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Stronger unions fight precarious work in Latin America

28 November, 2014IndustriALL’s Precarious Work Project in Latin America held a national seminar in Chile, with affiliates from Chile, Colombia and Brazil. Participants shared experiences and successful strategies in strengthening their union through organizing precarious workers

IndustriALL Global Union Chilean affiliate Constramet, will at the end of November ratify the transformation of the confederation of steel workers into a national sectoral union. In the seminar on precarious work, the representatives of Constramet highlighted the importance of this transformation aiming at building a stronger union and responding to the many challenges that trade unions face in Chile nowadays, notably the explosion of precarious work.

In 2012, 17 per cent of Chilean workers were contract or temporary agency workers. Mining and manufacturing sectors are particularly affected by the expansion of precarious work with 70 per cent of the workers being outsourced.

Echoing Constramet’s initiative, Colombian affiliates USO, Sintracarbón, Sintraelecol presented the results of their efforts to unionize and internalize precarious workers. In two years, Sintraelecol has managed to organize 1,400 precarious workers. Today 80 per cent of USO’s members are precarious workers and they are part of union leadership at regional and national levels.

During recent negotiations of a new collective agreement with Ecopetrol, USO was able to mobilize Ecopetrol’s 38,000 outsourced workers during a one day strike. USO has also initiated a process to internalize much of the work subcontracted by the oil company.

To date, Sintracarbón has managed to unionize 3,200 of the 8,000 subcontracted workers at the open pit mine Carbones de Cerrejón. Since 2011 the union has managed to regularize more than 800 outsourced workers and negotiate 11 collective agreements. Today, outsourced workers have access to bonuses, social security, holidays.

At the seminar, the Constramet and the FTC (Federacion de Trabajadores del Cobre) decided to continue to support to the new bill modifying Chilean labor law on subcontracting. The modifications, proposed by the CUT with the support of IndustriALL affiliates, have been included in the new government labour policy. The bill provides for the prohibition of the use of outsourced or temporary agency workers in the core activities of a company. Furthermore, it aims to put an end to the MultiRUT’s system (multiplication of legal personality of the same company), which allows a company to ignore its responsibility as an employer.

The federations of the chemical, metal, construction and textile workers of Brazilian union CUT shared their struggle against a bill presented to Congress that would have allowed outsourcing core activities in companies. Brazilian affiliates stressed the importance of unified action in the fight against precarious work.

"Precarious work is an international scourge. These contracts are worthless as precarious workers don’t get any benefits. The unionization of precarious workers is only a stone laid on the long path toward the elimination of precarious work”,

 said Sintracarbón’s representative