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Sri Lankan government withdraws proposed pension bill after protests

22 June, 2011The government of Sri Lanka withdrew a new Employee Pension Benefit Fund Bill on June 3 after massive protests. One worker was killed and hundreds injured during workers' strikes on May 31. IMF condemns the attack on workers and supports ITUC's call for solidarity.

SRI LANKA: Trade unions in Sri Lanka oppose a private pension fund bill introduced by the government on April 8. The bill was designed to meet one of the International Monetary Fund's conditions for a $US2.6 billion loan to Sri Lanka. Twentysix trade unions under the banner of the Joint Trade Union Alliance oppose the new pension scheme.

On May 24 trade unions held a demonstration against the proposed law. More than 30,000 workers participated. Police dispersed the demonstrators with tear gas and assaulted them. On May 31 more than 600 policemen and special task force members gathered near the main gate of the Katunayake Export Processing Zone and prevented workers from leaving the zone. A subsequent brutal police attack on workers resulted in the death of a worker and more than 250 injured.

Under the proposed pension bill workers would have to contribute during a minimum of 10 years to qualify for a pension. If they don't, money contributed would not be reimbursed. When workers change employer, a new account would be created, and they would lose their contribution. Presently workers contribute 10 per cent of their salary towards gratuity and 2 per cent towards pensions.

In Sri Lankan Export Processing Zones more than 80 per cent of the workers are young women and most of them migrants. They start working in EPZs at the age of about 20 and work only for about seven to eight years. Most women withdraw their social security savings at the time of their marriage. They now can withdraw pension funds and gratuity - 15 days wages per year of service. With the new pension bill this would not be possible.

The International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF) condemns the death of a young worker and calls upon the Sri Lankan government to respect democratic principles and negotiate with trade unions to solve genuine grievances of workers.

The ITUC has launched a campaign to express solidarity with the workers in Sri Lanka. It proposes a model protest letter to the Sri Lankan authorities - with copy to Sri Lankan embassies and ITUC ([email protected]).