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Sri Lankan unions protest against government’s anti-worker decisions

31 August, 2023Unions in Sri Lanka, including IndustriALL affiliates, organized a protest march in Colombo on 28 August to call out the government’s decision to restructure domestic debt using workers’ savings.

With the high inflation rate and absence of real wage growth, Sri Lankan workers’ living conditions have become appalling, especially for those employed in export-oriented manufacturing sectors like ready-made garment. Given the circumstances, the government’s decision to restructure domestic debt using superannuation funds, like EPF and ETF, would create disastrous results for workers.

The actual value of people's savings has already diminished through inflation and the depreciation of the Sri Lankan rupee. Further reduction in the rate paid on pension funds would result in a 30 per cent decline in the value of money withdrawn ten years from now.


Anton Marcus, joint secretary of IndustriALL affiliate, Free Trade Zone and General Service Employees’ Federation, says:

“If implemented, this decision will adversely affect the lives of more than 2.5 million workers in Sri Lanka. We strongly urge the government to immediately call for a well-represented trade union forum to discuss the matter.”

To ensure ‘debt sustainability’, the major burden is borne by working people of Sri Lanka. About 61 per cent of the total domestic debt, including borrowings from domestic commercial banks, is excluded from the restructuring programme, and the debt relief from international sovereign bond holders is only 35 per cent.

IndustriALL Global Union has written to the International Monetary Fund to recognize the responsibility of creditors in the current financial crisis and suspend interest payments. The IMF must also cease imposing policies on the Sri Lankan government that undermine the country’s human rights obligations.

The Sri Lankan government has proposed labour law changes in stark contradiction to internationally recognised core labour standards as they would remove the 8-hour work day, allow for extended shifts up to 16-hour days without overtime; remove protection for unfair dismissal; dismantle provisions protecting the right to organize and effective collective bargaining; remove maternity protection and prohibitions against child labour.

In a letter to the Sri Lankan government, IndustriALL is urging for an immediate stop to the current labour law reform process and that the government ensures that all labour law reforms or amendments respect international labour standards. IndustriALL is also demanding that the four trade unions, including its affiliates, that were unlawfully removed from the National Labour Advisory Council in June 2023 are reinstated.

Atle Høie, IndustriALL general secretary, says:

“Workers have not, in any way, contributed to the external debt crisis and it is unfair that they are the ones who are now being asked to bear the burden of it. IMF and the Sri Lanka government must ensure that workers’ rights are not undermined and that the restructuring of debt is not carried out at the expense of workers.”

IndustriALL Global Union and industriAll European Trade Union wrote a joint letter to the European Union, urging it to use its leverage in its trade relations with Sri Lanka, including in the context of discussions on the renewal of the GSP+ regulation, to ensure workers’ rights are respected in Sri Lanka.

The global union federations have also issued a joint statement in this regard.