Philippine unions back Pakistani Lipton workers’ ‘Casual-T’ drive

RELATING well to the plight of workers of a Unilever tea factory in Pakistan, the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL), whose affiliate unions are also confronted by rampant contractualization, led the Philippine segment of the international “Casual-T” campaign against the global giant’s corporate practice of boosting “perpetual job insecurity.”

Members of APL held today a picket outside the Unilever Phils. head office in Manila to draw attention to the despicable conditions of workers in the factory of Lipton and Brooke Bond tea in Khanewal, Pakistan, where of the 745 workforce, 723 are casuals although they have been employed by the company through an agency “on a temporary basis for an average of 15 years, and some as long as 25 years.”

The “Casual-T” campaign aims to garner global support to press Unilever to grant its over 700 contract workers at its last directly-owned and -operated tea factory in Pakistan “direct and permanent employment” to “enable them to receive the same rights, wages and benefits as the 22 permanent workers, including the right to join the union and bargain with” management.

The IUF, a global union federation (GUF) that spearheads “Casual-T,” describes the Lipton workers as “100 percent outsourced, so they are 100 percent ‘disposable’ – casualties (thus, the “casual-tea” or “casual-t” call) of a scheme that blends the world’s biggest tea brands, Lipton and Brooke Bond, with insecurity, injustice and poverty wages.”

APL activists join today's picket in support of tea workers of Unilever in Manila

Not only have they long been deprived of permanent employment status and security of tenure, the Pakistani LiptonCEPPWAWU, an affiliate of the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions, staged a demonstration outside of Unilever Maydon Whaft plant in Durban Pakistan workers receive a salary that is “equal to 33 percent of the lowest wage paid to permanent workers,” and are not provided with even the basic benefits and of course not allowed to join unions, the IUF reported.

This, despite the fact that, records show, Lipton is one of Unilever’s top 25 brands that account for more than 75 percent of its worldwide sales, and among its 13 “billion-dollar brands” that each attain annual sales of over $1.4 billion.

Faced with the prospects of losing the highly lucrative labor-contracting business, people identified with the labor contractors have also resorted to violence by attacking workers who advocate for the regularization of the Lipton casuals, IUF said.

It added that management has also encouraged the contractors to hire “as many of their relatives as possible to create a (new) group of workers opposed to the campaign.”

Edwin Bustillos, APL deputy secretary general, said that the APL picket signifies the Filipino workers’ solidarity with the struggle of the Lipton/Brooke Bond tea workers in Pakistan, as well as it underscores the workers’ resolve to fight corporate-instigated contractualization to amass greater profits and to emasculate trade unionism here in the country and throughout the world.

Unilever is a British and Dutch transnational corporation that owns over 400 of the world’s leading consumer product brands in food and beverages and home and personal care, including Lipton, Knorr, Dove, Axe, Lux, Sunsilk, Rexona and Surf. One of the largest TNCs, its global revenue in 2008 reached to almost $60 billion.

Unilever is one of the world’s biggest employers; but a far cry eight years earlier. Since between 2000 and 2008, it drastically reduced its global workforce by at least 41 percent, from 295,000 to 174,000 – prompting unions to remark about “the vanishing Unilever worker.”

IUF is the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations, the largest GUF of food, farm and hotel workers worldwide. One of its Philippine affiliates, the National Union of Workers in Hotel, Restaurant and Allied Industries (Nuwhrain), is an APL member.

APL announced that to join the campaign and to send a message to Unilever in support of the Lipton/Brooke Bond tea workers in Pakistan, visit www.casualtea.org.

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