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Chemical workers in Latin America highlight the importance of union networks

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9 February, 2021Workers in the chemicals, petrochemicals, pharmaceutical and plastics sector in Latin America and the Caribbean highlighted the importance of strengthening union networks to ensure that companies respect the rights of workers in all countries where they operate.

As the pandemic rages on, its impacts are still felt around the world. Hundreds of companies have closed down their operations in Latin America, using the economic crisis caused by the pandemic to justify their actions. Thousands of workers have lost their jobs and their only source of income.

"Ford, for instance, has closed its plants in Brazil, forcing other companies along the supply chain to shut down their operations as well. The entire chemicals sector has been affected. We need to work together in order to limit the suffering of workers around the world. We need to strengthen union networks, like the one at Bayer,"

said Lucineide Varjão, president of IndustriALL affiliate CNQ/CUT and member of IndustriALL’sExecutive Committee, at the regional meeting of the chemicals sector on 5 February.

Participants highlighted the importance of strengthening IndustriALL’s union networks at specific companies, like Bayer and BASF. The BASF network played a fundamental role when holding meetings with the company during the pandemic. The network also managed to get BASF to publish a Covid-19 newsletter mentioning the agreements reached in each country, helping to ensure that there were almost no layoffs.

Participants also spoke about the need to discuss how working from home is implemented in certain companies and its impact on workers, especially women. The president of Fequimfar and the sector co-chair, Sergio Luiz Leite, said that legislation in Brazil allowed companies to come to individual agreements with each worker without involving the union. Companies also pressured employees to work from home without having regulations in place.

In addition, Tom Grinter, IndustriALL director of chemicals and pharmaceuticals, pulp and paper, and rubber industries, gave an overview of the global situation and the 2021 union agenda for his sectors.

Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant secretary general,  added:

"Employers and governments are undermining workers' rights with their labour reforms. Many companies have used the public health crisis as an excuse to lay off workers. And the crisis has also sped up the transition to Industry 4.0.

“At IndustriALL, we have a longstanding responsibility to strengthen union power, confront global capital through campaigns and industrial relations, be the voice of workers and drive this far-reaching transformation, which we are a key part of. The future is in our hands – we need to build it together."