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Latin American chemical sector workers prioritize networks

3 August, 2016The second meeting of Latin American chemical sector workers took place in Montevideo, Uruguay on 28-29 July. The meeting stressed the importance of strengthening regional networks in order to achieve change and improvements for workers in the industry.

Women and men from trade unions in the chemical sector in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Uruguay shared experiences on the situation in the chemical sector in these countries and in the rest of the world. They noted the challenges facing workers in a context of economic crisis, attacks on democracy, the spread of precarious work and the need to promote sustainable employment.

“It is clear that these are not easy times. Anti-union policies are posing major problems and challenges. We must organize and build up our collective strength throughout the world, so we can defend our rights and interests from the attacks of governments and companies. We are building sector level networks to promote cooperation, particularly in Latin America. We need to improve communications and focus on issues like health and safety and outsourcing,” said IndustriALL Global Union's assistant general secretary, Kemal Özkan at the start of the meeting.

The construction of sector level trade union networks was one of the main debating points at the meeting. Those present emphasized the importance of networks in promoting democracy and international solidarity. Unions in the chemicals industry can use them to exchange information on sectors, companies, collective agreements and membership recruitment strategies. All this kind of data is indispensable for building joint international action.

Participants made a start on the process of building networks by exchanging general information. IndustriALL representatives, Kemal Özkan, Jorge Almeida, IndustriALL regional secretary and Marino Vani, assistant regional secretary, made presentations on the current situation of the sector at the global level. Union representatives then each made a presentation about their region.

“We have made a lot of progress in forming networks, but there is still some resistance in the trade union movement. Some people understand its importance. Others do not – they want immediate results, which is impossible. I think we must focus on convincing workers of the importance of networks.  CUT and Força Sindical are committed to doing this in Brazil but it has to be a permanent process,” said Sérgio Luis Leite, president of FEQUIMFAR and joint president of IndustriALL’s chemicals sector.

Throughout the meeting, there was a dynamic discussion about labour and industrial relations in the chemicals, pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals sectors in Latin America and the Caribbean. The meeting stressed the need to increase union membership, fight outsourcing and increase solidarity in response to the constant dismissal of workers.

Participants stressed their intention to form strong networks to promote social dialogue between workers, employers and governments. They said that, at this moment of crisis, it is necessary to fight to maintain the conquests of workers and the assistance of governments is crucial in this task.

Women made a major contribution to the meeting. One speaker insisted on the need to ensure women’s participation in this type of meeting and to encourage women to attend the next IndustriALL world congress, to be held in Rio de Janeiro.

In an act of solidarity, participants wrote a letter of support for the peace process in Colombia and urged workers in that country to support the process. The conclusions produced by the meeting stated that the unions will broaden the scope of their discussions to include other issues in the sector, such as sustainability, the environment and the fourth industrial revolution.

Finally, Kemal Özkan and Sérgio Luis Leite attended the launch of the Inter-Trade Union Forum on the medicines value chain at the head office of the PIT CNT. The Uruguayan Minister for Labour and Social Security, Ernesto Murro and the Minister for Industry, Energy and Mining, Carolina Cosse, also attended the event and said they would help to make the initiative a success.