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Attack on trade union rights in Sri Lanka

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31 May, 2023In another attempt to weaken trade union strength, the Sri Lankan government has arbitrarily removed four trade unions, including IndustriALL affiliates, from the reconstituted National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC). 

Commercial and Industrial Workers Union- United Federation of Labour (CIWU-UFL), Ceylon Mercantile Industrial and General Workers’ Union (CMU) and Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union (FTZ&GSEU), all affiliated to IndustriALL, are among the four unions excluded from the NLAC.

This comes at a time when the Sri Lankan government is proposing to reform the country’s existing labour laws. Unions claim that is an attempt to side line independent unions, especially in the private sector. Excluding representation in the NLAC of workers from the free trade zones and export manufacturing sectors will allow employers to more easily negotiate for labour law reforms to their advantage.

NLAC is a tripartite mechanism to discuss labour-related matters. Since the beginning of the economic and political turmoil in Sri Lanka, unions have demanded that the government convene NLAC meetings to discuss the situation of working people, but the administration has shown no interest to engage with unions. Instead, the government has proposed investor-friendly labour law reforms which unions claim will have an adverse impact on working people of the country.

Media reports highlight that Sri Lankan government has stated that the reconstitution of the NLAC is based on the membership strength of the trade unions.

Anton Marcus, FTZ&GSEU joint secretary, says:

“This is a violation of ILO fundamental conventions. Our union has submitted a complaint to the Human Rights Commission requesting it to intervene in the government’s arbitrary and indiscriminate selection of representatives in the NLAC reconstitution process. Trade unions will also submit a joint letter to the ILO in this regard.”

CMU has been a member of NLAC since 1994, UFL since 1995 and FTZ&GSEU since 2009.

Atle Høie, IndustriALL general secretary, says:

“IndustriALL condemns the action of the Sri Lankan government that violates the fundamental rights of workers in the private sector to be represented at the NLAC. We call on the Sri Lankan government to include the excluded unions including our affiliates in the NLAC.”