The Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union (FTZ & GSEU) has become the first union to successfully bargain a collective agreement with a factory in Sri Lanka’s largest free trade zone.
The collective agreement was signed between the union and the factory, Next Manufacturing Limited, on October 22, 2021, less than a year after a trade union branch office of the FTZ & GSEU was set up at the factory.
Speaking on the achievement, Joint Secretary of the Union Anton Marcus, says factory employees joined the union in December 2020, when they launched a strike to demand payment of late bonuses. “We eventually signed a two-year collective agreement with the company with the support of trade unions and civil society organizations in the United Kingdom.”
The agreement is a first for the Katunayake Investment Promotion Zone. Prior to this, only one other factory chain–the Esquel Group, with more than 350 garment factories–had entered into a collective agreement in Sri Lanka. Both agreements were negotiated and signed with the FTZ & GSEU Union.
“Under this collective agreement, we have agreed to discuss not only the terms and conditions that affect employees but also all privileges and demands submitted by the unions from time to time, and training and development programs that workers can enroll in,” says Marcus. “They also agreed to deduct salary dues and credit the union’s account, and to allow a two-hour duty leave per month to hold committee meetings within factory premises and a half-day duty leave to hold general meetings. The union has agreed to provide two noticeboards, a cabinet and a telephone for the two branch buildings, and the first members are allowed to assemble in the workplace if required, either after work or before the commencement of work.”
This landmark victory carries an important message to all those who work in the garment industry. Collective bargaining power and worker rights can be won even in the garment sector.
The FTZ & GSEU are partners of the Solidarity Center.
A survey of garment workers in Sri Lanka, conducted in partnership with Solidarity Center and IndustriALL, found employer opposition and harassment has limited their ability to form unions and address workplace rights violations such as increased workloads and work hours, layoffs and temporary termination.
The AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., is hosting a memorial for Brother Earl Brown, with a reception to follow.
Please RSVP to: [email protected]
If you are unable to attend, the memorial will be broadcast live here.
Saturday, March 25
AFL-CIO, 815 16th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.
Doors open at 2:30 p.m., program begins at 3 p.m.
Reception will follow.
Please RSVP to: [email protected]
In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center or the Solidarity Center.
The Solidarity Center and the global labor movement lost a passionate civil-rights champion, tireless defender of workers, brilliant intellect and, most of all, a good friend yesterday. Earl V. Brown, Jr., Solidarity Center labor and employment law counsel, succumbed February 26 to complications following a long bout with pneumonia. He will be sorely missed by family, friends, colleagues and the thousands of workers whose lives he touched around the world.
Brown worked with grassroots groups in Thailand to advance social justice and labor rights. Here, he taught young lawyers from Burma in Mae Sot, Thailand, in 2011. Credit: Solidarity Center/Rudy Porter
A longtime U.S. labor activist, Earl had represented trade unions and employees in U.S. labor and civil-rights litigation since 1976. He served as general counsel of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, associate general counsel with the United Mine Workers of America, and was a partner in a U.S. labor and employment law firm before joining the Solidarity Center in 1999. He also was a fellow of the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers and recently served as the union co-chair of the International Labor Law Committee of the Labor and Employment Law Section of the American Bar Association.
His illustrious résumé, however, does not fully capture his compassion, humor and deep bond with workers and grassroots rights activists. Earl dedicated the last 17 years of his career to building a broader global labor and social justice movement. As Asia regional labor and employment law counsel for the Solidarity Center, he lived in Thailand for six years, where he worked directly with lawyers and grassroots groups to promote enforcement of labor, discrimination and employment law.
Throughout his life, Brown was dedicated to pursuing civil rights. Here he meets with the Rev. Dr. William J Barber II. Photo courtesy Solidarity Center/Hanad Mohamud
Over his long career, Earl met, mentored, trained and supported workers, lawyers and human rights advocates confronting some of the world’s greatest injustices. His work helped Burmese migrants and refugees fight employment discrimination in Thailand; Bangladeshi lawyers pursue justice in Bangladeshi courts for victims of industrial disasters; networks of unions and NGOs expose occupational diseases; and strengthen workers’ compensation laws and practices across Asia.
“Earl was one of the smartest people I have ever met,’ said Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau. “He was deeply grounded politically, morally and in his work in the belief that the people of the global working class, especially the most disenfranchised, were the most important people in the world, and his work from Bangladesh to Thailand to China always reflected that. And he made me laugh. A lot. I will miss him like so many.”
Tributes to Earl Pouring in from around the World
Said Cathy Feingold, AFL-CIO international director: “We lost an incredible colleague and friend, Earl Brown. Civil rights lawyer, U.S. labor lawyer and rule of law expert for workers’ movements around the world. Rarely have I met someone with such a deep commitment to justice. He taught us all so much through his wisdom, humor and experience. He will be greatly missed and his memory will be honored by all of us who will continue to fight for justice here and with partners around the world.”
And Thailand’s Human Rights Development Foundation, a longtime Solidarity Center ally, released a statement that summed up Earl’s impact on the movement for social justice. “It is our hope, in the wake of Earl’s tragic passing, that others will find strength to continue promoting the rights of workers, protecting the vulnerable and fostering justice.”
We will be honoring Earl’s lifelong commitment to civil rights and the labor movement with a memorial Saturday, March 25, at AFL-CIO headquarters, 815 16th Street, NW, Washington, D.C.
Doors at 2:30 p.m., and the program begins at 3 p.m. A reception will follow. Please RSVP to: [email protected]
Human rights lawyer Preeda Tongcumnum is among the more than 200 migrant worker advocates gathering in Bogar, Indonesia, this week to take part in the Solidarity Center labor migration conference. As assistant to the secretary general at the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF), Tongcumnum helps migrant workers in Thailand understand their legal rights and advocates for policies that support migrant workers.
Another conference participant, Jane Barrett, affiliate support coordinator at the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), heads up a network of unions and worker associations that coordinate organizing and support for informal economy workers, including migrant workers. Barrett plans to “share some of our fledgling attempts and thinking around organizing migrant workers and to learn from other successful examples.”
Traveling from the United States, where he organizes a largely migrant workforce, Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON), also is joining the August 10–12 event, Labor Migration: Who Benefits? A Solidarity Center Conference on Worker Rights & Shared Prosperity.
Tongcumnum, Barrett and Alvarado offer a glimpse of the broad range of migrant worker activists who are bringing their diverse experiences, challenges and successes together for three days to achieve one goal: empowering migrant workers.
They will share strategies on organizing migrant workers, reforming the labor recruitment process and ensuring migrant worker access to justice.
They will address xenophobia and gender equality, and they will take time to celebrate their victories: Members of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) will mark achievements like the 2011 passage of an International Labor Organization convention stipulating rights of domestic workers, many who are migrants, and the formation of the organization which unites domestic workers from around the world.
Get facts about migrant workers and follow the events on our website and on Twitter @SolidarityCntr.
Earl V. Brown, Jr. & Kyle A. deCant
Solidarity Center Labor and Employment Counsel Earl Brown and co-author Kyle deCant examine the legal issues surrounding the growing numbers of China’s industrial interns, the latest class of “cheap” labor to be deployed in Chinese private industry.