IndustriALL Headlines #28

IndustriALL Headlines are produced by IndustriALL Global Union




IndustriALL Headlines #28 – January 31, 2013

IndustriALL Demands Real Action After Fire in Bangladesh

January 31, 2013:  7 die and 20 are injured in a blaze at a garment factory in Dhaka only two months after the tragic fire at Tazreen factory in November last year which took the lives of 112 people.

The fire emerged during lunch time on 26 January at a small garment factory Smart Fashions in Bangladesh capital Dhaka. The 7 reported victims have all been identified and are all female workers between 15 to 28 years old. The factory is said to employ 300 workers.  

Reportedly, garments for some famous brands including Bershka and Lefties (Inditex), KIK, New Look, were found on site. Inditex says that it was not aware of an unauthorized subcontractor to an Inditex supplier with poor fire safety conditions. Inditex and IndustriALL Global Union have agreed on joint action based on their global framework agreement. It covers also suppliers and their subcontractors, which shall provide a safe and healthy workplace to their employees. The incident demonstrates the difficulties major companies have in controlling their global supply chains.  

Soon after the tragedy at Smart Garments, Inditex and IndustriALL exchanged information they received from their partners and affiliates in Bangladesh, and started working on a remediation action plan. A joint mission will arrive in Dhaka on Tuesday 5 February to examine the situation and discuss necessary measures to minimize the effects of the incident to the victims.  

Jyrki Raina, General Secretary of IndustriALL Global Union commented, “It is with great sadness that we have learned of another fire incident that claimed the lives of seven young female colleagues in the garment sector and caused injuries to many other workers. As in the Tazreen Fashion case, poor safety conditions resulted in a tragedy at Smart Fashion. Our deepest condolences go to the families of the perished and injured workers.”  

“IndustriALL Global Union is calling for urgent and serious action to prevent further tragedies. We invite all major international brands, national employers and the government of Bangladesh to start an urgent discussion with us on a concrete plan of action. It must include strict health and safety regulations, efficient inspection and union participation in workplace cooperation, ensuring freedom of association in line with internationally recognized ILO labour standards, and a program to raise minimum wages to at least living wage levels in the country,” added Raina.  

Over 4,500 factories operate in the garment sector of Bangladesh. Working conditions remain poor and the wage for most workers amounts to 3000 BDT ($38 US) per month making it only one third of a living wage in Bangladesh. After years of service, based on seniority, a worker can eventually reach 5,500 BDT (approximately $70 US).  

Very few factories are unionized, despite the effort of trade unions to get registration enabling them to conduct collective bargaining. In the Dhaka region out of 26 unions fulfilling the condition of majority representation at the enterprises only one has so far received official registration enabling them to bargain collectively. Hence the difficulty for the workers to raise their concerns on safety to a trusted entity: a union which could bargain with the employers on safety issues among others.  

Prior to the incident, on 23 January, Monika Kemperle, Assistant General Secretary of IndustriALL met with the buyers’ representatives in Bangladesh where both recognized the importance of engaging all stakeholders for a common approach and that the government takes primary responsibility in ensuring the safety of the workers.  

Together with affiliates IndustriALL will join an ILO Conference promoting fundamental principles and rights at work which will take place on 3 to 4 February in Dhaka. This conference will serve to make strategic planning and to analyze needs and build capacity of garment sector trade unions in Bangladesh.

Mexico’s Supreme Court Unfairly Rules Against SME

January 31, 2013:  Disgrace for Mexico’s Supreme Court as three out of five of its members vote to overturn an appellate court judgement to reemploy over 16,000 electrician workers of the SME union, sacked en-masse in 2009.

In a callous move to crush Mexico’s oldest democratic union, SME, the previous president Felipe Calderón used an executive order to shut down the utility company Luz y Fuerza del Centro (LyFC) in the night of 10 October 2009, sacking the entire 44’000 workforce. The Electrical Workers’ Union has fought for those workers’ jobs back since. There remain 16,599 LyFC workers, members of SME, in resistance, who refuse to give up their struggle for reinstatement. Their integrity and dignity have gained them wide public support in Mexico and internationally.  

