AGT Gloves Knitting has suspended employees for joining a union. They had complained of harassment and being forced to work at a grueling pace. Ninety percent of the workforce in Sri Lanka has no union representation.
Colombo (Asia News) - A group of employees of the glove manufacturing company ATG Gloves Knitting in recent days have protested against their dismissal. "The company has violated all the rules regarding work without any kind of control. It is unfair," said the 16 workers who gathered in the Wathupitiwala free zone. They have been joined by several unions and organizations, some political parties, and lawyers and workers from the Wathupitiwala and Katunayake factories.
The workers had been fired in August for joining a union in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. They explained that they wanted to join the Commercial and Industrial Workers Union because of the terrible working conditions they were forced to endure: men and women said they had experienced sexual harassment and worked in situations of sleep deprivation.
"It felt like we had to work under a dictatorship," they commented to AsiaNews. "They demanded maximum output without any real investment in the workforce." Even when undermanned, those present were asked to deliver finished products at the end of the day while working at a grueling pace.
There are no interviews with management, complaints are not welcomed, and friendship between coworkers is not encouraged, they explained, "Somehow we always have to meet production goals and they don't want us to form groups with each other." They added that "when they found out that we had created a union, the human resources manager informed us that we would be taken off work."
ATG refused to reinstate the workers, even though the dismissals were in direct violation of the instructions of the Commissioner General of Labor.
Labor rights activists says less than 90 percent of the private sector workforce in Sri Lanka are members of unions. According to companies, there is a general lack of interest on the part of workers, but in fact workers' organizations in Katunayake, Wathupitiwala, Biyagama, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu have pointed out that anti-union practices by companies and fear of losing their jobs remain the main reasons why employees do not join a union.