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Time for ATG in Sri Lanka to back off

On 21 June 2018, workers at ATG belonging to the Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees’ Union (FTZ&GSEU), picketed the British Embassy over labour abuses at the company, which has joint Sri Lankan/British investors.

Labour violations have continued at ATG after the union was forced to hold a vote in February 2017 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. 

However, ever since the election, ATG has gone to extraordinary lengths to undermine the union and its members working at the company’s two factories based in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone.

The company has refused to discuss worker issues brought up by the union, saying its decision is final. Neither has it allowed the union to meet in the factory, even though it is the recognized bargaining agent.

The company tried to relocate the union’s branch secretary to another company it owns, which the Commissioner General Labour said was not legal. However, ATG has refused to adhere to the Commissioner’s ruling for corrective action and demanded that the branch secretary turn up at 1 June at the other plant for work. 

Furthermore, 59 workers who celebrated Labour Day on 1 May, after the government decided to postpone the 1 May holiday to 7 May, were put on compulsory leave and their photos were displayed in a notice that claimed they engaged in unlawful strike action. 

In another low act of victimization during the company’s 25-year anniversary celebrations in 2017, the company refused to give eight union activists a medal for their five or more years of service, as other workers had received. One worker was given a medal because he left the union. 

In a letter handed to the British Embassy on 21 June, the FTZ&GSEU said: 

“We take these unholy trends against workers by the ATG very seriously as the Sri Lanka partner is the President of the Katunayake Export Manufacturers’ Association and would thus set the pace in the FTZ in working against unionisation of workers, a very condition the EU has wanted corrected when granting EU GSP ‘Plus’ to Sri Lanka. We therefore appeal to you to intervene at the highest level to ensure workers’ rights are guaranteed in the export sector, in line with EU GSP ‘Plus’ Requirements.” 

FTZ&GSEUhas received considerable support from the German ambassador in Sri Lanka, who wrote to the Minister of Labour on 20 June 2018 expressing concerns of the violations of labour rights at the company. 

IndustriALL’s assistant general secretary, Kemal Özkan, said:

“We urge ATG to stop breaking international labour standards and Sri Lankan law, and stop intimidating union members. Workers have voted for a union, and the union is there to stay. As a member of the UN Global Compact, ATG also has committed to respect fundamental labour rights.”   

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