The latest 30 January ruling of the Supreme Court comes as a severe blow to SME dashing the high hopes of SME members who believed they would finally get their jobs back. This was a key moment in their struggle, reached after more than 3 years of mobilizing and using all available legal procedures, including for example through NAFTA. The long legal process included victories where the SME members were found to have been unfairly dismissed and that the responsibility for their reinstatement had passed to the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE) as their substitute employer.

The Calderón government rolled LyFC’s day to day operations into the CFE, the country’s largest utility, subcontracting the work to unskilled workers thus putting many workers lives in dangers. Record levels of accidents have been recorded since.  

On 30 January in Mexico DF, the second chamber of the Supreme Court overturned the appellate court decision stating that the employer responsibility for the LyFC workers did not lie with the Mexican President as the utility was “decentralized”. That unjust interpretation in turn means that there is no obligation to reemploy the dismissed workers at the CFE.  

IndustriALL Global Union’s General Secretary Jyrki Raina had joined those sending a third-party legal opinion, “amicus curiae”, to the ministers of the court in support of the SME workers.  

SME General Secretary Martín Esparza declared the union’s firm conviction to continue the campaign for a fair settlement and to call on International Courts (including the Inter-American Court for Human Rights in Washington) to demand a solution for the union members. The electricians are marching on 31 January, from the Angel of Independence monument to the large public square, the Zocalo in the capital Mexico DF.  

Trade unions in Mexico and internationally had hoped that the 1 December 2012 change in the country’s president could halt the union-busting by Mexico’s neoliberal establishment. Hope is fading fast already in President Enrique Peña Nieto’s willingness to slow the injustice or stand in the way of business interests and unencumbered markets.  

SME will continue fighting for a settlement despite this disappointing setback, and their demands will be taken up by IndustriALL affiliates during the upcoming Mexico Days of Action 18-24 February.

Luxury Brand Fails on Union Rights In Turkey

January 31, 2013:  Producing for Ermenegildo Zegna, four members of IndustriALL’s Turkish affiliate were dismissed by textile company ismaco in December and January for joing a trade union.  Send your letter of protest today

Ismaco Amsterdam B.V. is a Dutch-based company producing luxury shirts for worldwide-known brand Ermenegildo Zegna. The company has production facilities in Spain, Switzerland, Mexico, China and Turkey, which is located at a Free Zone in Tuzla, Istanbul with around 370 employees. The Turkish plant of Ismaco produces 600,000 pieces annually which corresponds to 65 per cent of the shirts of Ermenegildo Zegna.  

Towards the end of 2012, workers at Ismaco decided to joint IndustriALL Global Union’s Turkish affiliate Deri-Is because the company did not increase wages over last three years, worsened working conditions, and used policies of discrimination and violence against the workforce.  

When the company management heard of the unionization efforts at the plant, managers started to call workers to individual meetings to force them to resign or not to join Deri-Is. Ismaco management then targeted pioneering members with threats and intimidations, and finally dismissed union members Cengiz Ta?kesen, Fikriye Akgül and Öznur Fazl?o?lu on 18 December 2013 and Munevver Uyar on 8 January 2013.  

Send your letter of protest the company here and support the dismissed union members who have been picketing outside of the Free Zone in a tent in freezing winter conditions, as they are not allowed to enter. Three out of four dismissed workers are female while one is a disabled man.  

Factory manager Francesco Lasorte gathered all the workers on 19 December announcing that the workers do not need a union, and declared some wage increases, granting a one off lump-sum bonus, organizing social events, as well as the establishment of a fake employee representation system to try and prevent the organizing drive inside the company.  

On 25 December, Ismaco managers forced all workers to sign a paper saying “we do not want a trade union at our factory”. Company managers attempted to discredit the union by spreading rumors that Deri-Is is linked with illegal groups, and anyone joining the union would be considered as terrorist.  

