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2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Chile

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2007
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Chile, 9 June 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52ca3ac.html [accessed 18 September 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: 16,200,000
Capital: Santiago
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The Philharmonic orchestra sacked its members for belonging to a union and a salmon producer tried to scare its employees into signing individual contracts and abandoning collective bargaining. Public sector workers still do not have the right to strike. Legal protection of collective bargaining rights remains inadequate.

Trade union rights in law

Basic trade union rights recognised: Workers have the right to form unions without prior authorisation. The right to collective bargaining is recognised, as is the right to strike, but only in the private sector.

The Trade Union Rights' Law, adopted in December 2001, put an end to many of the restrictions of the President Pinochet era. Notably, the government is no longer allowed to interfere in the internal organisation of trade unions.

Collective bargaining restrictions: Collective bargaining is only guaranteed at company level. The 2001 law provides for "voluntary" collective bargaining, meaning that trade unions can negotiate national deals only if the employer agrees. Similarly, while temporary workers – defined in the Labour Code as working in agriculture, construction, ports or the arts and entertainment sector – may form unions, they can only conduct collective bargaining if the employer is willing. Changes in the Labour Code facilitate collective bargaining in the agricultural sector, but it is still subject to the employers' willingness to negotiate. Company unions can only engage in collective bargaining if the respective employers are prepared to do so.

Restrictions on strike action: Workers in the public sector do not have the right to strike, although in the past teachers, municipal workers and health workers have all carried out strikes. In some 30 companies disputes are subject to compulsory arbitration. Strikes by agricultural workers during the harvest season are prohibited.

Instead of outlawing the practice of sacking strikers, the new law makes it "prohibitively expensive" to lay off workers who have been involved in industrial action. The law also does not explicitly ban companies from employing workers to break picket lines during an industrial dispute.

The law also includes "flexibility" measures, such as the introduction of short-term contracts and looser regulations for employing young workers.

Protection: An employee has the right to sue for unfair dismissal within 60 days. If he or she is found to have been unfairly dismissed, a 30 per cent surcharge will be added to the redundancy package. If a judge finds that a worker has been dismissed for trade union activities, he or she has the right to return to work or receive compensation. Some categories of workers are excluded from this clause.

Companies may be penalised for breaking labour laws, and every six months, the government publishes a list of companies that have breached labour laws.

Trade union rights in practice

Generally speaking, the government respects the rights of its citizens. There were a few isolated cases of excessive use of force and brutality by the police force.

Anti-union practices remain, including the barring of union leaders' access to companies, unilateral changes to working times, replacement of striking workers and threatening dismissal in order to prevent the forming of trade unions. Various reforms have eliminated most of the authoritarian aspects of the Constitution introduced by Pinochet in 1990.

Violations in 2006

Background: 11 March 2006 was a historic date for Chile, when the Socialist Michelle Bachelet became the first woman President of the country. On 10 December Pinochet died, without ever being sentenced, despite the 3,197 people reported murdered during his dictatorship, including 1,192 "disappeared". During the year there were a number of strikes in the mining industry, including at La Escondida, the largest copper mine in the world, which finally resulted in an agreement between the employer and the unions.

Premeditated dismissal of the union at the Philharmonic orchestra: On 4 September, 17 musicians from the Philharmonic orchestra were dismissed and the management started to harass the remaining members of the orchestra to leave the union and give up their collective agreement. On 29 September, another 18 members of the union received dismissal notices, leaving behind only the union representatives. In July, the Cultural Corporation of Santiago transported an entire symphony orchestra from Poland to replace the Santiago Philharmonic orchestra, thereby confirming persistent rumours dating back to 2003.

AquaChile salmon company criticised for its anti-union practices: The salmon farming company in Puerto Montt, AquaChile SA, which is the largest salmon producer in the country and the second largest in the world, was denounced for its anti-union practices against workers in two unions at the company. In the middle of the collective bargaining process, the manager of the plant called in the workers and threatened that if they did not accept the collective agreement in its current form the company would dismiss the workforce and the union leaders. Also, on 10 July, the buses transporting workers to the factory were diverted on the orders of the management, which proceeded to threaten the workers and try to get them to sign individual agreements and give up the bargaining process. The company reached an agreement with a parallel association of workers with 120 members. In its official complaint against AquaChile S.A. the trade union stated that "this behaviour by the company constitutes a clear violation of constitutional principles".

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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