Ansell victory a win for solidarity

12 October 2023

The following is a press release from Australia Asia Worker Links.

Melbourne-based Ansell pays compensation to sacked Sri Lankan trade union leaders—after a 10-year battle

In a resounding victory for workers’ rights and justice, eleven union leaders who were unjustly sacked from Ansell’s factory in Sri Lanka in 2013 have finally secured compensation after an arduous 10-year battle.

Ansell is a global leader in personal protective equipment. Though the company is still headquartered in Melbourne, all their production now happens in other countries. Ansell has made enormous profits in recent years – and has been the subject of widespread and credible allegations of forced labour in the company’s supply chain.

In 2013, Ansell launched union-busting operations at three of its unionised production sites—in Brazil, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka the company sacked a union leader after he was beaten up by thugs. This led to a strike by 2,000 workers in the company’s Sri Lankan factory. The company responded by sacking more union leaders and (after a 45-day strike) sacking another 281 workers.

After a long battle against these unjust sackings including solidarity rallies by unions in Australia, many workers at Ansell Lanka were offered reinstatement in 2016—but this offer was not extended to the 11 leaders of the union. Years of legal cases followed, with the company refusing to pay compensation, which was ordered by an arbitrator in 2018, and instead launching appeal after appeal.

In 2020, the 11 sacked union leaders once again approached Australian unions for assistance. Melbourne-based solidarity organisation Australia Asia Worker Links coordinated a campaign to build support for the sacked union leaders, and to help build genuine unions and links of solidarity along the PPE supply chain.

Multiple Australian unions have supported this solidarity campaign, including Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC), the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), and the Health and Community Services Union (HACSU). This compelling video produced by AAWL offers a chilling glimpse into the grim realities faced by workers in Ansell's supply chain.

Workers, unions, and solidarity organisations from Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, the UK, and France also joined in protests, forums, and solidarity meetings as part of the campaign.

Finally, Ansell have now ceased their legal appeals and have paid the 11 union leaders the compensation due to them. This victory sends a powerful message that workers will not stand idly by while corporations prioritise profit over human rights and worker dignity.

Despite this important win for union rights, there is still much unfinished business for unions and workers’ rights advocates in the PPE supply chain—including at Ansell. Ansell is facing legal action from workers who were subjected to debt bondage (modern slavery) by Ansell supplier Brightway in its Malaysian factories. Brightway is under sanction from US Customs due to the company’s use of forced labour.

Twenty-six former workers in Thailand are also taking legal action against Ansell. These migrant workers from Myanmar were employed through labour hire companies for many years at Ansell’s Thai factory. Ansell shifted the company’s Thai labour force to direct employment last year—but then sacked these workers, and only paid termination payments based on the short time they have been directly employed by Ansell. As migrant rights specialist Andy Hall notes, Ansell’s actions leave these workers in poverty, with a cloud over their immigration status in Thailand—and thus at serious risk of modern slavery.

So today, as we declare victory for the 11 Ansell Lanka workers, we also declare our support for workers at Ansell and throughout the global PPE supply chain. We stand firm in our commitment to supporting strong, independent unions that protect the rights and dignity of workers.

For media inquiries, please contact:

Jerome Small

Ansell PPE Campaign, AAWL

0437 197 871

Colin Long

Victoria Trades Hall Council

0403 920 361

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