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Rubber glove workers in Sri Lanka protest unjust terminations

16 January, 2019Protesting workers at ATG Ceylon, a British-Sri Lankan manufacturer of industrial gloves, are demanding the reinstatement of five terminated union officers and members, and an end to union oppression at the company. 

The workers have been demonstrating at the Katunayake Export Processing Zone since 11 January following the dismissals, leading the company to stop production. 

The terminations took place even though the five union members are all involved in an arbitration process with the company that has not yet concluded. 

In response workers of ATG Ceylon launched protest at the Katunayake Export Processing Zone (EPZ). Subsequently the company stopped production until further notice. 

The arbitration relates to an incident in September 2015, when pamphlets were placed without permission on the company noticeboard announcing a blood donation camp organized by the union with the health minister, to mark the second anniversary of the union. 

As a result, ATG management issued charge sheets against 30 employees. Subsequently, seven employees including union officers, were placed under disciplinary proceedings, while a warning letter was issued against other employees. 

ATG has orchestrated a relentless campaign of discrimination against the union which is affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union through the Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union (FTZ & GSEU) in Sri Lanka.

In February 2017, the company forced the union to hold a vote to represent workers, despite already having a mandate to do so. The union easily achieved above the required 40 per cent majority with a turnout of 95 per cent. Nonetheless the discrimination continued.

In a particularly petty act to demoralize employees, ATG refused to give gold medals to union members who had worked longer than five years, even though they were given to non-union members as part of the company’s silver jubilee celebrations. When one of the workers resigned from the union, he duly received his medal.

As the union tried to resolve the issue of numerous suspensions and dismissals at the company through the arbitration process, management went ahead in terminating five union members with immediate effect on 11 January 2019. 

Anton Marcus of FTZ & GSEU, said: 

“The ATG management acted unfairly without respecting the ongoing arbitration process and in violation of the Industrial Dispute Act. All benefits due to workers, irrespective of their involvement in union activities, should be provided to them. We demand the terminated workers are reinstated immediately. We call upon the ATG management to constructively engage with the union towards resolving the dispute as soon as possible.” 

In a letter on 16 January, IndustriALL’s general secretary, Valter Sanches, said: 

“Your company’s continual disrespect of fundamental labour rights brings shame to your customers, partners and the Sri Lankan authorities.  The FTZ&GSEU is a responsible trade union, with international standing, and it should be treated with respect, as ATG’s relevant bargaining partner.”