Month-long strike at Lustucru

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Following the recent acquisition of Lustucru pasta, flour and rice plants in France from the Skalli group by Paribas Affaires Industrielles, the major shareholder in the Panzani pasta company, some of the Lustucru operations must be sold off to a third party to avoid a possible monopoly situation for Panzani. The workforce at the Lustucru plants in Marseilles and Arles, fearing their jobs might be in jeopardy, went on strike between 13 May and 13 June 2002, at the instigation of the CGT trade union. The strikers returned to work following the negotiation of a financial package with management.

The Skalli group recently decided to sell the Lustucru pasta, flour and rice plants (with a turnover of EUR 369 million) of its Rivoire & Carret Lustucru (RCL) subsidiary to Paribas Affaires Industrielles, the major shareholder in the Panzani pasta company. In an attempt to avoid creating a monopoly situation for Panzani, which, by acquiring Lustucru, would hold approximately 50% of the market, the Competition, Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards Department (Direction Générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des Fraudes, DGCCRF) insisted on certain conditions being attached to the transaction. Consequently, the acquiring party pledged to sell off part of Lustucru's 'dried pasta' operation – the former Rivoire & Carret company – to a third party by 30 June 2002.

A strike broke out on 2 June 2002 at RCL's Marseilles head office, due to be relocated to Panzani's Lyons headquarters. The company was able quickly to defuse the dispute at its head office by reaching an agreement with the French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff-General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (Confédération française de l'encadrement-Confédération générale des cadres, CFE-CGC), whereby redundancy-related provisions would be inserted into the contract of sale.

However, the General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT) called a strike at Lustucru's rice-processing and dried-pasta production plants in Arles and Marseilles, which lasted for 30 days from 13 May. Workers at these plants feared that Panzani would be interested only in the more lucrative Lustucru fresh-produce operations and would sell off the dried pasta division. Workers were demanding that the identity of the acquiring party be disclosed and that Panzani make specific commitments on the type and number of jobs to be eventually axed, reclassified or transferred. In addition, they were demanding a financial compensation package for workers made redundant by the new owner and an overall 8% wage increase.

The Arles and Marseilles workers were also demanding a 'change of ownership payment' corresponding to 2% of the EUR 500 million sale price to be paid to the plants' former owners, the Skalli group, amounting to EUR 1,200 per year of service for all 660 employees. Skalli rejected this demand, making a counter-offer of a company-wide EUR 1,000 holiday bonus plus a 2% wage increases. The CGT trade union representative, referring to the unprecedented nature of the workers' demands, invoked employee sacrifice as justification, claiming that '20 years of unstinting toil by Lustucru workers have made the company the success it is today. Bernard Skalli is able to get such a high price for Lustucru today only because of his workers.'

The strikers also raised funds from local companies and obtained the support of the the General Confederation of Labour-Force ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail-Force ouvrière, CGT-FO), which has a union representative at the Arles plant.

The Lustucru plants were totally blockaded, and local courts in Marseilles and Tarascon granted management expulsion orders against striking workers picketing plant entrances. Prior to this action of last resort, talks had been convened on 9 June under the auspices of the Labour Inspectorate, but without success. The dispute hardened on 12 June when the CRS riot police intervened to clear the entrance to the Marseilles and Arles plants so as to allow non-striking staff to enter the premises. CGT put the number of non-striking workers at 20% of the 276-strong workforce, whereas management figures estimated their number at 60% and 50% at Arles and Marseilles respectively.

A new round of talks was convened, once again under the auspices of the Labour Inspectorate. The strikers went back to work on 13 June, after Lustucru's senior management agreed to: a 2% wage increase; an EUR 150 increase in the annual EUR 500 holiday bonus; a 'back-to-work bonus' of EUR 380; a week's wages for the strike period; and an additional redundancy provision guaranteeing workers who lose their jobs between four and eight months' pay in addition to the usual redundancy entitlements. However, workers failed to obtain their demand of 2% of the EUR 500 million sale price as a 'change of ownership payment' and still do not know the identity of the new owner.

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