Wells Hinton Plastics
'We're treated like slaves'
AT TEN o'clock last Sunday morning a group of Asian workers secretly gathered at Amersham Common village hall, 35 miles west of London. The workers at Wells Hinton Plastics in Little Chalfont, Amersham, were meeting their GPMU print workers' union official to discuss the next step in their battle for trade union recognition. "They are treating us like slaves in there," one young Asian worker told Socialist Worker.
The factory they work in makes plastic bottles. It is set in an industrial estate in a leafy, prosperous area. But it employs two dozen Asian workers, many from Pakistan, at dirt cheap rates and works them ragged.
"We work an eight hour shift, with two 15 minutes break," said one worker. "There is no heating and no fans. So it is cold in the winter and hot in the summer. The floor is covered in oil. We don't wear gloves or protective shoes. There is no health and safety. Recently one worker slipped and banged his head on a machine. He lost consciousness. He couldn't even stand up properly, and they still tried to make him work. He's now on sick pay, �60 a week-that's all."
The workers say factory boss Bob Povey takes advantage of them. "Only Asian people will work on the shop floor, because it is so bad," one explained. "We have to work two machines at the same time. We are on the minimum wage. We take home �120 to �130 a week. We have no shift allowances."
Many of the workers work under strict visa regulations. They have to show a continual period of service to stay on the right side of the authorities. So if they get the sack from Wells Hinton Plastics they could get immigration troubles, as the company knows full well.
We want our union
THE WELLS HINTON workers finally snapped last September when one of the night shift workers wanted time off to go back to Pakistan. The workers say the bosses persuaded the man, who did not speak English, to sign a letter agreeing to leave the company. This meant his holiday pay was axed and his job would not be guaranteed. "All the night shift walked out. They decided it was time to get a union together," said one of the activists.
The night shift then spoke to day shift workers: "We contacted the GPMU. We got union forms, talked to everybody and got them to fill them out. Now everyone is in the GPMU." But Wells Hinton management moved to undermine the union drive. It signed a sweetheart deal with the AEEU engineers' union without telling its employees.
Workers say individuals were put on easy machines as a kind of bribe to join the AEEU, and those at the centre of organising the GPMU were put on difficult machines. But the workers have stood firm. "We joined the GPMU, and that is the union we want recognised," said one worker.
The workers have now voted for strike action. This militancy has shocked the company into agreeing to go to ACAS for arbitration. But the workers are still eager to go for action. "We are doing this for the future. Factories like ours need unions, because all the bosses want is profit," said one worker. There has to be an ending to all this. The time has come for us to fight."
- Messages of support c/o Miles Hubbard at GPMU, Graphic House, The Broadway, Farnham Common, Slough, Berks SL2 3PQ.