Last Updated: Monday, 24 November 2014, 15:18 GMT

2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Chile

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Chile, 8 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ea6621aa.html [accessed 24 November 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

Numerous trade union rights violations were seen during 2010, both in the public and private sectors. Working conditions remained precarious in strategic sectors of the Chilean economy, such as mining, and the right to organise, to negotiate and to strike were repeatedly violated. During the first half of 2010, 48 companies were fined for 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 2010

Background: Sebastián Piñera, of the right-wing Coalition for Change, won the 2010 elections, defeating the Concertación candidate and parties that had been in power for 20 years. In his government programme, the new president announced plans to create a million quality jobs over the next five years and to ratify ILO Convention 187 on occupational health and safety.

During 2010, deep-seated problems in the mining industry became more visible following a series of strikes and disputes at various mines, along with the accidents claiming the lives of at least 35 miners. A number of labour disputes were seen in the public sector. The national trade union centre CUT (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores) set up a commission on workers' health and safety, which recommended that the government adopt a policy on the matter. The country was hit by a massive earthquake in February that destroyed much of its infrastructure and housing. Trade unions and the government managed to come to an agreement on a reconstruction programme incorporating decent work.

Precarious contracts exploited to prevent unionisation: Employers continued to make fraudulent use of precarious contracts as a means of preventing unionisation and avoiding the cost of labour rights and benefits. A million workers were employed on precarious contracts in 2010, depriving them of rights and social protection, and only 8.3% of the workforce enjoyed collective bargaining rights. Labour outsourcing is common practice, as subcontracted workers are able to perform the same tasks as those with employment contracts but receive 40% less pay and cannot exercise the right to unionise, to bargain collectively or to strike.

Barrick Gold refuses to negotiate on improving miners' precarious working conditions: In February, miners at Barrick Gold held a work stoppage and, through the unions, demanded better pay and conditions. The workers have to cope with low temperatures, inadequate protection, long working hours, precarious facilities and equipment, and have to work at altitudes of above five thousand metres. The company refused to negotiate and to deal with the workers' grievances, arguing that it is up to the contactors to resolve problems related to work in the mines. Such grievances are a constant at the operations run by this multinational in countries across the American continent. Barrick has been accused of showing total disregard for workers' rights, failing to comply with the security standards for mining operations, deploying anti-union practices and causing irreparable damage to the environment.

Union busting at Universidad Austral de Chile: The Universidad Austral de Chile interfered in the strike action called by the university academics' union, the Sindicato de Académicos de la Universidad Austral de Chile, replacing the striking teachers with non-unionised lecturers. The unionised staff called on the rector of the university to stop such practices; following the university's refusal, the union filed a complaint with the Labour Inspectorate.

Companies fined for anti-union practices: The Department of Labour announced that 48 companies were fined for engaging in anti-union practices during the first half of 2010, almost the same number as in 2009, when 51 firms were fined. It reported that, in 2010, the most frequent violation was the unfair dismissal of workers holding trade union positions, in spite of the legal protection covering trade union representatives, followed by acts of anti-union interference, and the harassment of trade union leaders, including their dismissal. Two companies were fined on three occasions: Unión del Transporte S.A, (UNITRAN S.A.) and Electro Quality Ingenieria Limitada.

Trade union rights violated at Banco del Desarrollo Scotiabank: During 2010, workers affiliated to the union at the Banco del Desarrollo (BDD), the Sindicato de Trabajadores del Banco del Desarrollo de Chile, suffered serious violations of their trade union rights at the hands of this Chilean bank owned by the Canadian multinational Scotiabank. The bank refused to comply with the collective agreement, took repeated action to discredit the union leadership by email, illegally intercepted the union's correspondence to its members, and imposed "improvement plans" on union members, with the sole intent of justifying their dismissal.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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