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Sri Lankan affiliates intensify coordinated organizing in Free Trade Zones

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31 July, 2015IndustriALL Global Union and its major trade union affiliates in Sri Lanka are planning coordinatad organizing drives in the tough environments of Free Trade Zones, where workers’ rights are systematically treated with less importance than profit.

The three major affiliates of IndustriALL in Sri Lanka: Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union (FTZ&GSEU), National Union of Metal & Migrant Workers of Sri Lanka (NUMMS) and United Federation of Labour (UFL) have decided to coordinate to organize workers in the Free Trade Zones (FTZs) and Board of Investment (BOI) approved companies.

At the UNIFOR project planning meeting held in Colombo on 22-23 July, the senior leaders of these unions along with their activists and leaders got together to draw a roadmap to further organizing efforts. This is the first time these affiliates decide to take up the task of organizing jointly in the FTZs.

This initiative will follow the three golden principles of IndustriALL 1) build cooperation among affiliates and non-competition in organizing efforts 2) enforce solidarity and unity structures for the democratic functioning of unions, 3) build sustainability and accountability through membership dues collection.

The project activities will involve internally mapping the three unions and also mapping and identifying the companies in the three FTZs located at Katunayake, Biyagama & Panadura and the Board of Investment approved units located outside these FTZs.

Simultaneously, joint training workshops will be conducted for organizers from the three unions to plan out strategies and set targets for organizing. The individual unions will conduct capacity building workshops, awareness programmes and meetings with the workers near their boarding houses.

The workforce in the FTZs consists of more than 50 per cent female workers, which was reflected during the planning workshop, where more than half the participants were women.

The women workers employed in the FTZs are first generation industrial workers from rural areas and have to deal with many problems in their workplace such as sexual harassment, unfair wages, lack of implementation of ILO Conventions related to women workers, as well as many issues with their accommodation in boarding houses. It was therefore decided that one workshop would specifically address developing strategies to advance women workers' issues.

This was the first occasion for Apoorva Kaiwar, IndustriALL’s new Regional Secretary for South Asia, to attend a meeting in Sri Lanka since taking over in July 2015. Suzanna Miller, Project & Rights Officer, along with Mr. Kuldeep Dhanai, Finance Officer and Mr. Praveen Rao, Coordinator, confirmed the project objectives and participated actively in working with the affiliates to draw up their work plans for the period August – December 2015.