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EU must address Sri Lanka’s labour violations before granting trade preferences, says IndustriALL

2 December, 2016IndustriALL Global Union, Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) are calling on the European Union to adopt a roadmap to improve labour rights in Sri Lanka before the country can benefit from preferential access to European markets.

In June 2016, Sri Lanka re-applied for inclusion on the list of eligible beneficiary developing countries for the EU’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP+), which provides enhanced market access on the basis that the applicant is not in serious violation of a number of human rights instruments, including core ILO labour conventions.

However, Sri Lanka is currently in serious breach of those conventions. IndustriALL trade union affiliates in the country report violations including obstruction of the right to freedom of association, gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment and unsafe work places.

IndustriALL, CCC and the ITUC are therefore urging the European Union to seek agreement with Sri Lanka on a set of benchmarks to bring the country into compliance with core labour standards, particularly ILO Conventions 87 and 98.

Examples of union busting practices are blacklisting of workers in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone, who were suspended or dismissed on the grounds of trade union related activities, meaning they are unable to find another job. In the same Free Trade Zone, workers who affiliated to IndustriALL affiliate, CIWU, were systematically suspended and dismissed at Smart Shirts Ltd. Phase 1.

Similar practices of union busting are happening at ATG Ceylon (Pvt) and ATG Occupation Ltd, where managers tried to silence workers addressing toxic chemicals and their safety at work, and fired a woman who complained of sexual harassment by a male colleague and sectional manager. 

The Sri Lanka government and the Board of Investment, which governs the Free Trade Zones, do little to enforce the law, allowing these violations to continue with impunity.

In a joint positioning statement released before an EU meeting on the Sri Lanka’s GSP+ application on 5 December, the organizations said:

Clean Clothes Campaign, IndustriALL Global Union and the International Trade Union Confederation urge the European Union to adopt a roadmap with time-bound measures to comply with the ILO core conventions before benefitting from GSP+. There is simply no credible argument that Sri Lanka is not currently in serious breach of those conventions.