Workers of the world unite
Unions are following corporations and going multinational, as Group 4 Securicor discovered during a labour dispute in Indonesia. Phil Chamberlain reports
Saturday August 12, 2006
For Yachya, a security guard in Indonesia, the strike hit his children hardest. "They should be in school by now, but we don't have any money for their school fees," he says. "We used to have health insurance, but now we have to borrow money for health care."
Over in Uganda it is alleged that security guards at one company have been denied the right to form a union. In India, some security guards claim their firm fails to pay the legal level of overtime.
What links all three disputes is the British security giant Group 4 Securicor. With 33,000 employees in Britain, 430,000 staff worldwide and a global turnover of more than £4bn, it is a major player.
One union official describes the multinational as "adopting a common sense approach" to labour relations in the UK. In June, Tony Blair, the prime minister, described a union recognition agreement between the GMB and Group 4 Securicor as "groundbreaking". It took 15 months to negotiate the deal, which says that the GMB is an appropriate union to represent the firm's 15,500 UK-based security officers and agents.
But a campaign highlighting Group 4 Securicor's operations in the developing world has put the blue-chip company under pressure. It began in the US after the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) got into a recognition dispute with a Group 4 subsidiary, Wackenhut.
"It became clear that they had no intention of resolving this," says Bill Regan at the SEIU. "The company said it was a good company and so we looked at it globally. They are reasonably well thought of in Europe, but it is a completely different story elsewhere. We came to the conclusion that they had one policy for Europe and one for the rest of the world."
So, the SEIU put its muscle into highlighting Group 4 Securicor disputes in India, Uganda, South Africa and Kenya. But the focus has been Indonesia where, at the end of last month, security guards concluded a bitter 15-month dispute.
That dispute began when Group 4 Falk merged with Securicor. Workers at Securicor Indonesia wanted reassurances about their terms and conditions and, when negotiations on this collapsed, they went on strike. They say they were illegally sacked, have not been paid over the past 12 months as the law requires and suffered intimidation.
A series of court rulings, including a decision by the supreme court in Jakarta, had found in favour of the strikers. Group 4 Securicor remains bullish in defence of its actions. It says a small group of workers suddenly claimed membership of a union it had never heard of. They demanded severance pay five times that legally required and have rejected all attempts at negotiation.