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Sri Lankan unions continue to fight against crisis

7 November, 2022Unions and progressive organizations in Sri Lanka are putting up a strong fight to save democratic rights and workers’ rights in the face of the worst economic and political crisis in the history of the country.

Several political parties, progressive organizations and trade unions took to the streets in Colombo on 2 November demanding that the government stop using the police and armed forces to suppress peaceful protests emerging across the country.

Since the new President Ranil Wickramasinghe was elected, the government has detained university students and arrested protestors under false charges. The police deployed at protest sites regularly use tear gas and water cannons to intimidate protestors.

Last month, trade unions organized a public meeting in Colombo, presenting a 13-point resolution. In it, the unions strongly condemned the government’s anti-people and anti-worker policies.

“We strongly condemn the manner in which the Sri Lankan government is handling the current crisis. Putting protestors behind bars is not the solution. We demand that draconian laws such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which is used to crush citizen protests, be immediately abolished. The government must engage in a social dialogue with unions and other organizations,”

said Anton Marcus, general secretary of IndustriALL affiliate Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union.

Trade unions, including IndustriALL’s affiliates, have written extensively to the government demanding that the government engage with unions to discuss labour issues and summon the meeting of the National Labour Advisory Council, the tripartite mechanism established as per the Convention 144 of the International Labour Organization.

According to reports, the minister of labour arbitrarily increased the overtime service limit of 60 hours per month for female workers up to 75 hours ,and the limit of ten night shifts per month up to 15 days per month. Employers and the government have used the economic crisis to take steps to curtain the rights and privileges of the workers who are currently living under extremely difficult conditions with skyrocketing inflation and poverty wages.

In their resolution, trade unions put forth the demand that the government provide a monthly economic relief allowance of LKR10,000 (US$27) to all workers, and every two weeks, provides a pack of essential goods to each family generating an income less than LKR 50,000 (US$136) per month, irrespective of their employment status.

Apoorva Kaiwar, IndustriALL south Asia regional secretary, says:

“IndustriALL extends solidarity to the working people of Sri Lanka. We call on the Sri Lankan government to seriously consider the demands of trade unions and to take concrete steps towards improving the living conditions of workers in the country. The government should immediately call for a meeting of the NLAC and resume dialogue with trade unions.”