With Aldo Lezana


A thirst for vengeance



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 come about?

-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 example?

-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 concerns?

-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.


Economic incentives should not be linked to occupational safety and health concerns.



-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 concerns.


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 now.


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?

-We’re seeing 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 avoided, as 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 long term.


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.


Workers are tired of shouldering the weight of corporate success at the expense of their own health.



-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 steps?

-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.



From Montevideo, Carlos Amorín


december 26, 2011





(*) Instituciones de Salud Previsional (Health Insurance Institutions).

Chile’s private health system, established in 1981.


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