Thursday, January 19, 2012

IF CARLSBERG MADE PROFITS......Baltic trouble brewing

THE well-known Carlsberg beer ads alomg the "If Carlsberg made ...(e.g. cars)" theme, suggesting that whatever the Danish brewery turned its mind to would excel, were amusing. Its lager isn't bad either, I've got a few cans waiting in my fridge right now. But as Carlsberg has gone global in pursuit of greater profit, its reputation as an employer is going a bit off.

Carlsberg is attacking trade union rights in Lithuania with the support of the country's legal system, which has declared beer production an "essential service". Since they were not only freed from the Soviet Union but brought into the European Union, the Baltic states seem to have become a laboratory for undermining workers rights, so we best sit up and pay attention.

Here is a report from the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel and Allied Workers(IUF):

On June 10 last year members of the IUF-affilitated Lithuanian Trade Union of Food Producers (LPMS) voted in favour of strike action at the Carlsberg brewery in Lithuania in support of their demand for a decent company-level collective agreement.

Management sought to stop the strike and applied to the court with a petition to declare the strike ballot procedure invalid and the strike illegal, and demanded compensation for litigation costs. The company not only tried to stop the strike and declare it illegal but also argued that no strike action was possible until the "high season" had passed.

The Klaipeda district court on June 20 suspended the start of the planned strike for 30 days based on a dubious determination that the production of beer was recognized as 'vitally essential' in Lithuania.

On the July 5, 2011 the Klaipeda city district court ruled that the strike was legal. Carlsberg Lithuania management appealed this decision. On August 5, 2011 the Klaipeda regional court annulled the decision of the lower court, ruling that the brewery strike announced in June was illegal.

The court decision to rule the strike illegal is based on the following astonishing grounds: "The collective agreement is in compliance with the Labour Code because the wages of Carlsberg employees are above the market level, jobs are maintained and wages are not reduced." With this absurd ruling, the court is attempting to legitimize Carlsberg's attempt to freeze wages for three years by declaring a legitimate strike unlawful.

The union has appealed the regional court decision to a higher court, where it is still under appeal, and submitted a complaint to the ILO which the IUF has formally supported and which will now be examined by the Committee on Freedom of Association.

The brewery sector is unlikely to be considered an essential service by the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association! We therefore expect the ILO to condemn a court decision to suspend a strike for an unreasonable period as denying the right to strike in contravention of international labour standards

Carlsberg Lithuania management has stepped up its anti-union aggression by pressuring union leaders and activists at the plant through disciplinary action. Furthermore the company initiated a police enquiry against workers who joined the picket line to protest the suspension of the strike. Since then, 9 workers who were active in protest actions have been dismissed on the grounds of 'lost production'. These 9 dismissed workers are now reengaged, but on temporary contracts, punishing them for their union activities in the plant.

Carlsberg's healthy 2011 profits have produced global job cuts and attacks on trade union rights in Lithuania. You can support the Lithuanian beer workers' struggle by sending a message to Carlsberg, the 4th largest global brewery, and the government of Lithuania calling on the company and government to stop violating fundamental trade union rights in Lithuania. Use the form below to insist they act to ensure that rights are respected.

Click here to send a message.

Apparently Carlsberg's subsidiary in Cambodia has also run into trouble. Women employed to promote the brew demanded overtime payments, and thanks to support from hotel workes and bars deciding not to stock the disputed brew, and the local authority in Phnom Penh saying the workers should be paid in the interest of public order, the workers appear to have won.

If we don't want workers' rights in the European Union to fall behind those in poor Cambodia then the Lithuanian brewery workers must get wide support. And whatever we think about beer as an "essential service", I don't mind doing without my Carlsberg if need be to help the strike.

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