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Nestlé Nails Workers to Sub-Poverty Line Wages, Intimidation Stepped Up

At a conciliation session on Wednesday January 17 Nestlé management adamantly refused to meet the union’s demand for moving Nestlé employees' wages at least close to where the poverty line is.

The Poverty Wage Line in Fiji was defined as F$3.50 an hour several years ago, a figure that did not even take into account the cost of having a roof over the head.

Even so, management simply refused to increase wages beyond F$2.70 an hour effective from January 1, 2007.

This is unacceptable to the workers on two counts: the hourly rate is too far below the poverty line and the retrospective effect date ignores the date when the union has the right to begin bargaining i.e. August 2005. By refusing to agree to a legitimate effectivity date, the management can endlessly delay negotiation.

On its part, the workers reduced their original demand from F$3.50 an hour to F$3.20 an hour in an effort to reach agreement but insisted that this should be effective from August 2005 i.e. when their union, the IUF-affiliated Fiji Sugar and General Workers Union (FSGWU) secured recognition for collective bargaining. It is recalled that management had maneuvered hard to prevent union recognition prior to that.

During 2006 management intransigence led workers at the Nestlé factory to vote overwhelmingly to take industrial action in September 2006. Management's measly offers would still leave workers far below the poverty line.

In October 2006, IUF-affiliated unions representing Nestlé workers in the region wrote to Nestlé headquarters in Switzerland voicing their dissatisfaction with sub-poverty line wage rates, protesting at the failure of management to bargain in good faith and stating their solidarity with workers in Fiji.

Since that time Nestlé management have continued to stonewall.

At the end of an inconclusive conciliation session mediated by the Department of Labour on January 17, the union asked to go before Arbitration and a date will be determined soon.

While accepting arbitration reluctantly, the management have launched a campaign of subtle intimidation at the plant by trying to divide workers and pressure them to accept below poverty line wages. (Watch this space for more news about this.)

Nestlé is the largest food TNC in the world with annual income of over US$70 billion (by comparison Fiji's Gross Nation Income is US$2.4 billion and New Zealand's is US$81.2 billion). While the company has announced record profits, it seems the company feels no need to pay workers fair wages.

This is shameful to say the least.

Does Nestlé management need reminding that according to para 34 of the ILO’s Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy 1977:

"Transnational Companies operating in developing countries should provide the best possible wages, benefits and conditions of work … at least adequate to satisfy basic needs of workers and their families."?

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