Hunger strike at Coca Cola Romania
At the end of April 2005, a labour dispute broke out at Coca Cola Romania, with employees claiming a 20% pay rise and the amendment of many articles of the former collective agreement. Prior to some other forms of protest, eight employees went on a hunger strike. Workers received support from trade union federations at sector and national level.
On 27 April 2005, shortly before the Easter Holiday (which fell on 1 May in Romania this year), the Free Trade Union in Coca Cola Romania (Sindicatul Liber din cadrul Coca Cola România, SLCC), representing around one fifth of the total company personnel, announced that it was about to launch a labour dispute as negotiations with the management had failed.
According to trade union leader Adrian Dobrescu, while employees claim a pay rise of at least 15%, the management offered just 4% for workers in the soft drinks department; the increase falls short of covering even the inflation forecast for the current year. Nevertheless, the management approved a 17-18% increase for workers in the mineral waters department, as 300 of employees here earned wages below the company average: ROL 4 million (around EUR 110) amonth.
Employees claim that their wages are much lower compared to other countries although in 2004 Coca Cola HBC Romania, Coca Cola, ranked high in sales volume among the 26 countries where the group operates.
The former collective agreement covering the period 2004-5 expired on 21 April 2005 and negotiations for a new agreement failed. Wages remain the main contention, while additional controversies are caused by some 25-33 articles of the collective agreement related to working hours, payment of overtime, hours worked on public holidays, sick leave and vacations and provision of redundancy pay, as well as inclusion of trade union representatives in the Board of Administration and professional evaluation commissions.
SLCC notified the management of the unsettled issues. Under the law, a negative answer from or failure to give an answer on the part of the employer within 48 hours triggers a collective dispute.
Despite disagreements the company management decided unilaterally to grant Easter bonuses to employees. 'We wish to continue negotiations. Our policy is to increase employee performance benefits and we will continue to implement the policy regardless of negotiation results.'
Initially, the trade union announced it would call a warning strike in the first week of May 2005, followed by an all-out strike. The legal procedure for labour dispute registration took longer than expected so the initial timeframe was not observed.
Subsequently, employees received support to resolve their claims from branch and national trade union federations.
The Food Industry Trade Union Federation (Federaţia Sindicatelor din Industria Alimentară, FSIA), declared that the average wage in Coca Cola is ROL 13-15 million (EUR 360-414). Some 17% of employees are very highly paid and their cumulated income amounts to half the paybill, while the rest of the employees earn less than the average company wages, namely around ROL 8 million ie around EUR 220.
On 17 May 2005, trade unions announced they were not giving up and claimed for a 20% pay rise. They also announced the first form of protest - a hunger strike.
Meanwhile, the management’ offer rose to a 7-10% pay-rise. The management argued that employees’ claims are not related solely to wages, they also include other payments, which would mean a 34% overall increase of the total labour cost for the company. The management also stressed the fact that company employees have long been receiving additional benefits such as meal vouchers, free-of-charge healthcare services, religious holidays and vacation bonuses.
On 24 May 2005, at 20.00, eight employees of Coca Cola Romania went on a 4-day hunger strike outside the company office buildings. While declaring it to be a regrettable incident, the management perceive it as a form of pressure that can hardly help settle the conflict.
Cartel Alfa Confederation (Confederaţia Cartel Alfa, Cartel Alfa), one of the five nationally representative trade union organisations in Romania RO0307101F, took a stand in favour of Coca Cola employees. Expressing also regrets that such a form of protest had been resorted to, Cartel Alfa requested the intervention of the United States Embassy in Bucharest.
Although both employees and employers have repeatedly declared they are open to dialogue and willing to continue negotiations, no agreement has been reached yet and trade unions have announced that a warning strike and a general strike respectively are imminent.
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