CCU won’t yield


After 36 days of striking, the workers of the Chilean company Calaf decided to return to work despite failing to achieve their objectives of improved working conditions and a decent wage increase.


On October 6, 200 workers of the company Calaf SA decided to return to work after being on strike for 36 days and despite their failure to obtain a considerable improvement in their working conditions and wages, which was the basis of their demands. Throughout the entire process -in the negotiations prior to the strike, during the strike itself and in the mediation meetings-, the company refused to give in to union demands.


In January 2004, Calaf, a traditional manufacturer of cookies and candies who began operating in 1897 in Talca, was purchased by Compañías Cerveceras Unidas SA (CCU), which in that way diversified its original beer and soft drink business to include confectionary goods. As part of this diversification strategy, CCU also acquired the company Bortolasso.


After Calaf incorporated the brand Natur to its line of goods –thus branching into the cereal business-, in early 2008, a new food manufacturing company was formed under the name Foods Compañía de Alimentos CCU to produce and market products under the trademarks Natur and Calaf.


CCU is in turn primarily owned by two large majority shareholders: the Chilean holding company Luksic and the Dutch corporation Heineken.


Almost two months ago, on September 1, the 200 workers called a strike in the Talca and La Reina (Santiago) plants, after failing to obtain results in the collective bargaining process, where the workers demanded a 40-dollar wage increase and the company offered only 1.60 dollars.


At present, the base salary of the majority of the La Reina plant workers is approximately 250 dollars a month, the legal minimum wage, plus production bonuses and extras, which make a total of some 315 dollars.


The workers’ demands also included the leveling of contract conditions for the two Calaf of Talca and Santiago, as, for example, La Reina workers receive a Christmas bonus that is less than 40 percent of the bonus paid to Talca workers. Other demands were a compensation for workers that participate in the bargaining process, an extra pay of 50 percent for night shifts, and the adjustment of wages according to the CPI plus 1 percent as of September 1, 2008, and again in 2009.


In the mandatory mediation convened by the Conciliation and Mediation Center of the Metropolitan Region Labor Board, held on September 15 through 25, the company rejected the list of demands and refused to meet directly with the union, thus denying the possibility of negotiating an agreement. The unsuccessful mediation was initiated in response to a growing tension between management and workers, who tried to block the entry of external workers brought in by the company with a police escort, in violation of Article 381 of the Labor Code, as would later be acknowledged by the Communal Labor Inspection of Southeastern Santiago in its Resolution Nº45, issued September 9.


This confrontational policy and the company’s refusal to engage in serious negotiations clearly reflect Calaf’s attitude towards its workers, as it is willing to accept Chile’s labor legislation, but only when it serves its interests. And apparently it wasn’t in its interest to solve the conflict through negotiations.


En Montevideo, Dieter Schonebohm
21 de octubre de 2008



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