Bata dispute drags on
By Lenin Amarawickrama
Is Bata, the multinational shoe manufacturer, going the way of other MNCs like Reckitt & Colman or Liptons that have shifted or outsourced production line with global trends?

These fears have been entertained as a strike at Bata continues for the second month in a dispute over retrenchment plans and the sacking of a union leader. Trade unions say MNCs prefer to either import from their plants in other countries or outsource production as it eliminates labour unrest, payment of provident fund and other dues.

Efforts by a Labour Tribunal to resolve the dispute also failed last week with both sides maintaining hard-line positions. The dispute since March was precipitated by plans by the company to terminate the services of 146 from a total of 513 employees to keep Bata afloat.

"In efforts to keep the company's business operations economically viable by ensuring competitive prices in the market, the company has, in the recent years, expanded volumes of their own footwear imports and also outsourced a share of production.

If not for these arrangements, the company by now could not have continued with its manufacturing operations," it said in a March 31 letter to the Labour Commissioner.

After Sunil Hettiarachchi, a trade union leader, was sacked from Bata when he exposed a fraud relating to provident fund payments, workers resorted to the current sit-down strike claiming they too have been sacked. The company said Hettiarachchi was dismissed for misconduct.

The sit-in strike has stopped production for weeks. The Commercial and Industrial Workers Union (CIWU) wants the company to stop subcontracting and for the government to protect the local footwear manufacturing industry.

Asked for comments, Bata Managing Director K.Y.M. Bradley said a statement would be issued on Thursday. The statement was not issued and Bradley could not be reached on Friday. Workers say that Bata imports low cost footwear from China in addition to outsourcing over 50 percent of its domestic production to subcontractors.

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