Published: 28/05/2010

 When the US-based Schreiber Foods Inc acquired a 51 per cent stake in Dynamix Dairy Industries in 2004, one of India’s most advanced milk processing plants was transformed into a global company.

In addition to Schreiber cheese products, the factory produces branded dairy drinks and other beverages for major global companies such as Nestle, GSK, PepsiCo and Unilever. The factory also supplies cheese to McDonald’s and Pizza Hut throughout India.

Despite cutting edge technology and new investment to produce global brands, each with a separate plant within the Schreiber Dynamix Dairies complex, more than half the workforce was based on contract labour, with 393 contract workers and 384 permanent workers. Of the 128 women workers at the factory 125 were contract workers and only 3 have permanent jobs.

All of the contract workers were hired as “gardening” and “cleaning service” staff, but in fact worked in skilled jobs in production alongside permanent workers, many for 5 to 10 years. They were paid the legal minimum wage of just Rs.110 per day [USD 2.30, EUR 1.90] and were denied any of the benefits that permanent workers enjoyed under the collective agreement negotiated by the union.

The IUF-affiliated Schreiber Dynamix Dairies Employees Union, which represents 350 members, launched a campaign earlier this year to rectify the systematic inequality and discrimination faced by contract workers in what is clearly a very profitable and rapidly expanding business. Prior to this campaign, 100 contract workers, including 49 women workers, joined the union, but because of their precarious employment status are excluded from coverage by the collective agreement.

Shortly after the union posted a notice calling for a general membership meeting on 14 April to discuss the demand to make contract workers permanent and allow them to become members of the bargaining unit, police entered the factory to find the union president, Pandurang Kachare, and warn him against holding the meeting. Despite these warnings the union proceeded with the meeting on 14 April and union members declared their support for contract workers’ right to permanent employment. The following day a mass rally was held to support these demands and management responded on 17 April by ordering that contract workers be prevented from entering the factory, effectively terminating 341 contract workers, including the 100 contract workers who are union members. The company immediately replaced them with 300 new contract workers.

With the support of powerful local politicians, management then launched a series of attacks on the union, including fabricated criminal charges against the union president, accusing him of disturbing law and order.

New charges recently filed also seek to have him permanently banned from the district where the factory is located which means he could be expelled from his home as well as preventing him from fulfilling his role as union president.

In response IUF affiliates in India have mobilized in support of the Schreiber Dynamix Dairies Employees Union and its fight against abusive precarious employment practices. Solidarity rallies will be held across India, including actions by unions in Nestle, Unilever, PepsiCo and GSK Horlicks whose branded products are made at the Schreiber Dynamix factory.