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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 October 2006, 02:54 GMT 03:54 UK
Venezuela workers in Coke dispute
By Greg Morsbach
Caracas correspondent, BBC News

Former Coca-Cola workers outside a Caracas plant
Coca-Cola workers say they are owed large payments
More than 10,000 former workers of Coca-Cola's subsidiary in Venezuela are blockading bottling plants and depots.

They say a Mexican-based subsidiary of Coke owes them a large amount of money in unpaid social benefits.

But Coca-Cola representatives in Mexico have roundly condemned the blockade as an illegal act.

The protesters are being backed by a special parliamentary commission consisting of leftist legislators loyal to President Hugo Chavez.

At one Coca-Cola plant in Caracas about 500 former workers blocked the exits and entrances, preventing the lorries which normally supply shops, kiosks and restaurants from leaving the factory.

The protestors are demanding that millions of dollars in unpaid social benefits such as pensions and severance payments be paid immediately to them by Coca-Cola Femsa, a Mexican-based subsidiary of the US soft drinks company.

Another 10,000 former contractors are camped outside 75 Coke warehouses and plants around Venezuela.

They say they are prepared to stay put until their demands are met. But Coca-Cola Femsa says this will put more than 7,000 jobs at risk in Venezuela.

State takeover

"This blockade is just the prelude to Coca-Cola being nationalised and turned over to the Venezuelan state," Nixon Lopez, a workers' leader, told the BBC.

"We're showing the world," he added, "that no multi-national company can just come here to humiliate Venezuelan employees."

The protesters are being backed by a special commission in parliament.

The committee, consisting of leftist MPs, is looking at taking control of the firm if it refuses to hand out the missing payments.

This isn't the first time lawmakers loyal to President Chavez have threatened to take over the assets of big international companies here.

President Chavez has himself spoken of seizing Venezuela's biggest phone company in a similar case to the Coca-Cola dispute.


SEE ALSO
Coke hit by Venezuela's tax war
16 Feb 05 |  Business

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