Coca Cola International is one of the most famous monopolies in the world’s beverage sector. The company has expanded its network of business to all parts of world. The company earns more profits than the total GDP of many so-called “third world countries”. However, these huge profits are based on the exploitation of workers. In order to enhance their rate of profit, the management of Coca Cola uses anti-labour measures and the forces of repression to attack the rights of the workers.
The “labour friendly” management has been exposed in Pakistan, where it even uses state repression to crush workers’ movements. Coca Cola used to have eight franchisees for its bottling facilities in Pakistan, but in the mid-1980s it consolidated them under one umbrella to form Coca Cola Beverages Pakistan. This entity was a wholly-owned subsidiary of the US-based parent until 2008, when Coca Cola Içiçek took a 49% share. According to company records, it has over 4,000 employees in Pakistan but a big number of workers are working on daily wages and temporary contracts.
Non-permanent workers are given very low wages without any allowances and benefits and are forced to work more than is allowed by law. In this company workers’ jobs are not guaranteed and after some time enforced sackings are done regularly. If workers try to protest against these measures, the police and other state institutions come to help company management. Labour leaders are involved in fake legal battles which continue for years.
Disappointed by the leadership of their trade union, workers started to struggle for their own unions but that was crushed by management and the State. In countries like Pakistan, institutions of the State such as the media, the judiciary, political parties, etc play the role of puppets of capitalists. Hence the State played an active role as the brokers of company management. We have seen this during protests of workers at Multan, Rahim Yar Khan and Gujranwala.
At Gujranwala, there are more than 600 daily wage workers who are working under a contract system. They are paid low wages and deprived of all other facilities such as overtime, medical allowances, old age benefits and profit allowances etc. Their status is like that of a slave of the contractor because the contractor pays some amount to the family of these workers and keeps the workers as his workers as a guarantee of that money going to the families. They have no contract of employment despite working in Coca Cola. They do not even get a week’s holiday.
Also the permanent workers are not getting proper profit linked bonuses as the company management lies to the workers complaining that it is in deficit and so no bonuses can be awarded. The company sacked 125 workers more than a year ago and only a paltry amount as compensation was announced for half of the sacked workers. Even that amount was not given by the then CBA (See note below) union. The company also has plans to sack more than 133 workers in the near future.
When the workers of Gujranwala plant fought back against the policies of management, they were harassed by the management. Also, in order to break the unity of the workers, management has divided the workers into various categories so that they can use the policy of Divide and Rule. Workers doing the same tasks are working under permanent, contract or daily wages on different pay scales. Also, management used legal maneuvers to crush the union. Despite the workers were being blackmailed and beleaguered by dirty legal tactics, management couldn’t crush the movement. Stooge unions in the pocket of management also hired Goons (Gangsters) to harass the workers.
The Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign (PTUDC) is fighting along with Coca Cola workers. PTUDC comrades have always approached and stood with the workers. A milestone was achieved on 7th October 2012, when the PTUDC hosted a meeting of Coca cola workers from all over Pakistan. The workers from Karachi, Multan, Rahim Yar Khan, Gujranwala, Lahore and other cities narrated their episodes of draconian attacks and experiences. A transitional national committee was formed which presented a transitional programme of struggle. This meeting gave an impetus to workers for united action going forward. After the meeting the workers were exhausted but they also got lot of energy from what was discussed and agreed.
Later, due to the pressure mounted by other trade unions and the PTUDC in support of these workers, the Appellate Court was forced to pass judgement in favour of the Employees Workers’ Union, but management once again created hurdles. The workers demanded their own union as the CBA (See note below) union, which was consistently denied by management. Workers were trodden down by the goons of management and a referendum on trade union representation was off the agenda.
On their own initiative the workers rushed to the Labour department to demand a referendum be held. This time they were not surprised by the partial approach of the Labour officer at Gujranwala. Again under the pressure of PTUDC, the Labour officer was forced to call for a referendum. Before holding the referendum, the management tried to buy off some of the workers. Some workers’ leaders were offered promotions and extra bonuses. But they refused to comply with management and continued their struggle to hold a referendum.
Despite of all of the hurdles created by management, on 22nd January 2013 a referendum was conducted. According to official results, out of a total of 352 potential votes, 349 were cast. In total the votes cast for the union supported by the workers and the PTUDC got 188 votes or 54% of votes cast, whereas the opposition union was able to achieve only 161 votes. The labour leader Yousuf Sipra was elected as President and Workers Employees Union was declared as the CBA (See note below) Union of Coca Cola Gujranwala plant.
The workers are overjoyed and thanked the PTUDC for their continuous support. This is important step on the road of a long war. Many more battles are awaiting the workers. The workers are united and they are optimistic about overthrowing this capitalist system and establishing a classless society. In this fight, the workers of Coca Cola appealed to all the workers of world for solidarity and unity.
CBAs and Labour Laws in Pakistan.
According to Pakistan Law there is provision for Collective Bargaining and Agreements but as the report above shows the law is rarely upheld unless there is pressure from the workers involved.“To determine the representative character of the trade union in industrial disputes and to obtain representation on committees, boards and commissions, the Industrial Relations Ordinance makes provision for the appointment of a Collective Bargaining Agent (CBA).
The CBA is a registered trade union elected by secret ballot. The CBA is entitled to undertake collective bargaining with the employer or employers on matters connected with employment, non-employment, the terms of employment or any right guaranteed or secured to it or any worker by or under any law, or any award or settlement. Collective agreements are thus formulated by the CBA. The agreements may contain matters such as the facilities in the establishment for trade union activities and procedures for settling collective disputes including grievances and disciplinary procedures. Substantive provisions settle terms and conditions of employment, wages and salaries, hours of work, holiday entitlement and pay, level of performance, job grading, lay-offs, retrenchment, sick pay, pension and retirement schemes. Such agreements once duly executed by both parties become the source of law. The agreements should invariably be in writing and should be drafted with care, for they are meant to settle disputes rather than raise them.”