A new international solidarity campaign with sacked workers from the Ansell factory in Sri Lanka’s Biyagama Free Trade Zone, in the west of Sri Lanka, was launched on January 21. The workers were sacked for being members of a union.
Ansell, which is based in Australia, is one of the biggest glove manufacturers in the world.
About 50 people participated in an online meeting, organised by Australia Asia Worker Links. They included unionists and solidarity activists from Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Nepal and Australia.
Union leader Dasantha Jayalath, who worked in the Ansell factory until he was sacked in 2013, said earlier that year the company increased its production targets which meant that workers had no time to relieve themselves. Workplace protests were organised and the company sacked the union president, then 10 more union leaders, including Jayalath.
Eventually, the company sacked about 300 workers for participating in strike action.
Janaka, another sacked Ansell worker, spoke about the long struggle for better pay and conditions at the factory. He said three of his comrades had lost their lives in this struggle, including a unionist who was shot dead by police during a strike in 1994.
Nevertheless, the workers won better pay and conditions through strike action, until the union members were all sacked in 2013.
Janaka said that attempts to challenge the sackings through the Sri Lankan legal system had been a waste of time. “Only international solidarity can help,” he said.
Andy Hall, a researcher on transnational corporations and workers’ rights, said Ansell owns factories in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Thailand, and has contracts with local companies in these countries as part of its supply chain.
There are no trade unions in most of these factories: workers work a 48-hour week and are expected to do up to 150 hours of overtime over a month.
The meeting was also addressed by Nurhayati, the president of the Malaysian Nurses Union; Maddy Harradence, assistant secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation; Sylvester Jayakody, general secretary of the Ceylon Mercantile Union; and Ashila Dandenya from the Stand Up Movement Lanka.
[An international day of action in solidarity with Ansell workers has been decided on, the details of which are to be worked out. Those interested in supporting the campaign can endorse a solidarity statement and find more information at here.]