Israel/Palestine,  Trade Unions

WAC-MAAN vs. Sodastream: Who’s in the right?

Back during the Scarlett Johansson/Oxfam controversy, I was rather impressed by Daniel Birnbaum’s defence of Sodastream an ethical employer, a view which seemed to be confirmed by many of the firm’s Palestinian workers who opposed calls to boycott the company. But, on the face of it, Sodastream’s mass sacking of 60 Palestinian workers seems very heavy handed.  Night shift workers had complained that they had insufficient food on site during Ramadan (no food can be brought in from outside) and raised health and safety concerns about working when weakened by hunger. They were sent home, having been assured the problem would be swiftly resolved.  WAC-MAAN, an Israeli workers’ advice centre, reports what (allegedly) happened next:

The following morning at 10:00, the 60 night-shift workers received phone calls from an executive named Ilan, who informed them that management had decided to fire them. They were told to arrive at the plant on Sunday, July 6, in order to return their employee cards and uniforms. When they came, they were received with hostility, and the company refused to let them collect their personal belongings. After finally being allowed to enter the plant – under escort, as if they were dangerous criminals – they discovered that their personal lockers had been opened in a way that violated their privacy. The company later issued a statement saying that the shift workers had behaved violently.

Sodastream has denied that this is an accurate report:

Sodastream’s management said: “The employees were fired because they took the law into their own hands and went on a rowdy strike for no practical reason.” Company officials said, “We regret that WAC-Maan chose to turn to the media before comprehensively reviewing the facts.”

According to these officials, the process of firing the employees was perfectly legal, and a hearing was held for employees and they will not be denied compensation.

“Palestinian employees went on strike and shut down the production lines of the plant with no connection to food. We will not accept a situation where the workers, the moment food doesn’t appear, shut down the plant and demonstratively ignore their supervisors.”

Although it’s difficult to know quite what has gone on here, there is an apparent contradiction in the management position that the ‘strike’ had nothing to do with food, and that the plant was supposedly shut down ‘the moment food doesn’t appear.’