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posted 17 May 2020, 03:27 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 17 May 2020, 03:32 ]
The restructuring of Unilever has resulted in the retrenchment of close to 180 workers, members of the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU), at the transnational company based in Champs Fleurs. The background to this situation was published on the website of the National Workers Union in June 2019.

This is a great blow to not only those workers, but also to the OWTU and to manufacturing workers in the East West Corridor. Since the famous four-and-a-half-month strike in 1984, which was marked by police violence, arrests and the forcible introduction of scabs under police protection, Unilever’s collective agreements over the years have been used as a benchmark for negotiating with other manufacturing companies

The once most powerful union in the Caribbean has been decimated by the loss of thousands of jobs including those at Petrotrin, UTT, Trinidad Cement, IOCL and Yara.

When Unilever retrenched workers, which was effective mid-January of this year, it immediately engaged contractors to undertake work which was previously performed by members of the bargaining units.

On the day that retrenchment notices were issued the company engaged the services of a sanitation contractor; having retrenched the entire sanitation department. They also engaged a warehouse contractor, having retrenched the entire warehouse team. A similar situation also occurred with respect to the customs department. All these services are to date still being provided by contractors.

Unilever's operation before the retrenchment/restructuring, comprised two productions centres: Homecare, which included a powder detergents plant and a liquid detergent plan and the Spreads Operation which produced margarines.

In addition to these plants there were ancillary services which supported the manufacturing operation. For example, engineering, laboratory, raw and packaging materials and engineering stores. There were other areas of the business which supported the sales, marketing and logistics side of the business, like customs, warehousing, sales etc.

When the business was restructured resulting in the retrenchment of workers, the company eliminated the homecare division, some of the ancillary services which supported those plants, as well as sales, warehouse and customs.

All the unionised positions in the warehouse (with the exception of three, who were directly related to Spreads Operations) and customs were retrenched. Some of the unionised positions in the sales department were also retrenched.

Those who were retained were transferred to management. In the manufacturing side, approximately 18 employees (from the homecare division, engineering and lab) were transferred to supplement the spread business.

The spreads business however is owned by Upfield and what exists between Unilever and Upfield, is a co-packing agreement. Essentially, Unilever's employees produce products for Upfield. This contract is expected to run to 2022.

These matters can be reported directly to the court as contraventions of the Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act. A job cannot be deemed to be redundant if it continues to be substantially performed by other persons. Unilever’s action may also be a violation of the collective agreement with reference to the contract clauses in the collective agreement with the Oilfields Workers Trade Union.

It is clear that working people are coming under tremendous pressure as capitalist corporations restructure in an attempt to maintain profitability for their shareholders at the expense of their workers. But pressure does bus’ pipe. Or as the Jamaican Rastafarian poet Bongo Jerry put it: “Sooner or later

But mus’
The dam going to bus’ and
Every man will break out
And who will stop them?
The force?
What force can stop this river of man…”