Swire-Coca Cola broke their promises; Workers staged strike for CBA

Author: Chan Chiu-wai

"Strike for a written agreement? What sort of agreement is it?"
When Swire Beverages (Hong Kong) Employees General Union staged a strike on 3 October 2013, you might probably be puzzled. The conflict was not arisen all of a sudden. The employees only went on strike after suffering from longstanding and unbearable bitterness. The following is a story of their struggle.

The strike was attributed to the untrustworthy management

In early December 2012, Swire Beverages had an attempt to contract out part of the delivery work. The union strongly resisted to the proposal after knowing it. The management was forced to shelve the outsourcing plan indefinitely. In addition, the Swire Beverages management pledged that they would consult the union if there was any policy which would affect the employees. What they have said was still ringing in ears, the company schemed to contract out the delivery work in some of the district offices in less than a year. The company betrayed the workers and destroyed the trust in the employer-employee relations.

Unpaid overtime, no protection for industrial accidents

The work shift of the delivery team should begin at 8:00am. However, Swire Beverages demanded workers to arrive in the warehouse to sort the products. The work concerned was not only outside workers’ job description, it was also unpaid. The unscrupulous employer just took workers’ unpaid overtime for granted.

On the other hand, traffic accident was not uncommon for the truck drivers. The corporate was indifferent to the employee who faced legal charges. All the truck drivers could not believe that the employer would just abandon them while they needed company’s support.

Demanding a written agreement lest deceptive tactics by the employer

Union president Chan Hing-lung (Lung) expressed that a written agreement between the company and the union is essential to raise the union recognition among the employees. The negotiation on terms of employment would be in limbo if the management refused to endorse the role of the union.

Owing to his vocal critics towards the company, Lung has been allocated to different positions for a few times in recent years. Nevertheless, Lung could unexpectedly make contact with more colleagues and hear their grievances. He was also able to educate his colleagues the importance of organizing. Lung stated that the company has simply ignored the problems which were channeled by the union. As there was no sign that the management would be committed to genuine improvement in working conditions, workers had no choice but went on strike for a written agreement.    

The arrogant management kept reiterating their position 
On 3 October 2013, the management held a meeting with the workers. The union vice-president Yu Chen-sum (Sum) pointed out that the union committee was vowed to a strike if the negotiation broke down. The management was unexpectedly arrogant and aggressive in the very beginning that led to the break down of the negotiation. As a result, the union left the meeting and launched the strike.

Sum said that over 400 members out of 600 particpated in the strike on 3 October. Most of them were from the delivery department. The unity of the workers successfully paralyzed the transportation work. Sum revealed that the union was prepared to step up pressure over the company by expanding the scale of the strike.

Sum added that the union committee members intended to negotiate with the company at 11am on the first day of strike. While the union aimed to break the stalemate with good faiths, the management might have learned from the bureaucratic government officials and kept repeating their position as if a recorder. The negotiation broke down again. The strike went on.

Victory of workers: status of union was recognized

The negotiation was deadlocked. Strikers remained outside the factory overnight. The stern action by the workers successfully pushed Swire Beverages go back to the negotiating table in the midnight. On the top of consensus on terms of employment, the management promised to sign a framework agreement with the union which recognize the status of the union. Additionally, the company also agreed to hold quarterly meetings with the union.   

The Hong Kong government is pleased to see that less strike happening in Hong Kong to affect the productivity. The authorities concerned cited that figure to claim that collective bargaining is unneccessary. Yet, the rapacious employers who ignore the unions keep testing the workers’ bottom line. As a result, strikes erupted successively in this year.

Nowadays, companies which lift profits by squeezing costs are widely denounced by the general public. Enterprises should rather implement corporate social responsibility by sharing fruits of economic development with workers. Unfortunately, most of the corporate does not seem to accept principle of business ethics. Meanwhile, the government is submitted to the business sector. The working class has no other option but be united and resistant to exploitation. Swire Beverages (Hong Kong) Employees General Union has demonstrated that workers can claim their rights through struggle.