By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen
150 sinhalese are employed by A.J. Fishing Industries in the Katunayake EPZ just north of the Sri Lankan capital Colombo. Since it was established in 1985, the company has been producing longlines and other fishing equipment. According to the company itself, it provides about 90% of the longlines for the Lofoten fisheries in Northern Norway. As NorWatch arrives for a pre-arranged appointment, managing director Terje Sandvik informs that photographing is prohibited in the free zone, and therefore also on the company's premises. Repeatedly, requests are made to visit the production localities and examine into the working conditions, but these are politely but firmly turned down. NorWatch is granted an interview with Sandvik in the company's office department.
Trade unions prohibited
-Our workers earn wages way above the required minimum, Terje Sandvik says, and continues,
- Here, they make from Rs 6000 upwards, and they work standard working week, which means from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week and five hours on Saturdays. The pay system is partly based on a piecework system, and we have flexible working hours, which means that those who elect to work one hour extra on weekdays may take Saturdays off.
Sandvik emphasises that the employees are satisfied with their working conditions, and that there is a good atmosphere in the company.
- Why are trade unions banned from your company?
- Personally, I don't have anything against trade unions, but we are strictly adhering to the regulations laid down by the Board of Investment, which is the authority in the EPZ. They recommend a different model.
- What is this model?
- Several times a year, the company management arrange talks with a few representatives from the employees, who then take up issues regarding the working environment, wages and things like that, Sandvik says.
Vernon Kern, the sinhalese personnel manager at A.J. Fishing, puts it like this:
- When the BOI was established in 1978 in order to attract foreign investment, this was something entirely new. We wanted everything to be as good as possible, and that nothing should get in the way of production. But you see, trade unions have a tendency for making demands and for striking.
- Many of the workers inside the zone are better of here than they would have been outside, says Kern.
- But why will you not let us visit the production localities?
- That's company policy. It's just the way it is, says Terje Sandvik.
A.J. Fishing is a joint venture between the investor family Jafferjee of Sri Lanka, and the Norwegian Sandvik family, which runs the company. Also, other companies controlled by the Sandvik family are involved. One of these is Colombi, which is responsible for customer relations and sales of the A.J. Fishing anglers' equipment. Another is Redskapshuset AS, which is responsible for customer relations for the rest of the company's fishing equipment portfolio. In addition to production of fishing equipment, which is directly owned by A.J. Fishing, the company is in the process of establishing a joint venture company with Møre Plast, intending to produce buoys and fenders on the company's premises at Katunayake. A.J. Fishing is also producing boats on license from Vikersund boats, Norway, and has made around 20 boats during the first year of this kind of production.
"Different types of contact"
Sandvik is interested in questions regarding communication between management and the employees, and he thinks this works well within the company. Even though traditional trade unions are banned from A.J. Fishing, the management has established "different types of contact" with their workers. When it comes to formal channels, the regular meetings with worker representatives are the most important, and there is also a welfare committee for the workers.
- The workers' welfare committee is in charge of a number of social initiatives, and takes care of a number of minor tasks for the employees on their workplace. Basically, the employees are responsible for the welfare committee themselves. The company contributes 50% of the expenses, and at times the company contributes over and above this. For example, just recently, I gave them a boat that has some faults to it, to use as a prize in a lottery. The boat was not saleable, but fully usable, says Sandvik.
The export processing zone is heavily guarded, but the managing director of A.J. Fishing has learned how to handle the local bureaucracy. His company plays soccer with the security guards at the zone gate. As NorWatch is joining Sandvik in his car, driving out of the EPZ, we are not subject to the obligatory security check, and Sandvik says:
- You see, this soccer playing pays off. By the way, I am both the captain and coach of the team.
A.J. Fishing in Sri Lanka
A.J. Fishing Industries Ltd is located in the Katunayake EPZ in Sri Lanka. The company has 150 employees, and exports different types of fishing equipment. Norwegian customers are the buyers of about 70% of the company's production. The factory in Katunayake co-operates on sales and customer relations with the companies Columbi and Redskapshuset of Norway. It also co-operates with Viksund, Norway, on production of plastic boats. The company is owned 22% by Arnulf Sandvik, 22% by Terje Sandvik, 44% by the company AJ Management and 12% by Nuova Covema.
Norwatch Newsletter 9/99