Press release: protesters denounce anti-worker reforms in Sri Lanka
For immediate release: 20 September 2023
- Workers struggling to survive Sri Lanka’s cost of living crisis face new attacks on labour rights and pensions.
- ‘Hands off workers rights’ – trade unions and campaigners protest reforms at Sri Lankan High Commission, London.
Trade unions and labour rights campaigners gathered in London today in solidarity with workers in Sri Lanka, where labour law reforms are set to undermine employment rights while debt restructuring targets workers’ pensions. War on Want and Labour Behind the Label submitted a letter supported by Unite the union, GMB, Fire Brigades Union, Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) and the Trades Union Congress, Scottish Trades Union Congress and Wales Trades Union Congress to the Sri Lanka High Commission, raising concerns about the roll-back on workers’ rights, pay and pensions and calling on the Sri Lankan government to engage with the labour movement.
High inflation and currency devaluation has already pushed workers into poverty in Sri Lanka. Now the government is seeking to push through a unified Labour Law which would push hundreds of thousands of working people into further precarity by downgrading basic rights and protections. The new law would put workers at the mercy of employers who could unilaterally increase their working day to 12 or 16 hours without overtime, increase night-work or arbitrarily dismiss them.
At the same time, workers’ pension funds (Employee Provident and Trust Funds) have been singled out by the Government and Central Bank to bear the burden of domestic debt restructuring, a process which itself is arguably unnecessary except to please foreign debt and IMF creditors. This will diminish returns to wage-earners and deplete the fund – which represents the retirement savings of 2.6 million workers – to half its current value.
Anton Marcus, joint secretary of the Free Trades Zones and General Services Employees Union, representing workers in Sri Lanka’s biggest export industry – the garment sector – said:
“If these reforms go through it will unleash a race to the bottom on labour rights in Sri Lanka that will hurt ordinary working people – especially women in the apparel sector who are often sole breadwinners for their families. They will be at the mercy of their employers – forced to accept longer hours, or working more nights out of fear of losing their jobs and what little wages they can earn. We are encouraged to see organisations around the world, including trade unions, also raising their concerns about these reforms. International solidarity with working people in Sri Lanka is really important at this time.”
Notes to editors
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Letter handed in to the Sri Lankan High Commissioner: https://waronwant.org/sites/default/files/2023-09/Joint%20Ltr_SriLankaHC_20Sept23%20signed.pdf
- Clean Clothes Campaign Statement on the crisis faced by garment workers in Sri Lanka, August 2023: https://cleanclothes.org/news/2023/statement-on-the-crisis-faced-by-garment-workers-in-sri-lanka
- Global unions oppose attempts to slash labor rights in Sri Lanka, September 2023: https://publicservices.international/resources/news/global-unions-oppose-attempts-to-slash-labor-rights-in-sri-lanka?id=14051&lang=en
- Sri Lanka: unions protest government’s debt restructuring and labour law changes: https://www.industriall-union.org/sri-lanka-unions-protest-governments-debt-restructuring-and-labour-law-changes
- More debt won’t solve Sri Lanka’s debt crisis, July 2022: https://waronwant.org/news-analysis/more-debt-wont-solve-sri-lankas-debt-crisis
- The BooHoo scandal links Britain’s freeports to the pain of Sri Lanka’s IMF deal, 19 September 2023: https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/article/f/boohoo-scandal-links-britains-freeports-pain-sri-lankas-imf-deal