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Sri Lanka: thousands protest against anti-union discrimination at FTZs

7 July, 2016More than 3,000 members of independent trade unions in Sri Lanka demonstrated against severe anti-union discrimination in Free Trade Zones (FTZs) in the country. 

The independent trade union alliance, consisting of six trade unions, organized the protest on 22 June in front of the main gate of the Katunayake FTZ, the biggest FTZ in Sri Lanka.

After the presidential election in January 2015 and the election of a new government in August 2015, many employers in Sri Lanka have been demanding labour law reform to get rid of unions from Free Trade Zones (FTZs).

Employers in FTZs have increased pressure on unions and their members, including refusal to recognize unions, a public campaign to malign unions, discriminatory shop floor practices, intimidation, threats of physical attack, suspensions and dismissals. Many employers at FTZs are yet to provide the pay hike of Rs 2000 (US$13), which was announced by the government earlier this year.  According to unions, such anti-worker position of employers is also leading to increased incidences of sexual harassment at workplaces.

Sri Lanka is one of the few countries where FTZs are functioning with trade unions. Trade unions in Sri Lanka have played a key role in ensuring that trade union rights remained in place in FTZs.

Unions are demanding the government intervenes and prevents employers’ moves to make FTZs trade union free zones. Apart from harming workers rights, unions say employers’ actions will deeply hamper government’s efforts to regain European Union’s GSP+ status, which was withdrawn by EU on the grounds of human rights violations.    

Protesting workers demanded that employers stop threats of physical attacks, recognize unions as collective bargaining agents, reinstate all employees dismissed for trade union activities, stop employing precarious workers with the intention to bust union activities, and punish the officials engaged in sexual harassment.

The collective of independent unions included IndustriALL Global Union affiliate FTZ and General Services Employees Union (FTZ&GSEU), Ceylon Mercantile and General Workers Union (CMU) and United Federation of Labour Ceylon Bank Employees Union, Union of Postal and Telecommunication Employees and Women Solidarity union.