Australian Unions Support Sri Lanka Workers

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Ansell employees in Sri Lanka striking in support of victimised colleagues. Their union representatives of the FTZGSEU at the Biyagama plant have now been denied visas to enter Australia
Ansell employees in Sri Lanka striking in support of victimised colleagues. Their union representatives of the FTZGSEU at the Biyagama plant have now been denied visas to enter Australia

AUSTRALIAN unions AMWU, CFMEU and TCFUA held a rally outside of Ansell’s Australian headquarters on Thursday, following the denial of entry visas to a delegation of Sri Lankan union members.

The Australian government denied the visas in an apparent attempt to shield glove and condom maker Ansell from public exposure of its harsh and unjust treatment of its workers in Sri Lanka.

The visas were denied to the Sri Lankan head of the Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union (FTZGSEU), and two workers recently employed at Ansell’s manufacturing operation in the Biyagama Free Trade Zone in Sri Lanka.

Ansell fired these and nearly 300 other workers when they struck in support of 11 sacked colleagues and trade union representatives in October 2013.

The Australian government’s official decision records state that the visas were denied for failing to have sufficient personal wealth.

AMWU National President Andrew Dettmer said that it is clear the Australian Government led by anti-union Prime Minister Tony Abbott has refused entry to the Sri Lankans on political grounds.

Dettmer said: ‘We have a federal government denying lawful entry into Australia based on ideology and wealth. The decision to refuse entry to three Sri Lankan delegates highlights Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s prejudice against poor workers and unionists – not just in Australia but internationally too.

‘Is it any wonder that three Sri Lankan workers, two of whom were recently sacked by Ansell, have “insufficient” personal funds by Australian standards? And in some ways it is an even greater affront to suggest that FTZGSEU, organising as it does on the smell of an oily rag, should have more funds than it does.’

Michele O’Neil, National Secretary of the TCFUA, said the head of the FTZGSEU, Anton Marcus, is an international trade union figure and has been to Australia four times previously and it has never been a problem before now.

O’Neil stressed: ‘This is an appalling decision by the federal government that reeks of political motivation and supporting big business. These union delegates planned to come to Australia to talk about the anti-worker tactics implemented in Sri Lanka by Ansell and to seek international solidarity.

‘Their trip was scheduled for less than a week and included a visit to Ansell’s Australian headquarters. We will continue to protest with or without our honoured guests to expose this company’s harsh and unjust treatment of workers in Sri Lanka.

‘We suspect that the Abbott Government is protecting Ansell, an Australian multinational business, above the interests of working people.’

The FTZGSEU is pressuring for a fair settlement in Sri Lanka as the case against the unfair dismissal slowly winds its way through the Sri Lankan judicial system.

Global union IndustriALL continues its campaign in support of the nearly 300 Sri Lankan workers unjustly dismissed by Ansell. It has included outreach to Ansell customers, 11,000 protest emails sent to Ansell management, a support mission to Sri Lanka, and an OECD Complaint.

‘We commend our Australian affiliates CFMEU, TCFUA and AMWU for their support and we condemn the Australian government for siding with Ansell in blocking this union delegation,’ stated IndustriALL global union General Secretary Jyrki Raina.

‘The best way to resolve this dispute is through good faith dialogue with Ansell, not in the courts or in the streets. However until Ansell shows a willingness to work toward a fair settlement, we’ll continue to do everything we can to support FTZGSEU in this struggle,’ added Raina.

Victorian Trades Hall Council Acting Secretary Luke Hilakari is calling on the federal government to immediately issue the visas for the visiting unionists.

He said: ‘It’s just offensive that the accusation here is that these union delegates will seek to stay in Australian permanently.

‘There are obviously international and domestic political interests at play here. We know that Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and Prime Minister Tony Abbott are highly secretive on arrivals in Australia, and now that predilection is being extended to visa approvals and refusals. This decision cannot be appealed.

‘If the union movement doesn’t shine a light on this event, the government can continue to get away with politically motivated VISA refusals.’

• An alliance of business groups and unions has been formed to oppose changes to Australia Post’s Community Service Obligations and to have Australian Competition and Consumer commission (ACCC) oversight over bulk mail price increases restored, it was announced on today.

The alliance brings together business groups representing printers and mail houses (PIAA), licensed post offices (LPO Group) and unions (AMWU, CPSU, CWU).

An Australia Post consumer survey found that:

• 85% of people read their mail on the day it is received

• 98% of people open their mail compared to only 20-25% for email

• 67% of people still prefer to get their bills and bank statements through the mail

The alliance is calling on all members of parliament to support:

• The retention of all of Australia Post’s existing community service obligations.

• The restoration of ACCC oversight of price increases in bulk lodged mail and the monitoring of service standards, as is currently the case of with Post’s community service obligations.

• The establishment of a bipartisan round table also involving all industry stakeholders to examine options for Australia Post’s future with oversight of proposals and outcomes by the senate communications committee.

In a message to members, the CWU said: ‘Your National Office has organised an Alliance of Unions, community and business groups to lobby Politicians in Canberra to ensure the CEO can no longer wreck the traditional mail business.

‘The Alliance is in Canberra this week and speaking to Politicians from all sides of politics.’

• In Queensland, the Electrical Trades Union said on Wednesday it has ‘opened a new line of attack on the government today over its continued ducking and weaving over threats to close depots and sell off publically owned isolated power station assets’.

ETU State Organiser Stuart Traill said the Government’s silence about the social impacts of privatisation was telling.

Traill said: ‘We have a government that, despite promising to be transparent and consultative is leaving a large proportion of the Ergon workforce and their communities in a state of limbo, unsure about the future of their jobs and vital regional infrastructure.

‘Discussions and debate about the significant social costs of privatisation are being avoided by this government.’

It is now almost two years since the State Government released its so-called Independent Review Panel Report Into Network Costs (IRP) however workers in regional and remote communities are none the wiser about their future.

Contained in the report released in interim form in November 2012 and finalised in early 2013 were two specific recommendations 23 and 29 that if implemented will see up to 40 Ergon Depots closed and replaced with service agents and the privatisation of 34 isolated supply assets currently owned and operated by Ergon.

Traill added: ‘These recommendations if implemented in a private sector environment will leave workers and their communities exposed to massive job cuts, compromised service, huge price spikes and compromised safety as private companies will seek to maximise their profits.

‘The fear is that the government will package all the controversial issues that are currently in limbo like more job cuts, and depot closures, cutting/overhauling the Uniform Tariff Policy and others and sneak them through if they win a mandate to sell/privatise electricity assets under the guise that the so called independent boards will make the decisions.

‘We cannot let this happen, we know the boards will have private sector influence and we genuinely fear that communities will be decimated as occurred in many regional areas of Victoria and South Australia when depots closed and jobs were cut.’