We at ILRF were thrilled to hear that the long-running campaign by workers at the Unilever/Lipton tea factory in Khanewal has resulted in a successful settlement. 200 workers have received permanent employment and back wages, as a result of which they will receive livable wages and better job security. The struggles and perseverance of the Pakistani workers drew a number of international groups to their side, including the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF), the Dutch Decent Work campaign, the Tropical Commodity Coalition, the Center for Research on International Corporations, the India Committee of the Netherlands and the MVO Platform.
The lives of the 200 Khanewal workers and their families
have been greatly improved by the settlement.
Worldwide the number of contract workers and precarious work continues to grow – the favorable settlement received by the Khanewal workers is unfortunately more the exception than the rule. Workers hired on “temporary” contracts or through an agency regularly receive a fraction of the wages of permanent workers, have little or no benefits, and no job security. These workers are often legally barred from forming or joining a union; where it is possible the precarious nature of their work makes it more difficult to exercise and defend their rights. Indeed, contract workers are frequently used by management to reduce the power of a union and replace those workers who actively defend their rights. More on this subject can be found here, in the Freedom At Work section of our website.
Unilever, the parent company of Lipton and owner of the Khanewal factory, has been a case study in the rise of contract labor. A report on the company has shown that over the last 30 years turnover almost doubled while the workforce has been halved (a drop of 150,000 workers!). How is this possible? The magic of contract labor and “restructuring” means that an estimated 300,000 workers who produce Unilever products are not directly employed by the company.
Lipton has recently promoted itself as a company that is committed to improving its workers lives. The question left unanswered by this statement is how they will treat the hundreds of thousands of workers who contribute directly to their company but are not legally employed by them. Khanewal took the eyes and attention of numerous groups to be resolved, surely Unilever can do a better job of If Unilever is serious about improving the lives of all their workers, they will welcome stronger third party monitoring and establish a system that can effectively enforce rights and labor standards for both regular and contact workers. The workers at Khanewal have been an example of determination and dedication to a cause, and their international partners have done amazing work to bring their predicament into the open. Congratulations to the Khanewal workers who now have permanent status. For many others who continue to toil in the margins, the fight goes on.