occasion of a Study Circle organized by the
IUF’s Latin American Regional Office, Rel-UITA,
under the title “Trade Unions and Crisis,” held
in Santiago, Chile, on May 6, 7 and 8 with the
participation of workers from several
spoke with Claudio Urrutia, president of the
National Federation of Trade Unions of Unilever
-How is the relationship with the company?
-We have an open and smooth relationship, which
is not without its problems, but in general
there is a willingness on the part of the
company to dialog with the union. Still, we
don’t lose sight of the fact that Unilever
is constantly generating strategies to implement
a certain logic and include even negotiations
with trade unions within that logic. What we’re
demanding is for Unilever’s general
manager, Silvio Savoldi, to be present
whenever the bargaining table meets.
-How many unions are there in Unilever Chile?
-Eight unions -representing a total of 900
workers-, and of these eight unions, four are
-How many workers does the Federation represent?
-A little over 600 out of a total of 1,300
workers employed by Unilever in Chile
under permanent contract schemes, that is, not
counting outsourced labor.
-What was the last Collective Bargaining
Agreement signed with the company?
-The last agreement was signed in 2007, for a
three-year term. When we negotiated that
agreement we applied what we call ‘dynamic
collective bargaining.’ We established criteria
based on economic studies, hired specialists in
economics and made a diagnosis that enabled us
to draw up hypotheses for possible outcomes. We
found that radicalizing collective bargaining
agreements based on single growths for a year or
two is not the most appropriate approach for us
today. We then presented a proposal based on the
company’s own regulations and its wage and
benefit structures. That has given collective
bargaining a certain dynamics that I suspect
Unilever wants to abandon.
-How are the transnational corporation’s plants
distributed in Chile?
-Right now it has five plants, all in Santiago,
but they’re going to cut them down to two.
There’s one in Carrascal, which is a liquid and
powdered detergent plant, and there are
currently two food product plants, one of which
is located in San Joaquín -in the metropolitan
area- and will be relocated to Panamericana
Norte to form part of a single multipurpose
plant that will concentrate manufacturing and
packaging activities for food products.
-How are workers living this process of
centralization that Unilever is carrying out,
combining five plants into two?
-We need to clarify that this has nothing to do
with plant closures. What’s happening here is
nothing like what’s happening in Europe,
which is going through what’s been termed
‘corporate delocalization,’ a process whereby
companies take their investments from one
country to another or from one region to
In our case, Unilever purchased property
in a locality of Santiago and is planning to
unify two food production plants there: the oil
and margarine production plants and the Lipton
tea plant. This is going to be done within the
structure of what Unilever calls
‘clusters’; the San Miguel plant -which
currently employs some 600 workers- will become
part of a multipurpose plant, a ‘world-class’
-How would you define this form of organization
in multipurpose plants?
-According to the logic of Unilever, it
entails turning a basic plant that is divided
into different levels of efficiency into a
multipurpose plant that enables different levels
of investment. The company claims that with
these restructures it is opening up
opportunities for growth in the region, and that
that will mean more jobs.
-How many unions are there in the Lipton plant?
-That plant has two unions, one is the
specialists’ union, which is a member of the
Federation and is formed by 200 workers out of a
total of 400.
-How long do you think this process could take?
-This process should be completed by the end of
the year. It’s a very different process than the
one that in 2003 led to the closing of the
Carrascal plant, the toothpaste factory. In that
case there was no prior warning, Unilever
imposed some 12 conditions that had to do with
layoffs, retirements and voluntary incentives
leave, a 20% wage reduction for all remaining
employees and loss of benefits.
Now, Lilian Hersing, Assistant Human
Resource Manager, who has a harsh antiunion
policy, has created management teams to organize
the relocation. These teams are called
‘participatory teams’ and are formed by a
technical specialist, human resource officers,
and workers, but with the excuse that they’re
technical teams, they don’t include union
leaders. We disagree with this, because we see
it as a measure to weaken the union, which is
why we’re voicing our opposition. Moreover, we
consider it a serious problem that Unilever
ha not been clear with respect to the number of
people it will be relocating. We want to know
how many people are going to be transferred.
-What actions are you planning to take?
-We have an agreement with the company aimed at
minimizing as much as possible the social
impact. The Federation implemented a process for
the relocation of the San Miguel plant, in which
Technical Management, Human Resource Management
and union leaders from the base organization
must all somehow be involved in the process of
change. It also entails guaranteeing the
observance of the collective bargaining
agreement and the minimization of layoffs.
for its part proposes a voluntary retirement
plan that applies to any workers who are willing
to leave the company. In any case, the
conditions under which such retirements will be
implemented are being negotiated with the union.
-How did the Federation decide to join the IUF?
-We had been considering the possibility of an
affiliation to an international organization for
a long time, and that is how the idea of joining
the IUF came up. The reason we chose the
IUF is that it is one of the most
important international workers’ organizations
in the world and it has the greatest capacity
for coordinating the actions of the trade unions
of transnational corporations. Most of the trade
unions of Unilever workers worldwide are
And what’s more, this organization is not only
concerned with labor issues, it’s also involved
in a range of other issues, including the
defense of human rights, the environment, and
gender issues. That was decisive in the unions
voting in favor of joining the IUF as our
international reference point, and now union
leaders and workers together are going to have
to learn to work at that level.
Just as Unilever implements a regional
corporate policy, we, as workers, must see the
advantage of forming a Latin American Federation
of Unilever Workers as an instrument that will
enable us to set floors for salaries at the
regional level, and in that way, together with
the IUF, become involved in a more global