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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Chile

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Chile, 9 June 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c4fec862a.html [accessed 29 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 17,000,000
Capital: Santiago
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The year 2009 was marked by frequent recourse to subcontracting as a strategy to obstruct the right to organise. Private companies such as LAN or ARAUCO S.A. continued to deploy tactics aimed at undermining labour rights and trade unionism. The Chilean government raised by 50% the sanctions against companies implementing anti-union practices. Trade union activities are hampered by a range of excessive restrictions.

Trade union rights in law

Problematic areas exist in the labour law despite basic trade union rights being guaranteed. Workers have the right to join and form unions without prior authorisation. However, the law grants broad powers to the Directorate of Labour to supervise the accounts and financial and property transactions of unions.

Collective bargaining is only guaranteed at the company level. In addition, it is of a "voluntary" nature, and is cumbersome for higher-level union organisations and union alliances. The right is further circumscribed by the fact that many workers in state-sponsored entities are excluded from collective bargaining, as are workers with apprenticeship contracts and those employed for specific tasks. Non-union workers are also allowed to propose collective agreements, even if a union exists at the workplace.

Furthermore, while the right to strike is recognised, there are many limitations. A lawful strike must be approved by an absolute majority of the employees of an enterprise, disputes can be referred to compulsory arbitration in many companies, and all strikes must be carried out within three days of the decision to call it. Workers in the public sector are prohibited from striking. Under certain circumstances, the President can order the resumption of work, and striking workers can also be replaced. Finally, those who participate in an unlawful strike can face imprisonment or banishment to a different region.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: The political climate was intense throughout the year in Chile, with presidential and legislative elections being held in December. No single candidate was able to secure an absolute majority in the presidential race. As a result, Eduardo Frei of the Concertación coalition and Sebastián Piñera of the Coalition for Change had to face a second round of votes, scheduled for January 2010. The political parties within Concertación have been in power for almost 20 years, since the political transition following the end of military rule in 1990. In 2009, they prepared to face a possible right-wing victory. In the parliamentary elections, both the Concertación parties and the Coalition won the majority of the seats in Congress, with a difference of just one seat in favour of the Coalition.

Trade union and workers' organisations took to the streets as of early 2009 to press the government for a sweeping reform of the pension system and its administration. The trade union delegates attending the 98th International Labour Conference called on the Chilean government to bring a structural solution to the serious problems with the pension system.

Number of companies sanctioned for anti-union practices almost doubled: The Labour Directorate announced that the number of companies sanctioned for anti-union practices during the second half of 2009 went from 19 to 32. The sectors receiving the most fines were commerce, manufacturing and security. The most heavily fined companies were printing firm Printax S.A. and the private school Helénico, for the unfair dismissal of workers whose jobs are legally protected given their status as trade union representatives. As well as being fined, companies are excluded from the public procurement system, and have to pay compensation to the workers affected.

Practices promoting precarious employment and obstructing unionisation: During 2009, public and private sector employers continued to widely use subcontracting as a means of undermining workers' rights and guarantees and obstructing trade unionism. At least two thirds of workers in metal manufacturing companies are employed on precarious contracts, depriving them of adequate social protection, decent working conditions and the right to unionise.

Union bashing at LAN Airlines: In July, LAN Airlines Chile dismissed three union representatives, Juan Martínez, Carlos Sarmiento and Mario Ricci. This anti-union measure was one of a series of practices violating organising rights, aimed at weakening the union's power to act. In addition, the company, which has branches in other countries, is developing a policy of precarious employment, making increased use of subcontracting and outsourcing arrangements.

Freedom of association and labour rights flouted at Arauco S.A.: On 24 September, some 20,000 workers at the forestry company Arauco S.A. staged a stoppage to demand recognition of the right to equal pay for all workers at the company, including those who are subcontracted. The forestry sector is characterised by the high level of labour subcontracting, through which companies outsource their activities without respect for trade union and labour rights. During the dispute, the company denied the workers' right to collective bargaining by sector, stating that "each union has to negotiate directly with their employers, the subcontractors". Subcontracting is thus used to circumvent the exercise of trade union rights.

Global Workers' Committee refused entry to Gerdau plant in Chile: On 15 October, a delegation of the Gerdau Global Workers' Committee was refused entry to the company's plant in Chile. The committee gathered in front of the factory and handed over a letter to the management, protesting against the anti-union measure. The letter also called for a solution to the various disputes between the company and the trade unions in the region.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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