosts hourly wages but includes increases for work in hazardous assignments, vacation and sick pay, among other provisions.
The strike at Belkozin and the successful struggle which followed have boosted union confidence throughout the region. The Chairman of the Chernigov regional organization of the AIWU, Sergei Khobotnya, says “The experience of struggle at Belkozin became a landmark not only for the plants in the region, it became known across the whole country. With this example of a successful fight it will be easier for us to explain to workers the value of a genuine trade union and the results that can be achieved through effective action.”
Through their union the Belkozin workers have thanked the IUF and the international labour movement for the support they received during their struggle.