Trade Unions

Is beer production an “essential service”?

Union-bashing has become increasingly fashionable in recent years. But I think only the most inveterate union hater would say that employees of a privately-owned brewery have no legal right to go on strike.

Here’s a report from the international trade union federation the IUF:

Brewery transnational Carlsberg is attacking trade union rights in Lithuania with the support of the country’s legal system, which has declared beer production an “essential service”.

On June 10 last year members of the IUF-affiliated Lithuanian Trade Union of Food Producers (LPMS) voted in favour of strike action at the Carlsberg brewery in Lithuania in support of their demand for a decent company-level collective agreement.

Management sought to stop the strike and applied to the court with a petition to declare the strike ballot procedure invalid and the strike illegal, and demanded compensation for litigation costs. The company not only tried to stop the strike and declare it illegal but also argued that no strike action was possible until the “high season” had passed.

The Klaipeda district court on June 20 suspended the start of the planned strike for 30 days based on a dubious determination that the production of beer was recognized as ‘vitally essential’ in Lithuania.

On the July 5, 2011 the Klaipeda city district court ruled that the strike was legal. Carlsberg Lithuania management appealed this decision. On August 5, 2011 the Klaipeda regional court annulled the decision of the lower court, ruling that the brewery strike announced in June was illegal.

The court decision to rule the strike illegal is based on the following astonishing grounds: “The collective agreement is in compliance with the Labour Code because the wages of Carlsberg employees are above the market level, jobs are maintained and wages are not reduced.” With this absurd ruling, the court is attempting to legitimize Carlsberg’s attempt to freeze wages for 3 years by declaring a legitimate strike unlawful.

The union has appealed the regional court decision to a higher court, where it is still under appeal, and submitted a complaint to the ILO which the IUF has formally supported and which will now be examined by the Committee on Freedom of Association.

Now I know that many people (no doubt including some Harry’s Place readers) do consider beer essential. As for me, I like beer, but sometimes I manage to go without it for weeks at a time. Even so, surely there are other brands besides Carlsberg available in Lithuania.

At any rate, when I do buy beer, it won’t be Carlsberg.

You can express support for the Carlsberg workers here.

(Hat tip: LabourStart)