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Sri Lankan unions demand withdrawal of anti-worker labour law

22 August, 2019Sri Lankan trade unions held massive protest demonstration in Colombo in front of the labour ministry on 21 August 2019 demanding withdrawal of the unified employment law proposed by the government.

The government of Sri Lanka as part of its attempt to change and replace the existing numerous labour laws has introduced a unified employment law also known as the Single Labour Law for consideration of the tripartite National Labour Advisory Council beginning of July this year. The new bill would integrate the existing laws such as the Wages Board Ordinance, the Factories Ordinance, Shop and Office Employees Act, Maternity Benefit Ordinance, and Factories Ordinance and others.

According to the unions, the proposed changes largely affecting private sector workers, in many ways undermine their rights and will eventually lead to poorer working conditions with longer working hours, lower wages, higher job insecurity and reduction in many other currently existing social benefits and protections.

Apoorva Kaiwar, South Asia regional secretary of IndustriALL Global Union said,

“In the process of changing the labour laws, the Sri Lanka government should take into account the views of trade unions. Enhancing protection of workers’ rights and labour standards towards sustainable development should be the primary purpose of labour laws.”

Anton Marcus,
Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union

Anton Marcus of IndustriALL Sri Lankan affiliate Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union said that,

“We are witnessing an unprecedented attack on workers’ rights. Proposed changes will affect basic working conditions of around eight million private sector workers and will make the eight-hour limit working day a thing of the past.

“It is unacceptable that the new proposal provides the employer with the right to decide on working conditions through employment contracts, making workers defenceless and vulnerable to the whims and fancies of the employers”.

Protesting unions also stated that the process of drafting the proposed law has been done without involvement of trade union representatives, violating traditions and norms in creating and amending labour laws in the country.

In their joint demonstration, 23 trade unions including many IndustriALL affiliates, called on the government to withdraw the proposed single labour law in its entirety without any further delay.