Monday, March 7, 2016

Yet Another Serious Attack Over Employment Practices Hits Global Express Freight Operator  

Outpouring of Criticism as New Report Launched Amid Accusations of Slack Management

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Shipping News Feature GERMANY – CHILE – COLOMBIA – PANAMA – Once again express freight giant DHL has come in for severe criticism for its employment practices outside of the home territory of its parent company Deutsche Post. The German headquartered group has repeatedly been attacked by unions worldwide and now a new report, described as independent but presumably commissioned by the unions concerned, has been released. The report is very specific and criticisms include campaigns to eliminate trade union membership, misogyny, broken promises by management regarding pay and time off, the list goes on.

This, of course is not the first such report, and it follows similarly critical investigations into DHL terms and conditions of employment in India and Turkey, and the latest report is released as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) talks between DHL and the global unions come to an end. The report includes the story of a worker who sustained chronic injuries said to be due to poor training, the case of 42 workers sacked for union activity, allegations that DHL faked a customer letter to enable the dismissal of the son of a union official, claims that DHL monitors employees conversations and prima facie evidence that DHL intercepts union members’ phone calls. Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), commented:

“DHL has been found out. We now have proof that it’s breaking its own much-trumpeted Code of Conduct, and that the management in Bonn know it. People in Germany, and around the world, will be shocked that a key German company is treating staff in this abhorrent manner. It’s time for DHL to get its house in order.”

The company’s Code of Conduct is something which DHL often refers to and yet which union organisations such as the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) and others make the accusation that senior management consistently fails to implement. These complaints are hardly new, for five years or more DHL has been promising to investigate and improve the situation, something the unions accuse the company of simply failing to act upon. Some complaints in 2011 refer to unacceptable practices in precisely two of the three countries studied in the latest report, something the company said at the time it would act upon immediately, whilst simultaneously rejecting any form of international framework for employment standards globally.

In 2013 the German government accepted a complaint by the ITF and UNI Global Union that Deutsche Post-DHL had breached OECD guidelines which was what led to the two years of talks that concluded in December and which have just been reviewed. The report’s author, Dr Victor Figueroa Clark of the London School of Economics, commented:

“The company’s code should make DHL a beacon of good conduct in Latin America. Sadly, the evidence from the workers I interviewed for my report paints an overwhelmingly different picture. The multiple, frequent and institutional anti-union practices described in this report are difficult to interpret as anything but the result of an anti-union policy originating from the heart of the company in Germany.”

The unions involved are keen to underline how, despite promises from senior management from CEO Frank Appel down, plus the involvement of the OECD, nothing seems to have improved in the group’s modus operandi in all the years it has been facing such accusations with a string of consistent denials and undertakings to investigate and improve. Last year DHL even faced dissidence in Germany itself and Steve Cotton, general secretary of the ITF, concluded:

“These talks have failed to improve conditions for DHL workers. While we were negotiating in good faith, DHL was continuing to treat its workers in a way that breaches international standards. It’s time for DHL to engage in a robust, transparent process in consultation with staff and their unions to improve working conditions at the company and ensure freedom of association for all of its workers worldwide.”

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