Unilever Pakistan: Workers protest against threats and repression by management

We often hear of the brutal conditions that workers have to suffer in underdeveloped countries. Here we have an example of a famous multinational, Unilever, which is making huge profits while paying starvation wages and using draconian measures when the workers dare to protest. Send messages of protest and let these workers know they are not alone.

Workers have condemned the threats and repressive measures of the brutal and exploitative management of Unilever Pakistan which is using all measures possible in collaboration with the city administration to curb the rights of workers.

There is a generalized myth in Pakistan that the workers of Unilever Pakistan get the same wages and benefits equivalent to those of workers of other developing countries. Workers of Unilever in Britain and Europe have also the same idea, but the reality is quite bitter.

The truth can be seen from the present struggle of the workers of Unilever in Rahim Yar Khan. This industrial enterprise has been here for 60 years and is making billions of rupees of profit every year, but management is not happy and keeps on attacking the rights of workers time and again to increase their profits even further.

In last few years 150 permanent employees have been sacked under the scheme of the "golden handshake" and this policy is being used to minimize the workforce. To achieve this management has been using all means to exploit the workers which are common to all underdeveloped countries.

To increase their profits now most of Unilever products are being manufactured outside the plant under the third party system, to contractors. This measure allows the administration to sack more and more workers.

As in other countries Unilever buys and shuts down other competing factories to maintain its monopoly. This also renders jobless hundreds of other workers who are working in those factories. Many examples could be cited of such measures but the most famous one is that of the Polka ice-cream factory which was shut down after being bought by Unilever. All the workers working in that factory lost their jobs. Similarly, many other factories were closed down which created havoc for the families of the people working there.

In an attempt to intensify the level of exploitation the workers in Unilever have now been divided into three categories:

  1. Permanent Labour: Those workers who along with pay also get facilities like health, education, housing, bonus payments and a pension upon retirement. These workers have job protection.
  2. Contract Labour: These workers have jobs only for nine months. There pay is 4000 rupees ($67) per month. They have no facilities or job protection.
  3. Day labourers: These workers get the job on 80 rupees ($1.33) per day and they are not sure whether they will get the job the next day or not.

The Unilever administration is trying its best to reduce the number on Permanent Labour and employ most of the workers either as Contract or Day labourers. Also they are trying to get their products manufactured through the third party system through contractors. For this purpose some machines from the plant have been deployed outside the premises of Unilever. These outside contractors use even more brutal measures against the workers. All these policies are helping to increase the profits of Unilever.

But all this is provoking the rage and anger of the workers and the union at Unilever, the CBA, has now strongly protested against these measures. To curb this protest management has charged the labour leaders with false criminal offences and has deployed police inside the plant.

The Rahim Yar Khan Assistant Superintendent of Police, Juniad Sheikh, has transformed the situation at Unilever into that of a police state. Police checkpoints have been set up in every corner and the workers and their families are now under constant threat. The Police authorities and the Unilever management have joined hands to curb the workers' protest. Now the workers and their families are besieged in their own homes under this Unilever state.

In spite of all these threats the Union and the workers have rejected the threats and have decided to stand up to this repression and cruelty. In the first phase of their protest they went to work wearing black ribbons, while banners were put up throughout the whole city against this repression.

In the history of the Unilever workers' union for the first time there was a crowded press conference that was called to protest against these repressive measures. Khalil Shahzad, president of the Unilever workers' union, the CBA, addressed the conference accompanied by the General Secretary of the Union, Syed Zaman Khan, and other office bearers. During the press conference the union leaders condemned the unlawful measures taken by management and presented the following demands:

1.      Day labourers and Contract Labour should be made permanent immediately and should be granted the same facilities as permanent workers.

2.      Third party system of production should be abolished and all products should be manufactured in the Unilever Plant.

3.      Legal cases against union leaders should be immediately withdrawn.

4.      Police patrolling and checkpoints should be withdrawn immediately.

5.      Strict measures should be implemented against managers and police officers involved in anti-labour activities.

If these demands not met then the Unilever workers, along with the workers of other industries in Rahim Yar Khan, will start a protest and continue until the end of this brutal attack.

The Rahim Yar Khan PTUDC held an emergency meeting on this question and voted to support the cause of the Unilever workers. An appeal to the workers and trade unions in various parts of the country has been issued to condemn this attack.

In a statement issued by comrade Manzoor Ahmed, president of the PTUDC and Member of the National Assembly, he expressed solidarity with the cause of workers of Unilever Pakistan and explained that only by overthrowing this brutal capitalist system can we achieve complete emancipation.

We also appeal to the workers of the world and especially to workers of Unilever in other countries to support the workers of Unilever Pakistan and express their solidarity to stop these brutal and cruel measures of the capitalists and their stooges.

As an injury to one is an injury to all!


If you read the Unilever website you would think that all is well at the company and that it really cares about people. You will also find their updated reports on profit levels at:

http://www.unilever.com/Images/ir_q207_english_final_tcm13-98961.pdf . They are doing rather nicely, and this is partially based on super-exploitation of workers such as those in Pakistan. It has also been accused of exploiting child labour in countries like India (see http://www.expatica.com/actual/article.asp?subchannel_id=65&story_id=67).

We suggest our readers write to them and explain what their management is doing at Unilever Pakistan and demand that they put an end to these draconian measures and meet the demands of the workers. Raise this also in your trade union and get protest letters/emails sent off.

You can write to them at the addresses below:

Model Letter:

Dear Sir or Madam,

It has been brought to our notice that working conditions in your Unilever plant in Pakistan (Rahim Yar Khan) are totally unacceptable. You already pay starvation wages, but your management in Pakistan are now attempting to make things even worse with further casualisation of labour.

The workers are now in protest and are demanding that "Day labourers" and "Contract Labour" should be made permanent immediately and should be granted the same facilities as permanent workers; the third party system of production should be abolished and all products should be manufactured in the Unilever Plant; legal cases against union leaders should be immediately withdrawn; police patrolling and checkpoints should be withdrawn immediately; and strict measures should be implemented against managers and police officers involved in anti-labour activities.

We call on you to accept these demands, which are the minimum required to allow these workers decent wages and working conditions.

Yours,

...............

Unilever Pakistan:

Fareshteh Aslam,
External Communications Manager
Unilever Pakistan Ltd
Avari Plaza
Fatima Jinnah Road
PO Box 220
Karachi 75530

T: +92 21 566 0870
F: +92 21 568 0918
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Naila Ismail
Corporate Relations Manager
Unilever Pakistan Ltd
Avari Plaza
Fatima Jinnah Road
PO Box 220
Karachi 75530

T: +92 21 566 0062 Ext 2527
F: +92 21 568 0918
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Unilever UK

 

Unilever UK Foods,

Head Office, Brooke House
Manor Royal,
Crawley,
West Sussex, RH10 9RQ

Telephone: 01293 648000

You can also send the company a message via this link:

http://www.unilever.co.uk/resources/contactus.asp

or email their UK Press Office at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or phone: +44 (0)208 439 6256

Send copies of anything to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. so that this can be passed to the workers at Unilever Pakistan.