Uruguay - Coca Cola

With Gabriel San Martín

 Important victory for Coca-Cola workers

 New gain for FELATRAC


The Union of Coca-Cola Workers (STCC) achieved a major agreement with the company after having declared a state of alert that lasted several days and during which it conducted ongoing negotiations. SIREL spoke with Gabriel San Martín, STCC organization secretary, to learn the details of this agreement, which once again confirms the importance of internationally organized labor struggle.


-How did you achieve this agreement?

-After several stages of negotiation, yesterday, May 12, we signed an agreement before the Labor and Social Security Ministry, in which we were granted all our demands.


The state of alert was declared when we learned that the company would be importing products from Argentina to cover for the shortage in the national market. The company claimed that it had to import products because of the low productivity of its machinery, and while the union confirmed this to be true, it found that it’s due to poor management. The lack of maintenance –which the union had reported in time– led the Coca-Cola factory in Montevideo to have a substantially lower output than that of other regions. Nevertheless, STCC agreed to future imports but only if they are carried out within the regulatory framework and as provided by a joint management-workers committee, and provided they are aimed at achieving an optimal level of production in the factory, which is what the workers want.


In this sense, STCC will be closely monitoring the company’s actions, as there is a rumor that the failure to service the machinery and the resulting low productivity could be part of a commercial strategy of the Coca-Cola Company directed at facilitating the sale of the Montevideo Refrescos plant to FEMSA, the largest Coca-Cola subsidiary in the world.


-What were the steps taken by the union?

-Besides filing reports with the relevant bodies, we contacted the Latin American Federation of Coca-Cola Workers (FELATRAC). Through Rel-UITA -the IUF's Latin American Regional Office- we contacted Raúl Álvarez and Pablo Quiroga, whose efforts to support us internationally were instrumental in solving this conflict. We’re fully aware that without FELATRAC’s support we would’ve never obtained such results.


-What does the agreement signed consist of exactly?

-The main point agreed on is that if it ever becomes necessary to import products, the imports will be done within a framework established by labor regulations. The agreement also includes a guarantee of full employment, which means that no seasonal or permanent workers will be placed on the temporary unemployment program or fired. Also solved -and this is a very important point- was the situation of the 22 distribution department workers who will now be working eight hours a day instead of the four-hour scheme the company had put them on.


Another achievement we secured is that the direct importer will be Montevideo Refrescos and not any other company. With this we are preventing a potentially risky precedent, one that would not only risk our situation but that of the entire beverage industry, as Uruguay recently eliminated the tariff barrier applied on beverage imports (what was known as the “double IMESI” in reference to an internal wholesale tax) and that leaves the door wide open for any company to import freely.


-What is your assessment of the agreement?

-I think it’s very positive. It sets a precedent in labor struggles and clearly strengthens the position of STCC. It also highlights the importance of international solidarity, which in this case was materialized in FELATRAC’s efforts. The international support and backing from fellow workers domestically were both instrumental in obtaining all our demands..


From Montevideo, Amalia Antúnez


May 15, 2009




 Photo: Rel-UITA


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