Solidarity works! Sri Lankan workers vote for union

09.02.2017

Setting a strong standard for other workers in the Sri Lankan free trade zones, workers at industrial gloves manufacturer ATG voted to establish their union on 7 February.

IndustriALL Global Union has been celebrating a good win for workers this week after the multinational gloves company failed in its attempt to kick out the union from its two factories in Sri Lanka.

IndustriALL Executive Committee member Anton Marcus who heads the FTZ&GSEU union was able to shake hands with the ATG management for the first time on 7 February when the election result became clear. The union was forced by the company to struggle for over two years simply to win the right to bargain on behalf of the workers.

Abuses included intimidation, suspensions, threats, attempts to rig the list of voting workers, and promoting a worker in exchange for her lodging a police complaint against the union leader.

Now that the FTZ&GSEU is affirmed as the lawful bargaining agent at both ATG factories it can start to address the problems of health and safety, sexual harassment and employment conditions. The union is confident that these changes will improve the business performance of ATG. The vote had a 95 per cent turnout and comfortably achieved the required 40 per cent in favour.

International support and solidarity included calling on ATG corporate customers, regional partners, and Sri Lankan politicians. IndustriALL also requested the intervention of the G20 countries’ ambassadors to Sri Lanka. The German and the European Union Ambassadors to Sri Lanka played a vital role in demanding a free workplace ballot.

Workers in the other factories of the Katunayake Free Trade Zone do not have the luxury of exercising their right to freely decide on union representation. This ballot was conducted under the spotlight of international and domestic pressure.

IndustriALL General Secretary, Valter Sanches, congratulated the FTZ&GSEU:

We won’t forget the excellent help from Ambassadors Rohde and Margue, but this win was achieved by the ATG workers standing together in the face of threats and intimidation from their bosses.  Let’s now look to replicate this victory and change the working conditions in ATG’s neighbouring factories.

FTZ&GSEU leader Anton Marcus said:

This is also a lesson for the employer to learn, that in the global economy it is not only profit and investments that travel across geographical boundaries, but also worker solidarity and organisational unity.