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Sri Lankan unions win concession from government

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25 February, 2016Trade unions in Sri Lanka receive confirmation that they will be consulted on proposed changes to labour laws.

In a major development, the Sri Lankan government has assured trade union members of the tripartite National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) that no changes will be made to labour law without consultation. The minister of labour and trade union relations, WDJ Seneviratne, responded to union opposition to anti-labour proposals made by the government during its Budget 2016 presentation in the parliament.

Trade union members of NLAC raised strong objection to proposals such as:

  1. Merging the Employee Provident Fund (EPF) and Employee Trust Fund (ETF) and transferring management from the Central Bank of Sri Lanka to a new board of a different character
  2. A five day week for the private sector with extended working hours.
  3. Extending the six month qualifying period for permanent employment status to one year
  4. Handing over Export Processing Zones (EPZ) to private sector managers
  5. A further delay in the Rs 2500 wage increase from May 2015 for private sector employees.

Trade unions demanded that in line with long standing practice, all proposals impacting workers should be presented to the NLAC before the government takes decisions on them. This demand is in line with Sri Lanka’s commitment to ILO convention No 144 on tripartite consultation, which is ratified by the government.   

Responding to the unions, Mr Seneviratne stated that no decision has been taken on the EPF and ETF. On the issue of the five day week for the private sector with extended working hours, the minister stated that currently the commissioner general of labour grants permission to manufacturing companies on specific requests made by them with the consent of employees. The consent of NLAC in this regard is obtained time to time.

On extending the qualifiying period for peranent employment to one year, the minister stated that ‘the matter is not relevant for private sector workers’. On handing over the management of EPZs to private companies, no decision has been taken by the government yet.

Earlier, the letter to the Prime Minister was signed by IndustriALL affiliates and trade union members of NLAC including Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union, Sri Lanka Nidahas Sewaka Sangamaya (SLNSS), United Federation of Labour (CIWU of UFL affiliated to IndustriALL) and other NLAC members Inter Company Employees Union, Ceylon Workers Congress, Ceylon Federation of Trade Unions, Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya, Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union, Ceylon Estate Staff Union.