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With Claudio Urrutia

The IUF has a very interesting and relevant approach to labor organization




Claudio is president of the Federation of Unilever Workers of Chile, and finance secretary of the First Union of Unilever Chile’s chemical operations. Sirel spoke with him at the Third International Meeting of Unilever Workers. Among other issues, they discussed the Federation’s reasons for joining the IUF.


-What is the Federation you belong to like?

-The trade union I belong to has a membership of 250 workers, and the Confederation groups four organizations that represent workers from different Unilever Chile companies, both from the food and chemical sectors. Our trade unions have been active for 80 years, and the new federation, which represents more than 600 workers, was formed two years ago.


-What percentage of the membership is made up of women?

-The percentage is very low, probably under 10 percent. Our two unions represent factory workers. There are two others that represent office employees, and there the percentage of women members is higher. In the past year, Unilever did not hire any women for its manufacturing and plant activities in Chile.


-What about product distribution? Is that separate?

-No, but the office employees’ unions are not in the Federation. Unilever Chile has approximately 1,300 workers hired directly, of which a significant number -about 100 or 200- are hired to occupy “positions of trust.” This means that they are not unionized, because the law allows that possibility. There are eight mixed labor organizations, with both women and men members, four of which are in our united Federation that gathers the majority of the workers. The other four are not federated.


An important aspect that must be noted is that in Chile office tasks are separate from manufacturing activities. The companies’ administration model has evolved in a way that has not enabled us to unite our labor activities.


In Chile we say that if we’re not organized in a labor association that cuts across all sectors, regardless of products or areas of activity, we will be left far behind with respect to corporate organization, as corporations structure themselves according to their investments.


The way transnational corporations operate is that geographically they structure themselves according to clusters of countries aligned with each other, and they tend to have regional management structures. We have to find a model of organization that matches the corporations’ economic system. This was at the heart of this gathering of Unilever Chile food and chemical unions. The regionalization of companies must be accompanied by a regionalization of labor organizations, which is a process that the IUF’s Latin American Office, Rel-UITA, has begun through the establishment of Latin American Federations and Coordinating Bodies.


-Are there many outsourced workers in Unilever?

-Chilean legislation authorizes different forms of outsourcing and subcontracting schemes. But these schemes are still not very significant at Unilever, as they are not a common or widespread practice. That doesn’t mean, however, that they are not used, but our unions can say that outsourcing is not the biggest problem we have today.


-Do you have Collective Bargaining Agreements?



-Are they in force?



-Are they honored by the company?

-Yes, absolutely.


-What is the average salary earned by a worker at Unilever Chile?

- The salary of workers in home and personal care chemicals (HPCs) is different from that of food workers. Under the Collective Agreement we have an average salary that, at around 750 dollars, is much higher than the national average.


-Is it lower for food sector workers?

-Somewhat lower.


-Is this the salary for an eight-hour day?

-We work a 45-hour week, 7 ½ hours a day, six days a week.


-How are your day-to-day relations with the company? Are they normal? No pressures? Is there an antiunion campaign to convince workers to leave the union?

-In UNILEVER Alimentación (the food sector) the area manager has a blatant antiunion attitude, and this is an issue that we have brought to the bargaining table. We need to make it clear that the purpose of a labor organization is to guarantee the rights of the people it represents. In the chemical union there are no problems, because we have defined how we will negotiate and the rules are observed, but that doesn’t happen in the food sector, where we have to constantly demand that they be observed.


We have scheduled a meeting for April 11 to discuss this matter, and if we don’t reach a satisfactory solution there we will have to take action, because this is an old problem that we have been unable to overcome. Workers in the food sector have a lot of trouble negotiating.


-You decided, as a Federation, to join the IUF? What led you to make that decision?

-When Collective Bargaining Agreements and domestic legislation are not enough to defend workers’ rights, the labor movement has the obligation of seeking alternatives. The IUF, in our opinion, meets the expectations we have in terms of our goal of international connections. It is a broad organization, and we think it can be a tool to help us unify criteria in the labor movement and to give it an international projection. Now we have to start accessing all the information that Rel-UITA has, and make our workers feel part of this international organization. We have a lot of work to do.


-How do you see this Third Meeting of Unilever Workers?

-I think it has been a very positive experience. I listened closely to what everybody had to say, and I think that Rel-UITA has made a good diagnosis using the information provided by Unilever itself, cooperating in labor-related issues, and I think that there are no differences among the participating unions as to the diagnosis. For example, I think that Rel-UITA was right in structuring the ARCOR Workers’ Coordinating Body, and I think it’s even more interesting that the Regional Office -and I congratulate it on this- is allocating resources and professionals so that this year we can finally have a Regional Coordinating Body of UNILEVER Unions, which will act as the unions’ coordinator in the region.


This approach to labor organization is very interesting. The path that Rel-UITA is opening up -through the meetings it’s holding and the work it’s doing- is the way to go. Because actions themselves are not enough. We also need to reflect and analyze. If we only concentrate on one or the other, we won’t get anywhere.



From São Paulo, Carlos Amorín


April, 1 de 2009





Producción periodística: Lucía Iglesias


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