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Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers World-Wide

Protest union-busting at BAT Malaysia

Posted to the IUF website 21-Jun-2007

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Starting in September 2006, British American Tobacco (BAT) has launched two initiatives intended to seriously undermine the negotiating power of the 44-year old BAT (Malaysia) Employees' Union (BATEU). The key weapon in this union-busting drive is job reclassification of employees to "management" status. Under Malaysian labour law these reclassified workers lose their union membership. See background story here.

In an open letter addressed to chief executive Paul Adams on 9 May, the IUF called on BAT to explain its Malaysian subsidiary's practices in the light of the company's professed commitment to trade union rights for all BAT employees. In his reply, Adams quoted from the company's Employment Principles (which contains the curious commitment to "respect both freedom of association and indeed non-association") and proceeded to deny that they were engaged in a union-busting exercise, contending that "changes in the business environment have led BAT Malaysia to implement a range of initiatives to restructure their operations as well as their workforce in order to enhance efficiency and effectiveness". What he didn't comment on was the fact that these changes involve the de-unionisation of currently unionised workers. What he didn't comment on was the fact that in the case of the "promotion" of technicians to specialists, BAT has "declared" that these would be management positions (no law obliges them to do so). What he didn't comment on was the fact that in the case of the "promotion" of the sales staff, the company sought and claims to have obtained from the Director General of Industrial Relations special authorisation to change the status of sales staff from employee to management. At every step of the way, BAT has matched restructuring with blatant union-busting by manipulating the labour laws.

Another initiative BAT has undertaken to "enhance efficiency and effectiveness" and bust the union is to outsource the Technical Service department. Voluntary separation packages have been offered to the 15 staff (all union members). The eight workers who have not taken up the package are now facing dismissal - and fighting to keep their jobs. BATEU, in consultation with the affected workers, has rejected the offer of an enhanced separation package as it is against union principles to allow the company to conduct a retrenchment exercise for jobs that still exist.

What you can do

Several unions representing BAT workers have written or approached the company to protest against and seek an explanation for their anti-union behaviour in Malaysia. We need to step up the pressure. Please write to BAT. Click here for a model letter.

On May 1st, BATEU members (and BAT workers who are no longer officially members) staged a rally in Kuala Lumpur together with the Malaysian Trade Union Congress. Click here to see photos of the rally posted on the website of the IUF Asia-Pacific Regional Secretariat.

The IUF is calling on all affiliates to support the BATEU in its struggle against union busting and the strategies the company is employing - spurious job reclassification, "voluntary" separation schemes and the outsourcing of union jobs - to achieve its objective. Solidarity messages go a long way in giving the union the support needed to carry on the fight. Please send messages to the general secretary of BATEU at [email protected] with a copy to the IUF secretariat at [email protected]

BATEU has been representing workers first at Rothmans and then at BAT since 1964 and is one of the oldest trade unions in Malaysia.