Bavaria finally agrees to negotiate collective bargaining agreement with its trade unions

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The agreement was reached after a 9-month struggle and with the mediation of the ILO —
— Negotiations will start on 30 March —

After nine months of refusing to recognize its trade unions and sidestepping calls by them to negotiate a set of demands, and after nine years of insisting that the existing collective agreement was the only basis for the employment relationship between it and its staff, the brewing multinational has finally agreed to start the process of negotiating a new collective agreement. If everything goes to plan this should begin no later than 11 March.

Two trade unions – Sinaltrainbec (covering the drinks industry) and Sintraceba (the union at the Barranquilla plant) – have signed an agreement with Bavaria under which the company agrees to recognize both organizations and to start negotiations on a set of demands presented by the unions on 29 May 2011. These are the same demands that the brewer had always refused to negotiate, using a combination of legal chicanery and the systematic persecution of unionized workers.

The negotiations will progress in tandem at Bavaria S.A and Cervecería del Valle, a separate company that is also owned by South African multinational SABMiller. Although the negotiations will be simultaneous, separate sets of demands will be discussed.
Bavaria currently employs 5,000 workers directly at its plants in Barranquilla, Cali, Bucaramanga, Duitama and Tocancipá, with over 6,000 employed via contractors on an outsourcing basis.

The ILO: key to the agreement

According to Fabio Arias, who advised the Colombian trade union federation the CUT throughout the process, the workers’ success at Colombia’s largest drinks company was the result of determined struggle and mobilisation by Sinaltrainbec and Sintraceba, who managed to resist provocation and persecution by the company. But international pressure, and particularly that of the ILO, also played its part.

“The report of the ILO High Level Mission that visited the country at the start of 2011 provided a basis for exerting pressure on Bavaria to accept the demand for collective negotiations with trade union organisations instead of insisting on the existing collective agreement,” adds the director of the CUT, who also pointed out that, since 2004, when Bavaria ceased to belong to the Grupo Santodomingo and was acquired by SABMiller, the company’s relationship with its workers has been covered by a collective agreement. And one of the key demands under negotiation is for the gradual replacement of this agreement.

The ILO participated through the offices of the Special Committee for the Handling of Conflicts Referred to the ILO (CETCOIT), a body that has been active during the last four years in Colombia, with the aim of mediating between employers and workers, seeking to promote social dialogue as a means of defending freedom of association.

The agreement was signed on 21 January at the Department of Employment, attended by representatives of the trade unions and the company, and also by delegates of the CUT, the employers’ federation, ANDI, and the CETCOIT. All parties agreed to respect the principles of the right to trade union membership and collective bargaining set out in ILO conventions 87, 98 and 151.

The fact that the mediation committee of the CETCOIT included Carmen Moreno, regional director of the ILO for the Andean Region, gives an indication of the importance of this agreement. The meeting was also observed by Nancy Laos Cáceres, the Peruvian Labour Minister, who was interested in finding out about the experience of the CERCOIT in Colombia.
Withdrawal of complaints and allegations

On 29 January a meeting was scheduled to draw up the list of complaints, employment issues and criminal allegations raised by the company and trade unions alike in the course of the dispute, which must be withdrawn by both parties, including the fine imposed on Bavaria by the Department of Employment for its refusal to negotiate the demands submitted by the trade unions, consisting of five minimum monthly salaries for each day of delay in entering into negotiations.

On 11 February, a special session of the CENCOIT will verify whether the list of complaints and allegations has been withdrawn, and if the other conditions agreed have been met, in which case a 30-day countdown period to the collective bargaining negotiations will start, which will initially apply to the 500 unionised workers at Bavaria.

Carlos Ortiz, president of Sinaltrainbec, described the agreement as an important step towards resolving the conflict that has existed at Bavaria for the last nine months. He explained that the conditions under negotiation will be same as those submitted in May last year, with a few modifications.

The trade union leader said: “In general terms, the aim is to reestablish almost all of the provisions of the collective agreement signed between the now defunct union Sintrabavaria and the company 11 years ago, including salary rises, promotions, support and loans for education, housing and leisure. We also want the company to pay non-statutory bonuses to workers who have joined since 2004, as these are not covered by the collective agreement; and the company must recognize the length of service of workers who were employed by the Leona brewing company and associated labour cooperatives. With respect to outsourced staff, there is a point stating that the normal activities of the company are to be performed by direct employees.”

The trade union leader explained that it is very important to expand union membership, so that workers lose their fear of joining, with the union aiming in the medium term to represent the majority of Bavaria workers. A national assembly of delegates from different sections of the union will be held in Cali next week, in order to validate the process of approving the list of demands and to set in progress an affiliation plan for all the company’s plants in Colombia. Another assembly will be held by Sintraceba at Barranquilla for the same purpose.

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