Unite accuses employer of ‘blatant violation’ of international guidelines governing mulinational companies in the 4-month Merseyside dispute
Unite has called on the economic watchdog, the OECD, to investigate ‘blatant violations’ of international guidelines on the operations of multinational companies over the 4-month MMP dispute in Merseyside.
The union accuses the Austrian-owned packaging company of unlawfully dismissing more than 140 workers, in breach of both UK legislation and the OECD’s corporate governance rules to which more than 40 countries are signatories.
Unite hopes the complaint – which has TUC backing – will build pressure on the parent company, Mayr Melnhof Karton AG (MMK) to enter negotiations to resolve the dispute, which now centres on redundancy terms being offered by the firm.
The long-established guidelines (below), which cover human rights issues and measures to combat child labour, bribery and extortion as well as consumer protection and industrial relations, are not legally binding.
However, Unite officials hope that the threat of a possible fine if the OECD upholds the complaint will cause public embarrassment to the firm’s owners, institutional shareholders and customers, such as Kellogg’s and the electrical manufacturers, Phillips.
The complaint is unusual because, although the UK arm of the OECD regularly conducts as many as four investigations a year under the corporate governance procedures, they have been more often used by unions to persuade foreign subsidiaries of UK firms to implement guidelines on trade union recognition or minimum employment standards, not the other way round.
Unite’s director of organising, Sharon Graham said: “The actions taken by the company are almost without precedent in the context of UK industrial relations.
“The imposed ‘lock-out’ was the first recorded in the sector for over fifty years in the UK.
“MMP arrogantly thinks it can manipulate Britain’s weak labour laws, but the union will pursue this ‘rogue’ employer across international boundaries.”
It is likely that any investigation of the MMP dispute would initially be conducted through the OECD’s ‘contact point’ in the UK, which is based at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, and includes officials from the Foreign Office and the International Development Department as well as representatives from the TUC and the employers’ group, the CBI.
If the complaint is accepted, it could lead to a process of conciliation or mediation involving the employers, Unite and BIS officials.
In a statement, the BIS says: ‘Businesses do not generally wish to attract the publicity or press coverage which a complaint against them might entail.
‘In several cases businesses have been keen to enter into a dialogue with the complainant, with a view to resolving the issues quickly.’
Unite says it is liaising with the Austrian GPA union to file a similar complaint to the OECD.
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