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Unions in Sri Lanka call for social dialogue on controversial bill

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19 June, 2024Amid Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since 2022, the government has introduced an economic transformation bill to ‘foster economic growth’. However, the bill, which provides for a new mechanism with power to relax legal restrictions on privatizing public-owned companies and hand over public resources to investors, is expected to adversely impact more than twelve million people in the country and render the Department of Labour ineffective.

Although inflation has cooled down, Sri Lanka is experiencing its worst economic crisis since 2022 resulting in grim living conditions for the country’s workers. Last month, the President of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe, presented the Economic Transformation Bill, which seeks to abolish the Board of Investment - Sri Lanka, and establish four other subsidiary entities along with the establishment of Sri Lanka Economic Commission. 

Trade unions, including IndustriALL’s affiliates, and civil society organizations in Sri Lanka are vehemently opposing the bill. According to IndustriALL affiliates, the bill was introduced without engaging in social dialogue with workers’ representatives, in violation to the norms and standards set by the International Labour Organization. The National Labour Advisory Council, a tripartite mechanism to discuss labour-related matters, has not been convened since September last year. 

Atle Høie, IndustriALL general secretary, says:

“We stand in solidarity with our affiliates in Sri Lanka in their struggle to safeguard workers’ rights. We call on the Sri Lankan government to immediately engage in social dialogue with trade unions and address their legitimate concerns regarding workers’ well-being.”

Unions held protest demonstrations and filed a legal case against the provisions mentioned in the bill. Unions also plan to hold a session to discuss the challenges posed by the proposed law, followed by a press briefing as well as hold discussion with parliamentarians from other political parties on the issue.

Says Ashutosh Bhattacharya, IndustriALL regional secretary:

“Working people in Sri Lanka are already facing multifaceted problems and this bill further attacks their fundamental rights while increasing capitalism. We express our unwavering support for the Sri Lankan trade unions opposing the bill. The government must honour democratic values, ensure that workers' voices are heard, and protect their rights. Social justice and fair economic policies are essential for the well-being of all Sri Lankans.” 

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