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Unions demand wage increase amidst Sri Lanka’s economic crisis

29 March, 2022Heavily dependent on tourism, Sri Lanka’s economic situation worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic. Prices of essential commodities like fuel, medicines, milk and wheat, as well as public transport fares, have shot up and unions are calling for wage increases for workers to survive.

Protestors across the country have demanded that the government change its economic policies to bring the situation under control. IndustriALL Global Union affiliates, also members of National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC), have warned the government of the disastrous economic situation demanding financial assistance for precarious workers in private sector.

Unions are demanding that all households with an income of less than LKR75,000 (US$258) should be able to buy fuel, kerosene, bread, wheat, rice, etc at January 2020 prices. There should also be a wage increase LKR10,000 (US$34) for  workers whose monthly salary is below LKR60,000 (US$206). In addition, the minimum wage should be raised from LKR16,000 (US$55) to LKR26,000 (US$89) per month.

“The country is in a dire situation. People are dying while standing in long queues to procure fuel. We are submitting a petition to the government highlighting our demands. We have also laid out ways how the government can meet the demands raised, but the government must act now,”

says Anton Marcus, joint secretary of IndustriALL affiliate Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees’ Union.

A shortage of fuel has led to daily power cuts hampering the supply chain and global brands sourcing from Sri-Lanka have expressed concerns. Owing to a scarcity of raw materials and power cuts, factories in export processing zones have been badly affected, making for a precarious employment situation.

Exports generate steady inflow of foreign exchange to the Sri-Lankan economy, but with the country facing the worst economic situation in decades, millions of workers stand a chance to lose their jobs and livelihoods. In some factories workers have been told that they will be offered work for four days but pay will be given for six days; however, the attendance bonus paid every month will be deducted.

Apoorva Kaiwar, South Asia Regional Secretary of IndustriALL Global Union, said:

“Our affiliates had raised the skyrocketing inflation and worsening living conditions with the government before the last budget was presented, but their demands remained unmet. IndustriALL calls on the government of Sri Lanka to look into the unions' demands so that more lives are not lost.”