Netherlands, India and Pakistan: Three fronts
against Unilever’s policy of layoffs. An update of
these three cases.
Both in The
Netherlands and in India and Pakistan workers are suffering
under the onslaught of
rationalization, modernization and profitability increase policies. In the
framework of the “Unilever
program, management plans to lay off approximately 11 percent of the 179,000
workers it currently employs.
announced that it would close three of its six factories and fire 474 workers in
the cities of Delft (Calve brand sauces and peanut butter),
Loosdrecht (Knorr and Conimex products) and Vlaardingen
(Cif cleaning products). Of the 4,300 people that work in
3,000 perform administrative or research and development tasks and the remaining
1,300 participate directly in production.
after the company disclosed its plans, and upon management’s refusal to hear
certain basic demands made by the union –in particular, the request that the
company assure that workers would be protected against mandatory layoffs under
the corporate restructure-, the FNV Bondgenoten and CNV Bedrijvenbond
unions launched a series of mobilizations and work stoppages. After three days
of stoppage, from October 10 through 12, additional union actions included
rotating stoppages in all six plants, starting on October 15, and a
demonstration that gathered some 1,000 people in front of
main offices in Rotterdam. Even with five of its six Dutch plants
paralyzed, management is still refusing to negotiate.
The Dutch labor
unions announced their intention to oppose any attempt by the company to import
products that are increasingly scarce in the domestic market (in particular,
sauces and margarines) from other European locations. The unions also warn that
is considering recruiting personnel from other European countries to handle the
production from The Netherlands.
Hindustan Lever Ltd. decided to sell its Sewri, Mumbai plant
to an unknown company, Bon Ltd., in July 2005, the Hindustan Lever
Employees Union (HLEU), member of the All India Council of
Unilever Unions (AICUU), an IUF affiliate, has repeatedly
denounced the fraudulent sale of the factory, even initiating legal actions. The
buyer shut down the factory two months after closing the sale, putting 900
workers out of a job.
intends to concentrate its production in the states that offer the greatest tax
incentives, while at the same time attempting to weaken the union’s collective
In the framework of the
“Unilever 2010” program,
management plans to lay off
approximately 11 percent of
the 179,000 workers it
As part of the
struggle against the factory shut down, the AICUU sent groups of
representatives to ten of the company’s most modern and recent factories,
especially those located in Eastern and Northern India. Flyers in eight
languages were handed out and rallies were held at the gates of the factories to
inform more than 3,200 workers about the situation in Sewri. At every
factory, management reacted violently, warning their workers against any contact
with “the men from Mumbai,” in some cases, with hired bullies and the Police
physically attacking workers, in one factory going as far as chasing AICUU
representatives for several kilometers.
For many years,
and until February 2007, Hindustan Lever was the most profitable and
successful subsidiary of the
group, with sales totaling 3 billion US dollars in 2006. As the Indian market
opened up, and with growing competition from local and international operators,
such as Procter & Gamble, Nivea, L’Oreal and AC Nielsen,
the company focused on implementing
strategy, substituting a wide range of products firmly established in the
domestic market and a small number of global products. The costs of adapting and
restructuring are high and they are borne primarily by the workers. At present,
Hindustan Unilever has over 40 factories and employs more than 15,000
people. The company’s aggressive global strategy has apparently spurred renewed
growth in this Indian industry flagship: At the end of the second quarter of
2007, sales had gone up 13 percent as compared to the same period of the
previous year, while profits had increased 29.6 percent.
epicenter is the Rahim Yar Khan, Punjab factory, where nearly 300
casual and contract workers were fired on October 20 after demanding that their
right to permanent employment be observed. The layoffs affected another 23
workers whose permanent employment request was pending resolution in a labor
court. Contracted workers earn less than 67 US dollars a month and have no labor
protection or welfare benefits. Day laborers are in an even worse situation, as
their pay is less than 1.50 US dollars a day. They have no insurance or
assurance that they will have work from one day to the next.
actions by the
Yar Khan Union
are supported by the Unilever Employees Federation of Pakistan, an IUF
affiliate. The labor movement’s solidarity was clearly manifested at
a meeting held last October 25, where union representatives from four factories
and the main office in Karachi participated. At the meeting, the workers
adopted a resolution demanding an end to management intimidation and the use of
police forces, as well as the withdrawal of the false accusations fabricated
against union representatives and the reinstatement of all laid off workers.
Moreover, emphasis was made during the meeting that all jobs must be made
permanent, that direct bargaining between management and the union must be
established and that security personnel must refrain from doing anything other
than normal security tasks.
solidarity meeting, held on October 26 in Rahim Yar Khan, 14 unions,
professional associations and NGOs pledged their support to the struggle of the
Unilever Employees Federation.