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Protest outside Ansell’s head office | Pic by Joe Armao/ The Age

Nearly 300 Sri Lankan workers of Australian-based condom and medical gloves manufacturer, Ansell who were sacked in December 2013 for going on strike in a local factory, received backing from their Australian counterparts who protested outside the head office in Melbourne last week. According to the Australian daily, The Age Textile and manufacturing unions on Tuesday rallied outside Ansell’s head office in Melbourne, accusing the company of sweatshop-like exploitation and unfairly firing employees for trying to exercise basic industrial rights.

“The mainly female Sri Lankan workers, who unions say were paid 80 cents an hour and subjected to demoralising conditions, were terminated by Ansell after going on strike in 2013,” the newspaper said.

Meanwhile, National Secretary of the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia, Michele O’Neil in an opinion column published on The Daily Telegraph on Monday, charged that the workers were treated unfairly especially when they had tried to solve issues through negotiations.

“The company’s response was swift and harsh and many workers have not found work since,” she said.

She also accused the company of unfairly cutting down the wages of these workers. “Ansell made more than $3 million a week last year but it wanted to take a few extra cents an hour off these poor women. Is this the behavior we would expect from an Aussie company?,” she questioned.

Meanwhile, it is also learnt that a case had been filed at the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, seeking reinstatement and compensation for the sacked workers.

O’Neil had reportedly said the protest would be the start of a nationwide campaign against the global latex manufacturer, urging customers to think twice before buying Ansell products.  Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan office of Ansell, situated in Biyagama, refused to comment on the matter.

However, The Age, quoting an Ansell spokesman said that the dispute began after the company sacked 11 workers in 2013 for misconduct including coercing colleagues to join industrial action and attempting to sabotage and undermine the business.

“Employees had gone on strike for more than 45 days before Ansell ordered them back to work and warned of the consequences of failing to comply,” the spokesman had said.

“While 261 employees returned to work, 289 of our workers remained absent and are no longer considered employees of Ansell,” he said.

Ansell says the company’s actions have been upheld by Sri Lanka’s labour tribunal, which had ruled the strikes unlawful.
The spokesperson had reportedly said that all disciplinary action taken by the company against the affected employees or other workers at the facility has been done in accordance with local law, accepted labour standards and Ansell’s own code of conduct.

“We have and will continue to maintain the utmost professionalism as this issue is resolved, regardless of any threat or misinformation campaign conducted by a few disgruntled individuals and misinformed organizations.”

Ansell is the biggest condom manufacturer in the Australian market with popular brands including Lifestyle and their ‘next generation’ SKYN.