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Pulp and paper workers in Latin America fight for collective bargaining

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2 March, 2021Unions and federations from Latin America's pulp and paper industry have agreed to fight together to safeguard their rights to collective bargaining and health and safety in the workplace, and to strengthen company-wide union networks.

Union leaders from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay met with regional and global representatives from IndustriALL to discuss the situation of paper and pulp workers in the region and come up with a work plan and timetable for the sector in 2021.

Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL's assistant general secretary, and Tom Grinter, director of chemicals and pharmaceuticals, pulp and paper, and rubber industries at IndustriAL, both addressed the meeting. Özkan spoke about how companies are constantly attacking workers' rights, particularly in the context of the global pandemic.

"We see workers' fundamental rights being undermined as a result of Covid-19 restrictions. In a number of countries, workers cannot negotiate collectively or hold strikes and peaceful assemblies. And reforms are being brought in to dismantle employment legislation. We need to show a united front and stand together to overcome these challenges,"

said Özkan.

Both IndustriALL's regional secretary, Marino Vani, and the deputy regional secretary, Cristian Alejandro Valerio, agreed that is was important to remain united and keep moving forward with plans in order to address current challenges.

In addition, Grinter provided details of the union agenda for his sectors in 2021. He spoke about the need to strengthen company-wide union networks, especially in firms such as International Paper, Essity, Stora Enso, Amcor, Sappi, WestRock, Kimberly Clark, Norske Skog and CMPC.

Participants expressed their support for the workers of Finnish forestry company UPM, which has announced that, from 2022, it will no longer engage in any kind of collective agreements for salaried employees and that all terms of work will be negotiated on an individual basis. The company’s workers are being completely stripped of their rights to bargain and to equal pay and terms of employment.

This comes after the Finnish Forest Industries Federation announced that it was reforming its statutes and would no longer take part in nationwide collective bargaining. Instead all negotiations on working conditions will be conducted at the company level.

The Latin American unions expressed their concerns that this approach would spread to other countries and companies. In response, they agreed to continue working together in solidarity to fight for domestic legislation that safeguards their fundamental rights.