ENOUGH ISN’T ENOUGH WHEN IT COMES TO PROFITS
The International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF) yesterday attacked the anti-union practices of foreign companies operating in Sri Lanka’s Free Trade Zones. Amongst the practices mentioned were employing baton-wielding security guards to intimidate union members, telling new workers not to join the union, sacking or transferring workers who protest at unfair conditions, claiming that unions are ‘illegal’ in the Free Trade Zones, and threatening to hand union activists over to the police for their legitimate activities. The ITGLWF says that it plans to submit a complaint to the Geneva-based UN agency, the International Labor Organization. "Although by law unions must be recognized as a bargaining agent in a workplace if 40% or more workers in the workplace belong to the union, in reality this provision is ignored with impunity", says Neil Kearney, General Secretary of ITGLWF. "Take the case of the Free Trade Zone Workers’ Union, which is currently waging a campaign for recognition at a number of its branches. The union has formed eleven branches, all of which meet the legal requirements, and so far only one has been recognized."
Since the recent elections in Sri Lanka which brought the pro-business United National Party (UNP) to power companies and investors have been pushing the new government to push new laws which make the zones more "investor friendly." Unbelievably business interests argue that "the labor laws were too rigid and not conducive to attracting private investment." The Chairman of the Employers Federation of Ceylon (EFC) argues that workers must be "allowed" to work more overtime hours that the laws (which he agrees are usually ignored anyway) allow. He argues, "The United States, the main market for garments allows female workers to do 80 hours of overtime a month." The Joint Trade Unions Organization to Protect the Existing Labor Laws which consists of 30 Trade Unions is fighting any such changes.
Globalisation of the world economy has resulted in competition for investments. In the last few years, more than one hundred countries have declared areas of their territory free-trade zones, where companies pay close to nothing in taxes and have access to very cheap labor, especially young women pushing down production costs.
Sources: Free Trade Zone Workers Union, Clean Clothes Campaign, SBS, International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation
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