Trade Unions 1 and 2 and the Union of SOPROLE Distributors are mobilizing to
protest several issues and have publicly denounced the actions of several
companies owned by the multinational dairy corporation FONTERRA.
Sirel spoke with Aldo Lezana,
President of the Chilean Federation of Dairy Company Workers’ Unions (FENATRAL),
who expanded on the situation.
-How did this conflict
-This is the result of
the company’s failure to communicate with the unions. The company is taking
actions without consulting workers and several of the measures it’s implementing
are not legal.
-Could you give us an
-For instance, for many
years now the company has paid for the first three days of a worker’s sickness
leave, and that was an acquired right that workers had enjoyed. Well now the
company has decided to limit to two the number of sick leave events a worker can
have per year.
We reject this
imposition and will probably bring a complaint in court to defend this right.
Trade Union 2 has set a precedent in this sense, as it filed a similar claim;
and we’re sending a copy of that decision to the Labor Ministry.
-What are your other
-We’re very concerned
over the accident rate, for example. We think there’s a problem with the way
incentives are granted. The self-management teams in production have
incorporated work accident events into their productivity bonuses.
should not be
-What does that mean?
-A machine’s work
productivity is measured every three months, and if an accident occurs during
that period it lowers the average bonus received by workers. We think it’s
wrong for economic incentives to be linked to occupational safety and health
Moreover, this leads to
attempts to conceal accidents, so that they’re not referred to the healthcare
insurance system, where they would necessarily be recorded, but are instead
referred to ISAPRE,
which, once it identifies the event as a work accident, it refuses to treat the
affected worker and passes the case on to the healthcare insurance system. This
results in the affected worker being shuffled from one place to another,
compromising his or her health and generating expenses for the union.
Also, we have said
repeatedly that it is no longer enough to implement prevention measures for
accidents; we need to address occupational illnesses as well.
There are workers with severe injuries, such as hernias, tendonitis (repetitive
strain injuries) and back problems, and extended sick leaves as a result of
excessive and repeated strains due to poor working conditions.
We demand that
management bring in an ergonomic specialist to study the tasks performed and
determine if there are any that can cause occupational illnesses in the short,
medium and/or long term, and that workers be guaranteed proper treatment in the
event any such illnesses occur, instead of being ignored, which is what happens
The company needs to be
aware that production cannot be its sole concern, and that it must also focus on
the workers’ health and safety conditions.
-What other problems
are the workers facing?
instances of union harassment. We have the case, for example, of a worker in the
south who was reprimanded for taking time off under the union leave benefit. In
the capital, Santiago, we also have a union leader who is being withheld his
wages for the same reason.
Even though we work for
a company that has the leading share of the Chilean dairy market, we are fear
that an unfavorable labor climate is being generated, and one which could be
it’s only a matter of sitting down to discuss the situation, admitting that the
policies implemented to address it are wrong, and working together to draft a
common roadmap to gradually make any necessary adjustments over the medium and
But the company opts
for an ostrich tactic, burying its head in the sand, hoping the crisis will
pass. Meanwhile it exercises its authority unilaterally. We sent a letter to
the chairman of the board, alerting him that these policies will start hurting,
rather than benefiting, the company, as workers are growing tired of shouldering
the weight of corporate success and paying for it with their health.
success at the
expense of their
-Is this climate normal
in workers’ relationship with Fonterra? Or is it something new?
-The company is
probably upset over the outcome of negotiations at the southern Chile plants,
especially over the strike staged at the Osorno factory in mid 2011. Following
the strike, as a direct retaliation against one of the members of our governing
board, upon his return to Santiago, after supporting the strike, his salary was
withheld. This led us to file a report with the Labor Inspection Bureau. This
situation has not been fully cleared up yet and it’s a blatant example of the
company’s vengeful attitude, which we object.
We’re willing to sit
down and talk because we believe that communication, dialogue and negotiation
are all positive paths for both parties to take.
-What are your next
-This week we’ll
probably file a complaint in court regarding the three-day sick leave issue;
we’re also requesting a meeting with the healthcare insurance services asking
them to provide an ergonomic specialist to study some of the tasks that are
believed to cause occupational diseases and accidents.
We know that if the company has
achieved a leading position in the market it is thanks to the professionalism
and technical skills of its workers, so we think it’s unfair for management to
be treating workers and their organizations –the unions– so poorly.