- Multinationals -

AP Moller & it's subsidiary Rosti UK - a fight for union recognition

Posted by: Oliver Richardson ( Transport & General Workers Union, Great Britain ) on February 23, 1999 at 16:06:29:

Rosti is the Technical Plastics division of AP Moller. AP Moller is one of the top five largest companies in Scandanavia. Its other operations include Maersk airline and Maersk line transport, as well as Netto supermarkets etc., Maersk oil and gas (operating in the North Sea off the Danish coast) and Odense Shipyards. The U.K. is the major recipient of Rosti investment in terms of operational sites. Rosti UK employs over 1000 people within the UK and made £2.2 million profit last year.

The initial contact with Rosti workers was made at the Wembley site two years ago. The primary concern at the time was the unilateral decision by management to change the shift pattern from eight hours to twelve hours without consultation. Rosti workers successfully recruited the majority of shop floor employees - the operatives and assembly workers.

The workforce is drawn mainly from the local Asian community and is overall fairly well balanced between men and women. Supervisors shift managers and initially cell leaders were almost without exception white. Not only was there discrimination in promotion, but also racist remarks and verbal threats. In particular the women assembly workers embarked a long, but ultimately successful struggle to, remove one female supervisor who was particularly abusive. While some practices have been eliminated it is still true that the employment profile is such that it impossible not to draw the conclusion that there is no equality of opportunity for Gujarati workers.

Other key issues within the plant include Health and Safety particularly in the plating department, Pay is less than four pounds an hour, but there are attendance and shift allowances. A large amount of overtime is worked so as to make up a decent living wage. Company sick pay is wholly inadequate being paid at the rate of one day per year worked, up to a maximum of eight days.

The T&G has always shown itself to be a willing party to a constructive and productive partnership with the company. The requests from the company via ACAS to verify our membership within the bargaining group that they defined were complied with. When this proved to be above 50 per cent Rosti failed to enter into any further negotiations with the union and broke off contact.

Last year, the T&G sought recognition at Rostiís factory in Wembley. Rosti agreed to involved the Advisory, Conciliation & Arbitration Service (ACAS), which established a jointly-agreed bargaining unit (the areas to be covered by the recognition) and audited the T&Gís membership in that unit. This demonstrated that over half of the relevant staff were union members.

A meeting between the two sides at ACAS on 7 December 1998, however, proved fruitless. Rostiís position was to meet, but refuse to enter any negotiations over recognition.

In January Rosti UK carried out redundancies at the two sites in the UK where the Transport & General Workers' Union (T&G) had sought recognition late last year. The Wembley site was then targeted for the bulk of the redundancies, 73 in all, while the remainder fell at Larkhall Scotland. T&G officials see no co-incidence in the fact that the two most active sites in the recognition campaign have been singled out for job losses.

In December, when Press coverage highlighted the campaign at the Wembley site, local management pressured the works committee to sign a statement about union recognition and other issues. It was relayed to them that Rosti Denmark would consider closing the factory if the statement was not signed.

The Union believes that it is encountering at Wembley the implementation of a deliberate anti union strategy by local management. Looking more closely into the operations of the parent company it has become clear to us that this is very much a part of a corporate strategy. AP Moller was recently exposed paying North Sea oil rig workers 81p per hour.

The timing of the redundancies reflects this; on the day of the publication of the 'Employment Relations Bill', which will require recognition by law in circumstances as at Rosti where over 50% of the bargaining unit are Union members, management finalised the job loses.

Three key activists, including the Branch Secretary were dismissed at this time. With the threat of legal action, the company conceded two days before an interim Employment Tribunal hearing to keep the activists on the payroll and to continue their contract of employment. Only yesterday (Friday 19th February) all three were reinstated and returned to work. This is exactly the remedy that the union would have sought at a full Tribunal hearing.

This has been a fundamental victory for the union. Whatever avoidance tactics or anti union strategy Rosti attempt before the legislation is enacted, this will not help postpone the inevitable. It therefore seems incredible that a Danish multinational, which at present complies with such regulations elsewhere in Europe, will not extend similar basic rights to UK workers prior to the impending legislative changes.

The case of the Rosti (Wembley) workers is at the intersection of a whole series of legislative changes within Europe and the UK. The Employment Relations Bill, the Working Time Regulations and the minimum wage will all bring new rights to the UK workers. Working people in West London are really on the march. No Company will be exempt and no worker will be excluded. Multinationals like AP Moller will not be able to carry out social dumping in the UK.

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