The Constitution and the Labour Code guarantee the right to form and freely join or leave labour organisations without interference from employers or the government. One of the aims of Chilean employment rules is the defence and promotion of union activity and collective bargaining, encouraging the protection and rights of unions and the principle of free unionisation, expressed both in the ability of employees to freely join a labour organisation and to freely abandon it when desired.

Chilean legislation presumes that people act in good faith; therefore, it is understood that unions are formed to achieve the objectives stated by law, including to:

  • represent their members at different stages of collective bargaining;
  • provide their members with assistance;
  • promote union education; and
  • ensure compliance with labour laws, among other things.

However, this is not always the case.

On 5 June 2019 the 24th Civil Court of Santiago declared that a union must not only respect legal formalities, but also display a "union spirit or intention", which is expressed primarily in a union's formal commitment to actions that promote and defend its members' professional and labour interests.

The court found that 16 inter-company unions formed within the Scotiabank local group of companies had been created with the sole purpose of granting union privileges to their leaders, which made their establishment invalid due to their illicit aims. The court ordered the unions to be removed from the Labour Authority's register.

Although this ruling is being appealed before the Supreme Court, it is of great relevance, as it is the first time that a civil court has dissolved a union for illicit activity contrary to the spirit of the law that regulates labour organisations. If confirmed, the ruling will help prevent the misuse of unions to protect union leaders' privileges or promote activities that lie beyond those prescribed by law.

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