From conflict to win-win

Ten years of building social dialogue in Peru

“When I look back at ten years of social dialogue in Peru, then it’s the people I think of: they are the soul of the change. Their personal commitment, the fact that they know each other, laugh together, trust each other: that is what change is. It makes me proud when I see that”, says Samuel Machacuay.

The key players: Carmela Sifuentes (l), Samuel Machacuay (m), Luis Salazar (r). 

This kind of cultural change calls for real involvement and considerable patience. Samuel – for seventeen years now local consultant for Mondiaal FNV in Peru – was the driving force, lubricant and translator in this process. Geraldine, after first being sacked because she had founded a trade union, then helped shape the process in her company.

So how did they go from conflict to win-win?
Read the story, watch the video.


No culture of dialogue

Samuel: “Peru does not have a culture of dialogue. By nature, we do not trust each other. I knew that something had to change, but it felt like a huge challenge to transform this fundamental distrust into a sustainable relationship between both parties.”

“But how do you begin? We started with the pair of leaders from both worlds who were in fact already in discussion with each other. Who had a personal click with each other and were open to building a sustainable dialogue. Working together with Mondiaal FNV, we came up with the idea of learning about social dialogue in the Netherlands, the polder model.”

Exciting trip generates shift

The CGTP (trade union federation in Peru) and Mondiaal FNV invited people from the employers’ side as well as the that of the employees to a trip to the Netherlands. Everyone was invited in a personal capacity: as a Peruvian with a desire to contribute to the development of our country. It was tremendously exciting to invite these two groups – who were so very different – for a trip together. But I noticed right from the beginning that the employers were already adopting a conciliatory approach: they invited everyone to the airport lounge, and then everyone was keen to sit next to each other on the plane. This was the beginning of a remarkable trip, during which we were given a look at the Dutch model behind the scenes. It was while still in the Netherlands that Carmela Sifuentes (trade union federation CGTP) and Luis Salazar (employers’ organisation SNI) decided that they, too, wanted to set up a Labour Foundation. A symbolic moment!

Trust was the key throughout the process

Trust was the key throughout the process and building trust takes time. The trust that there already was between a pair of individuals, needed to expand bit-by-bit to the whole system. We invited employers and employees to informal discussions, practised using win-win negotiations, trained trade union leaders, who then in their turn trained others. The sporadic consultations were periodic, the Asocacion para el Trabajo – the Peruvian variant of the Dutch Labour Foundation – is now a fact and I see that employers and employees are increasingly willing and able to stand in each other’s shoes: there is mutual understanding and respect.

Sacked for having founded a trade union

Geraldine is one of the people who has shaped the shift in the labour relations in her company. She works for a pharmaceutical company. “After nine years’ faithful service, I was sacked because I had founded a trade union”, Geraldine tells us. The poor working conditions in the pharmaceutical company were the reason that Geraldine and a number of colleagues took this step.

Geraldine: “It was a difficult time for me: I was in shock from losing my job, it was a huge challenge to make ends meet without a job. But I fought to get my job back and I managed it and I also followed all kinds of training courses, including Mondiaal FNV’s training course in social dialogue. It was a tremendously enriching experience!”

Geraldine, train the trainer, sociale dialoog, foto Roderick Polak


You have to be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes

Geraldine: “What I learned most from the training course is the importance of trust. Mutual respect is another important precondition for social dialogue. This requires you to be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.”

Improvements in the cba and permanent dialogue

“During new collective negotiations I was able to put absolutely everything I had learned into practice. As a union, for years we had tried to negotiate with our employer. But now this finally succeeded and we had good results! We achieved a whole lot: for example, a five-year bonus, a contribution to training costs and a higher salary. But the most important thing of all is that we now have a permanent dialogue with the employer in the form of a monthly consultation. The atmosphere at work is now totally different.”

Young employers and employees take over the baton

Samuel: “In Peru we’ve made tremendous strides: in a country where by nature we don’t trust each other, in many places now there is genuine social dialogue between employers and employees. The social dialogue journey is still a long one, where much still needs to be improved, but I have every confidence that that the young employers and employees are now well able to take over and to ensure an even better future for the employees, the companies and so our country as well!”


Systemic change
Over the past 10 years (2012-2022) Mondiaal FNV has supported and facilitated trade unions and employers in Peru in building social dialogue. The country has a history of confrontation and distrust between employers and employees, which has often led to conflicts and even violence. Building social dialogue, which Mondiaal FNV participated in alongside Dutch employers’ organisation DECP and the Dutch Labour Foundation (Stichting van de Arbeid), was a long-term process but it delivered systemic change; employees and employers are not in conflict but hold periodic consultations and make agreements. In a variety of sectors, including one that we’re familiar with - the fruit & vegetable sector: blueberries, avocados and asparagus have for years now been readily available in our supermarkets.

Video, text, phothography: Roderick Polak & Marleen Laverman.

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