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   Dominican Republic


With Wilson Montero

Abusive and discriminatory layoffs in Unilever


Ver Proyecto de Ley



The Dominican plant of the transnational corporation Unilever lost four pallets containing bags of detergent. It conducted a unilateral inquiry, which did not clear up the incident, but a few days later it fired four forklift operators, implicitly connecting the alleged theft with these workers. The Union of Workers of Unilever Caribe (SITRAUC) raised its voice against this unjustified measure. Sirel spoke with Wilson Montero, president of SITRAUC, who gave a detailed account of the actions by the transnational corporation and the union’s reaction.




-Can you tell us how the layoffs happened?

-This began with the company’s reporting the disappearance of four “platforms” (135 bags) of detergent. The company conducted an investigation but was unable to identify anyone responsible for the missing detergent. However, it decided to fire four forklift operators: Manuel Tolentino, Carlos Báez, Alexander Pérez and Antonio de los Santos. We find that this constitutes an abuse for several reasons.


-Why is it an abuse?

-It’s a well-known fact that this is one of the companies with the largest security system in the country. Before entering plant grounds, every vehicle must be authorized by the Security Department, and the driver must give an explanation of why they wish to enter the and exactly where they are going. They have to do the same thing when they exit the grounds. There are security cameras installed in several points around the factory, and all product dispatches are suspended at 6 p.m. Friday. The missing products were detected on a Saturday, 24 hours after moving the last package in the warehouse.


The company is committing a serious act of discrimination, because its investigation did not include the foremen, only the workers. And it’s the workers who have to pay for “the grass that another goat ate.”

Unilever violated Clause 39 of our Collective Agreement, which establishes that before any decision involving layoffs, there must be a discussion between the two parties in order to avoid conflicts.


-You think that somebody in the company’s hierarchy could’ve had something to do with the alleged theft?

-It’s possible. What we’re saying is that it’s not fair to single anyone out, and that the investigation must include everyone. We don’t even know if a theft was actually committed, because no evidence has been presented. It could be an inventory mistake, which is being covered up by accusing the laid-off workers. The foreman is responsible for inventory, for the warehouse’s security, and for locking up. There’s no way a worker could take entire pallets loaded with products outside the warehouse. Besides, on Saturdays not even union vehicles can come into the plant.


-Is it possible that there’s nothing missing at all? That it’s all made up?

-We’ve also thought of that, because we are convinced that these fellow workers have been unjustly accused. These are workers with families to support, who are being thrown out on the street without having any evidence against them.


-What actions is the union taking against this situation?

-We’ve met with the manager of the area in question and with the Administration manager, but they refuse to say anything specific. But even if they’re not accused directly, their layoffs have in fact been linked to the alleged theft. We oppose this manipulation. This is also not the first time that things have disappeared from the plant. This has happened before. Part of the security system is monitored by an outsourced service, and many of us recall that in other, similar situations, the security cameras or recordings have turned up magically damaged, making it impossible to identify any perpetrators. Moreover, we were very surprised that before initiating the investigation the Security Department suggested to Management that SITRAUC be involved in the investigation, but the company refused. We have already been protesting by wearing black ribbons during work hours, and in a little while we are starting a picket line in front of the company’s entrance.


-Have you filed a complaint with the Secretary of Labor?

-We have filed a complaint denouncing this unjust measure, as it violates Clause 39 of our Collective Agreement, which establishes that any decision involving a layoff must be preceded by an exchange of information between the two parties, with the aim of avoiding a conflict; and it also violates Clause 28, which in one of its paragraphs states that the union must be given a reasonable term to conduct any actions aimed at preventing the firing of any worker.


-How are the other workers reacting?

-All of the company’s 146 workers are supporting the protest, because they see it as a blatant abuse on the part of the company, which is using innocent workers as scapegoats. We will continue to protest, demanding the immediate reinstatement of our fellow workers, and a more careful and thorough investigation with the union’s participation. We would also like to thank the Latin American Office of the IUF (Rel-UITA) for its support and the concern it has shown for our situation.



From Montevideo, Carlos Amorín
July 16, 2008




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