Deri-Is is actively campaigning on behalf of the workers and is getting support from community, trade unions and NGOs. Their demands are:

  • Reinstatement of the dismissed workers;  
  • An end to the hostile attitudes of managers against union members and workers wanting to join the union;  
  • Recognition of Deri-Is as the union representing workers to negotiate problems at the factory;  
  • Creation of an environment inside the plant that respects freedom of association as a basic right and ensures that workers can freely become and remain a union member and execute union activities.  

Kemal Özkan, Assistant General Secretary of IndustriALL Global Union, said, “Ermenegildo shirts are sold with very high prices in big shopping malls, but the company is a long way from respecting fundamental rights for its employees. This is not acceptable and our global union family will continue to campaign until the situation at Ismaco plant in Turkey is improved.”

Dismissed Thai Electrolux Workers Fight Against Dismissal

January 31, 2013:  Swedish-based household appliance multinational Electrolux continues to make mochery of its commitments to uphold minimum labour rights standards throughout its operations, including those made in the Global Framework Agreement (GFA) with IndustriALL Global Union

In a letter addressed to the company management in Sweden, which is signatory to an International Framework Agreement on workers’ rights, IndustriALL Global Union joined with Swedish union IF Metall in expressing outrage at the unjust and anti-union actions of Electrolux Thailand.

In writing to IndustriALL’s General Secretary Raina, Electrolux makes absurd claims blaming the workers for the conflict, and stating that the company is “keen to maintain good relations with employees and unions”, in stark contrast to the situation at their washing machine factory in Rayong.  

On 25 January, the Electrolux union together with IndustriALL’s affiliate TEAM went to the Electrolux head office in Bangkok to call for their reinstatement. A meeting was conducted with the Bangkok management who claimed no involvement in the Rayong labour dispute, only for sales.  

On 25 and 26 February, Swedish affiliate IF Metall and the union representative on the Electrolux Board of Directors will visit the Rayong manufacturing site and meet with the union and the local management as they are members of the committee monitoring compliance on the GFA. “The management says that they want to re-establish normal relations between the company and the union, but it won’t be happening before all the dismissed workers and union members are reinstated,” said Erik Andersson, IF Metall.  

Since the union was formed in February 2011, local management has ignored their core rights at every opportunity. In 2012 Electrolux even applied for and received an award from the Thai government for “Best Company in the category of non-unionized workplace 2012”. The factory has the capacity to build over one million machines a year.  

Speaking at the Bangkok demonstration on 31 January, the Electrolux union president Phaiwan Metha stated, “Electrolux shall respect our trade union rights the same way that the company practices in Sweden.” IndustriALL also delivered a message of solidarity to the workers.  

The picketers will demonstrate in front of the Swedish Embassy in Bangkok on 1 February.

Union Membership Grows at IG Metall and Unite

January 31, 2013:  IndustriALL Global Union affiliates, IG Metall and Unite, announced membership growth in 2012, with 18,000 additional members at IG Metall and a boost of 50,000 at Unite.

Unite announced on 30 January that it increased its membership by more than 50,000 during 2012, despite a double-dip recession and anti-trade union stance of the government in the United Kingdom.  

In the context of public sector cuts, privatization and anti-union government policies, Unite has made big membership gains among bus, coach and ferry workers; in the car industry and its supply chain; in the aerospace industries; and in food and drink companies which rely heavily on agency workers, as well as in the public sector.  

Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite said, “Unite has been in the forefront of standing up for working people against this government’s cruel economic and social policies.” McCluskey promises the union will continue to focus on organizing in 2013. Unite has 1.5 million members.  

In Germany, IG Metall announced on 22 January 2013 that for the second year in a row the number of members has increased, this time by 18,000. Notably the number of young new members rose by 4.5 per cent and the union now has 223,000 members under the age of 27.  

IG Metall stated that the growth is result of a strategy that actively involves members in collective bargaining for company agreements. The union uses its strength in bargaining to address issues such as restricting the use of agency workers.   

“The growth of the low-wage sector needs to be stopped at any cost,” said Berthold Huber, President of IG Metall, reminding people that today one in four employees in Germany had a precarious job.  

With 2,263,707 members, the IG-Metall confirms its rank as the largest union in Germany.