Striking Unilever workers seeking just compensation for their transfer to Sodexo made a dramatic appearance at the FNV Bondgenoten Congress in the Hague on March 21, calling on the company to meet their demands.

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Union members are now in their fifth week of industrial action and have been on continuous strike since March 14.

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One of the strikers, Tiny van Haren, told the IUF “I’ve been employed by Unilever in Oss for 46 years. I feel that it’s a bad deal to now have to experience this transfer to a company like Sodexo.”

Another striker, John Voorzaat, said “I’ve been working for Unilever at Nassaukade for 27 years, but because of the outsourcing to Sodoxo I’m losing a big part of my future pension, and after 6 years I will have also have to pay a bigger pension contribution. I think that Unilever can do more, I’ve earned that respect.”

Unilever knows this, but is refusing to negotiate.

Boosted by strong sales growth of Magnum ice cream, Unilever recently announced that CEO Polman’s compensation for an “exceptional” 2012 rose to a total GBP 6 milliion, or USD 9 million,

Polman’s base salary will increase 3.6 percent to GBP 1.01 million pounds in 2013, following a 6 percent increase last July.

The total package includes GBP 250,000 in ‘fixed allowance’, GBP 116,000 in pensions and GBP 288,000 in additional benefits, up from GBP 26,000 the previous year.

As the strikers say, Unilever can do more.

The Sodexo IUF global framework agreement was the platform to enable Sodexo workers from La Loma, a mining region of Colombia to gain their first collective agreement. Claims for the collective agreement were first forwarded to the company in February 2012 but at first Sodexo refused to recognise SICO, the workers union. According to the SICO National President Julio Ruben Padilla,the Company changed its mind and negotiated in good faith due to the resistance of the workers, support from the national federation CUT and through the intervention of the IUF.

Union recognition and union rights including union education and meetings were won in the Agreement. The union also negotiated wage increases, a formal disciplinary procedure, education aid for workers’ children and an education fund for workers.

Tough conflicts have marked the IUF engagement with Unilever, but the process has brought tangible results. On the eve of the meeting the IUF and its members at Unilever’s Kecap Bango joint venture in Subang, Indonesia secured over 600 new direct, permanent jobs for casual and contract workers after a lengthy struggle.

Tensions are inevitable, because the two sides bring different demands and expectations to the process. The latest meeting brought a deepening and widening of the agenda which is positive, and which could serve as a model for other transnational companies.

IUF general secretary Ron Oswald, representatives of IUF affiliates, representatives from the general and regional secretariats and a representative of IndustriAll met with corporate and regional management in London on March 5 to continue our engagement on key issues. While the core issue remains trade union rights and the denial of these rights in cases which threaten to spill over into sharp confrontation, the agenda has widened to include precarious work and the outsourcing of production, gender equality and global and health and safety policy.

Members of the IUF-affiliated Independent Union of Kecap Bango Workers (SPMKB) show their solidarity with the strikes and protest actions of the FNV Bondgenoten in the Netherlands, where the union is demanding decent transfer conditions for workers being outsourced to Sodexo.