Workers Accuse Venezuela's Largest Food Company of Intimidation

Workers at Venezuela's largest private food company, POLAR, say management is trying to stifle calls for improved wages and conditions.

By Telesur English
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POLAR is Venezuela's largest private food company (VTV)
POLAR is Venezuela's largest private food company (VTV)

Workers have accused Venezuelan food giant Polar of trying to suppress unions and intimidating employees.

Octavio Solorzano, the vice president of the trade union federation CST said Tuesday, “We want to make it known to the public … (Polar head Lorenzo) Mendoza acts in a fascist, arbitrary way, ignoring the rule of law, ignoring what the majority of Polar workers want.”

Solorzano continued by accusing management at Polar of excluding union representatives from contract negotiations, and of subcontracting – a practice banned in Venezuela.

“Mr Mendoza, from here we are making a call … that elected worker (representatives) are invited to discuss the contract collectively, and that you respect them,” Solorzano said.

Solorzano's comments came during a press conference with worker representatives, who vowed to continue a long-running labor struggle with Polar over pay and conditions.

Since late 2013, unions have been urging Polar to increase wages, accusing the company of paying out salaries that aren't keeping up with inflation. The dispute flared up late last year, when workers threatened nationwide strikes. The company claims it has tried to negotiate with the union, but says worker demands are unreasonable. Polar is the country's largest private food producer, and dominates the domestic cornflour market – a staple in Venezuela.

This isn't the first time Polar has been accused of intimidation. In December 2014, union representatives in the states of Sucre and Anzoategui alleged the company was trying to gag workers who had accused the company of trying to create artificial food shortages.

The workers said the company had almost halved production of pre-cooked cornflour, amid shortages of the product in some parts of the country. Along with battling its own workers, the company has also been at loggerheads with the Venezuelan government for years. President Nicolas Maduro accuses it of being part of an “economic war” aimed at destabilizing the country with food shortages, but repeatedly stated he is willing to work with Polar management to overcome their political differences.