Union-busting at BAT Malaysia

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, because under Malaysian labour law managers are ineligible for union membership. Similar tactics have been used to radically reduce union membership by other TNCs including Nestlé and Coca-Cola in the Asia/Pacific region.

At BAT Malaysia, the position of Process Technician has been "upgraded" to "Process Specialist". While this new job category carries with it some change in job content, its main feature is the change in employment grade to management status. The change in job content amounts essentially to an increased workload for fewer "specialists": those technicians who have not been kept on as specialists have been declared redundant and are being offered "voluntary" retirement schemes. With the elimination of the job category of process technician, the union has lost 175 members through job re-classification and forced retirement and retrenchment. In addition, BAT has outsourced its Technical Service Department, declaring 15 union members redundant.

In addition, BAT has successfully petitioned the Ministry of Labour to change the employment grade of its sales staff from "employee" to "management". The reclassification has resulted in the de-unionization at a stroke of the almost 200 sales employees.

The BAT Employees Union has been struggling on many fronts against these blatant attempts at union-busting. Thanks to a strong union mobilization, over 80% of the sales staff have signed letters protesting their "promotion" and demanding to remain union members. The union has filed complaints with and sought assistance from the government's Industrial Relations Department and has received the support of the Malaysian Trade Union Congress and its 23 affiliates.

The IUF called on BAT corporate management to reverse these anti-union actions by its Malaysian management. In a letter addressed to the union in February, BAT Malaysian management insisted that "as long as the company acts within the law, no person, including the union, can interfere with this right". The IUF has now called on BAT chief executive Paul Adams to explain BAT's Malaysian practices in the light of the company's professed commitment to trade union rights for all BAT employees.

The IUF will pursue other means of pressuring the company to respect worker and trade union rights, including a submission to the OECD for violation of the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises.

More info: www.iuf.org/