Sri Lanka: Workers protest arbitrary dismissals

02.02.2017

Management at Global Star Logistics in Seeduwa, Sri Lanka, arbitrarily dismissed workers for forming a union.

Workers at Global Star Logistics joined IndustriALL Global Union affiliate the Free Trade Zone and General Services Employees’ Union (FTZ & GSEU) and formed a branch organization in September 2015.

Management responded by criminalizing workers, with threats, intimidation and even attempts to physically attack leading union members. Workers approached the labour department to resolve the issue, and the case was referred for the intervention of the Commissioner of Labour.

To resolve the dispute, the commissioner called a meeting of workers and management on 19 January 2017. After receiving notice of the meeting, management punished the workers, paying reduced wages and deducting the incentive due to the workers for the month of January 2017.

Management provided no explanation for the non-payment of the incentive after repeated requests from the workers.

When workers arrived at work on 13th January, they found that management had locked them out and put up a notice stating that all except for 66 workers whose names were listed could report to work.

Later in the evening, management arbitrarily announced that the 66 workers were “dangerous” and would be suspended without salary until 27 January. The notice also stated that if workers underwent counseling, they would be paid a stipend of Rs 10,000 each.

Workers protested the arbitrary suspensions and dismissals and hoped to raise the issue during the meeting with the commissioner. However, management representatives did not show up for scheduled meeting on 19 January, but asked to defer the meeting.

The next day, as a meeting with the Negombo labour official to resolve the dispute was in progress, in a blatant attempt at intimidation, picketing workers were detained by police for allegedly possessing explosive materials. They were released after the intervention of a FTZ & GSEU representative.

In a subsequent meeting at the commissioner’s office, management insisted that the dispute be referred for arbitration, while workers called for immediate resolution through mutual discussion.

The FTZ & GSEU has urged Sri Lanka’s Minister of Labour and Trade Union relations to immediately intervene to settle the dispute amicably. The union also expressed concern that the dispute may adversely affect Sri Lanka’s application for the GSP Plus preferential import tariff with the European Union.