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Union takes legal action against anti-union SQM

3 February, 2015The National Confederation of Metalworkers (CONSTRAMET) / Industriall Chile, has taken further legal action against SQM Industrial S.A. and SQM Nitratos S.A. for violating workers’ basic rights. In response, the company has taken reprisals against its employees and continues to employ anti-trade union practices.

SQM is the world’s biggest producer of lithium. It is currently mired in controversy because of a series of financial irregularities. It has also violated the basic rights of its workers, who have suffered reprisals and been the victims of anti-trade union practices. The company also dismissed two workers and the union is seeking their reinstatement.

We are taking legal action because of the violation of basic rights, trade union rights and the freedom of association, which is a right that is not only in our labour legislation but also in the Constitution”, said Miguel Soto, the union’s general secretary.

SQM called into question since 2012

The company has had problems for years. In 2012, it won a Special Lithium Operations Contract after offering US$ 40 million for the concession. The contract was for exploration and the production of up to 100,000 tonnes of metallic lithium over 20 years. However, the Special Tender Committee (CEL) declared the tendering process invalid after ascertaining that SQM had not complied with tender rules.

SQM was also involved in the Cascada Case, in which minority shareholders of the Cascada companies accused it of irregularities. The Securities and Insurance Regulator (SVS) investigated the company for possible infringements of the Securities Market Act and the Corporations Act.  Finally, the company is being investigated for its part in a tax fraud scheme that used false invoices in what is known as the Pentagate case.

A company that does not respect workers’ rights

On 6 December 2014, Boris Chaile and Cristian Rojo, employed at the SQM subsidiary Salar, were elected leaders of the Inter-Company Union of Metalworkers. A few days later, the company dismissed both of them after invoking the “needs of the company” clause in Article 161 of the Labour Code. However this failed to recognize the job security rights of elected union leaders.

On 21 January 2015, the Labour Inspectorate at Calama asked the company to reinstate the leaders but the company refused. The workers suffered further reprisals and were the victims of company anti-trade union practices. CONSTRAMET therefore took further legal action against the company for violating basic rights.

Instead of defending the workers, company managers threatened them with reprisals if they continued as members of the Inter-Company union. The managers told the workers that that they ran the risk of being dismissed.

Miguel Soto believes that the company is trying to undermine the right to collective bargaining. With the support of a company union, it has refused to negotiate and has imposed collective employment contracts.