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“Only union organization allows us to fight against job insecurity,” said Armando Soto, president of Fenasinaj, the National Federation of Cleaning and Garden Workers of Chile, who expressed his satisfaction at the successful conclusion of negotiations on 24 September.

In Chile, Fenasinaj’s refuse collectors have grown in union membership after the successful end of the mobilizations they held for several weeks in the north of the country, due to conflicts arising from contracts that substantially reduced sweepers’ wages, reaffirming their union leadership.

Negotiations between the Antofagasta Union of Waste Pickers and the city’s municipality lasted just over a month over the terms of the tender to be awarded to the bidding companies. The problem was that the tender conditions substantially reduced the wages of the sweepers, which generated the indignation of the waste collectors at the local level, who mobilized for almost a month. In response to this, the national leadership of Fenasinaj travelled to the northern city of Antofagasta to support the local leaders in their demands.

The presence of the Federation was decisive and, after leading the negotiations, they obtained a resounding victory in their favour, getting the Municipality of Antofagasta to withdraw the bidding conditions, calling for a new tender (by direct agreement), fully accepting the union’s demands, and improving issues related to improved safety conditions. In Chile, municipalities concession cleaning services to private companies on the basis of a tendering process, where wages and other contractual conditions are fixed.

The mobilization was accompanied by strong media pressure, demonstrating the weight that the Federation has achieved in articulating the struggles of the cleaning and gardening workers in its almost 30 years of union life.

In addition to the wage demand in Antofagasta, there is the ongoing battle of the country’s unions to grow and unite around unionization. In Chile the right to unionize is much more limited than in other countries, as the law allows many unions to exist in the same company, and to this is added the difficult geography that we have, so travelling from north to south uniting our unions is an extremely challenging task, but our Federation knows about adversity and that is why today we are what we are despite being one of the most precarious sectors in the country”, said comrade Soto.

The strong media presence and coverage of the mobilization, which included a tour of collection trucks throughout Antofagasta, not only contributed to the outcome of the northern mobilization, but also reaffirmed the union unity and work of Fenasinaj. In this sense, the Federation managed in less than a month to add important unions in both the north and south of the country, such as the Jeria Union in Alto Hospicio and the Núcleo Paisajismo Union (both in Antofagasta, and the most representative in the area), the largest unions in Parral and Linares (in the southern seventh region) and another pair of unions that will join in these days in Calama, also in the north of Chile.

Our country has very low unionization rates in general, not exceeding 16% in total,” said national secretary Miguel Ramirez.

“In Fenasinaj we are fighting daily to return to the historical rates that exceeded 30%, because we have no other way to put pressure in a country where the private sector has so much power with low representation,” he said.

Armando Soto added that “despite the fact that in a world where modes of production are changing, our Federation continues to grow and that is because we do not stop insisting. For years we have been pushing the legislative agenda of the different governments with whom we have negotiated to add the demands of the collectors and we have succeeded.”

“This year we achieved two important pieces of legislation, one that gives social recognition to our work and the other that requires us to improve our safety conditions,” he added. Now the federation is working closely with the government to pass a regulation to improve working conditions: “In addition, we are in talks with legislators to speed up the passing of our own identity bill, which will allow our trade to finally have legal recognition.

Fenasinaj recently launched a campaign, supported by UNI Americas, “Building Union Power”, which has had a successful start with the incorporation of four new unions and two more in the pipeline. “The objective is to continue growing because, although we have made a lot of progress, it is not enough, our sector is stigmatized almost everywhere in the world, we know that we are not fighting an easy battle, but we have enough conviction that we can make a difference,” stressed the president of the Federation.

“We, the workers in the cleaning and gardening sector, belong to an essential and essential sector, to the care of the environment. We have made great progress and we want every worker in Chile and in other countries to feel proud of their trade, we do not plan to stop until we achieve a historic breakthrough for all our colleagues in our sector,” he concluded.

UNI Americas