Coca-Cola FEMSA has slammed moves by a group of former workers to block access to its production sites in Venezuela.

The Coke bottler yesterday (23 October) saw the former employees seize control of three plants, a number of distribution centres and its head office in Venezuela in a row over distribution agreements.

Two members of the Venezuelan Congress organised the action, Coca-Cola FEMSA said. The dispute is believed to stem from distribution deals signed before the company entered the South American country in 2003.

While the company declined to comment on the origins of the dispute, it is believed the ex-employees - former distribution contractors - are protesting over unpaid money they believe is due to them under deals signed three years ago.

Coca-Cola FEMSA, a joint venture between Coca-Cola Co. and Mexican drinks group FEMSA, is believed to have fought a legal battle with the former employees for months. The company said Venezuela's legal authorities had ruled against the ex-employees.

"Coca-Cola FEMSA de Venezuela is surprised that two members of Congress are co-ordinating these type of acts and firmly rejects these acts for they are illegal and against the constitution," the company told just-drinks.

Coca-Cola FEMSA added that it was using "all legal tools" to deal with the blockade, which it said was hurting "not only the company and the job source of more that 7,000 Venezuelans, but also undermines the country's economic and legal security".

In a televised interview yesterday, one of the Congresswomen said to be behind the protests celebrated the blockade. "We have seized Coca-Cola plants. We will not allow a single truck from Coca-Cola to leave with soft drinks," Iris Varela, a National Assembly member, said during a televised interview, according to a report from the Dow Jones agency.

Varela added: "Now we will see if they will pay workers what they owe them," adding that if the company fails to meet the demands of the workers, then it should be "expropriated".

Coca-Cola FEMSA accounts for 40% of Coke volumes throughout Latin America. Coke owns a 54% stake in the venture.