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2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Chile

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Chile, 20 November 2008, available at: [accessed 18 December 2017]
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

A subcontracted forestry worker lost his life in clashes with the police. Anti-union practices have increased by over 40 per cent. Subcontracting is a serious problem. The Congress passed a subcontracting law that was appealed against by multinationals. The legislation obliges them to employ subcontracted workers on their roll of permanent staff. There were cases of mistreatment and excessive use of force by the police. Workers in the public sector are still deprived of the right to strike. Legal protection of the right to collective bargaining remains insufficient.

Trade union rights in law

Subcontracting Act: The Subcontracting Act that came into force on 1 January 2007, establishes a system whereby companies must certify compliance with the labour and social security obligations of their contract and subcontract workers.

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.

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 teachers, municipal workers and health workers have all carried out strikes in the past. In some 30 companies, disputes are subject to compulsory arbitration. Strikes by agricultural workers are prohibited during the harvesting season.

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 and Violations in 2007

Background: The first ever nationwide peaceful protest held by the trade union movement on 29 August 2007 in support of demands for a social welfare system, a decent wage and the right to collective bargaining was brutally suppressed by security forces using smoke bombs, tear gas, batons and water canons. Over 260 demonstrators were arrested. At the end of June, the Chilean copper giant Codelco faced strike action – marked by episodes of violence – supported by 30,000 subcontracted workers demanding wages and social conditions more in line with those of the permanent staff. Unfair dismissals, linked to the crisis in the U.S. construction sector, were seen at a number of different forestry operations.

Although a number of reforms have succeeded in eradicating most of the authoritarian aspects of the Constitution introduced by Pinochet in 1990, many anti-union practices remain, including barring union leaders' access to companies, unilateral changes to working hours, the replacement of striking workers, and threats of dismissal to prevent the formation of trade unions.

Abusive practices and labour flexibility at Empresa Cerámicas Cordillera: Constant abusive practices, including unfair dismissals, threats, low wages, non-recognition of work-related illnesses, etc., against the background of a collective agreement favouring labour flexibility, led to strike action, in January, by the 426 workers from the company union in Santiago, to demand an end to the abuses.

Forestry worker killed in clashes with police: Rodrigo Alexis Cisternas, a 26-year-old subcontracted forestry worker, died after receiving three gunshot wounds from the police when taking part on 3 May in a forestry workers' strike in Concepción at the Bosques Arauco company in Los Horcones. The dispute arose when the company broke off talks regarding a wage review that the company's 5,000 workers had been negotiating since the end of March. When the announcement came that the negotiations had failed, the workers blocked the road. The protest was suppressed with remarkable brutality by police using tear gas, water canons and rubber bullets to intimidate and disperse the strikers. Another three workers were injured, one of them lost an eye, and six were arrested. Most of the workers at Bosques Arauco are subcontracted and the dispute was intensified by the fact that their union rights are not guaranteed in practice and any action, including a legal strike, is criminalised and repressed.

BHP Billiton brings in replacement staff to break strike: La Escondida, the largest opencast mine in the world, was operating at 50 per cent capacity with replacement staff substituting the 2,000 workers, who reached day 20 of their strike on 27 August. BHP Billiton, the Australian energy and mining multinational operating the mine, hired 50 people to support the work of the contract staff supplied to it by private companies. The union, which was demanding better wages and benefits for its members, rejected the hiring of replacement staff. The trade union's proposal is linked to the signing of a collective agreement lasting two and a half years. The company carried out a sustained campaign of pressure and threats on the families of the striking miners and was reported to the Provincial Labour Inspectorate for its anti-union practices.

Ripley involved in anti-union and coercive practices: The major retail company that commercialises the Ripley brand and owns 43 department stores in Chile used anti-union and coercive practices to press its 3,500 shop assistants to sign new contracts establishing the minimum wage as their basic pay but altering the commission system in such a way that the workers would not see any change in their remuneration.

In November, 25 unions from the Almacenes Paris, Ripley and Falabella department stores met to set up a retail trade union coordinating committee, in order to form a united front for the collective bargaining the holding companies had initiated that month with their workers.

Provincial Association of Prison Officers faces anti-union practices and persecution: In early November, the leaders of the Provincial Association of Prison Officers in Concepción decided to launch a hunger strike at the CUT head office in Concepción in protest at the anti-union practices and persecution levelled against them by the Department of Security attached to the Administrative Subdivision. Unfounded allegations were also made against one of the union leaders.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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