In a major win in the closing weeks of 2009, unions representing more than 1,200 workers at Nestlé India’s factories in Moga, Ponda and Bicholim signed collective bargaining agreements on wages and benefits for the first time – marking a major achievement in their year-long struggle for the right to wage bargaining. The agreements also include wage scales and wage information that previously were declared ‘secret’ by management.
This achievement is even more remarkable because Nestlé India management refused to recognize the union at Nestlé Ponda, Goa, when it was formed in 2001, resulting in a legal case that management deliberately delayed for eight years, seeking no less than 54 adjournments.
In November 2008, the unions, which are members of the IUF-affiliated Federation of All India Nestle Employees, called for an end to the system of unilaterally imposed annual wage increments and demanded the right to negotiate wages. Nestlé India management refused to negotiate and instead obtained court injunctions permanently banning union actions within 50 to 200 metres of four factories (Moga, Samalkha, Ponda and Bicholim), effectively denying Nestle India workers their fundamental right of assembly [read the background here].
This led to an escalation of the campaign, with weekly protest actions launched on 16 April 2009 and culminating in a mass rally at the Nestlé India headquarters in Gurgaon, just outside Delhi, on 25 May 2009. The IUF supported the campaign throughout and in May 2009 filed a formal complaint against Nestlé for violations of the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises [for more on these protests click here].
In addition to weekly demonstrations at each factory and the rally at Nestlé India headquarters, union members in Ponda and Bicholim boycotted all company-sponsored events and refused to work overtime for more than half a year – a tremendous sacrifice at a time when food price inflation was already eroding their wages.
Faced with this continuous pressure at local, national and international levels, Nestlé India management finally entered into wage negotiations for the first time in September and negotiations were concluded in December – a major step towards genuine recognition and respect of trade union rights after decades of rights violations.
Wage negotiations are currently ongoing at Nestlé India’s newest and largest factory in Pantnagar, where workers formed a union in April 2009 in the face of aggressive union-busting. Despite attacks on the union and attempts by management to stop the union’s registration, the union succeeded in winning legal recognition and immediately joined the IUF-affiliated Federation. With the support of the Federation the Nestlé Pantnagar union has also won the right to wage bargaining.
On 31 December 2009 the unions sent a message of thanks to the IUF for its support.