In post WW II modern world, democracy is accepted as an uncompromising way of private and public life. During the half Century we spent after WW II, the modern world has universally accepted Democratic Rights of all people. Declared Human Rights in a well-defined Charter that in its preamble says “….recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” accepted by all member States as a primary Constitutive document of the UN adopted by the General Assembly in 1948. Thereafter the ILO, the “Tri partite” (States, Employers and Employees) global body of the UN system, diligently worked out and adopted Conventions that further explained human rights in terms of “employment” that in general are called “Labour Rights.” Together the Declaration of Human Rights and the ILO Charters lay down principled conditions that guarantee “the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.” A human family that includes children, adults, ageing populations, gender, all ethnic and religious communities, youth and employees, leaving out none.
Sri Lanka is a member State of the UN from December 1955 and is bound to treat all its 20 million plus people as “members of the human family” without demarcations, divisions and without any form of discrimination.Yet the problem remains, that we don’t have a social and a political culture with long and established traditions to uphold such “Rights andValues” and we lack social structures that can hold people and organisations accountable and responsible in honouring those “Rights and Values”.
Most recent exhibition of such arrogance against people was the intimidating selfish behaviour of the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA).With total disrespect for human life, threatening with strike action and then though unsuccessful, resorting to strike action over 05 times during the past 24 months,their attitudes and approach in gaining what they wanted, displayed how low even the once respected noble medical profession has descended to. They worked in tandem with the Faculty of Medical Teachers’ Association that promoted student protests for 10 long months, encouraging and supporting student boycott of lectures and protests on Colombo roads.
The elite professionals and the university academia being so, the Railway employees or any other cannot be expected to be any better. All live in a socio-political culture of “threats, power and force” that’s taken for granted as the shortest route to“answers”. This gets more chaotic with the “populist” albeit foolish stand of President Sirisena reversing most decisions arrived at even in Cabinet meetings. When the Finance Minister stood his ground as per the decision at the Cabinet meeting, President Sirisena hastened to give striking Railway unions a hearing and a promise to increase their salaries. On Monday last, they declared the strike called off on President’s promise. The irony is the absence of “People” as the most important factor in any of these decisions.
On the flipside of these irresponsible and anarchic protests and strike actions, this “Yahapalana” government led by the UNP, ignored their responsibility in resolving issues and allowed them to drag on at the inconvenience of people. The SAITM medical degree issue was thus muddled up for over 02 whole years, allowing street protests over weeks and months.Though people blamed the government for all that as “inefficiency”of an ineffective, spineless government, the political leadership of the UNP enjoyed the growing public anger against medical doctors, the university students and striking railway unions that demanded suppression, use of force and called for “privatisation” without trade unions. While the JO led by Mahinda Rajapaksa expect to politically gain from the chaotic instability they plan, demanding this government should be dissolved for their inability to provide answers, the UNP leadership tend to believe the anti-union, pro privatisation social psyche goes well with their investor led completely liberalised free market economy.
"The tug of war between Rajapaksa campaigns and UNP politics is not about politics for democracy"
The tug of war between Rajapaksa campaigns and UNP politics is not about politics for democracy. It is not about restoring a democratic society that guarantees “the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family”. No, it is not. It’s about regaining political power for “all members of the Rajapaksa family” at the cost of democracy and for businessmen with the UNP leadership, it is about unrestricted exploitation of labour without union rights.
Ever since the economy was turned into an export manufacture economy with FDIs by Jayawardene’s UNP government 40 years ago, businessmen have been asking for relaxing of labour laws on the argument, investors cannot be attracted with a labour law regime that protects labour rights.They don’t face the fact that with all the 55 pieces of law the Labour Department works with, there are multi-national corporations like Uni Levers and CTC in this country that worked for good profits, negotiating and working with trade unions. Yet the BOI was established to curb “Right to association and collective bargaining” through administrative mechanisms and for 40 years with all incentives given for FDIs, there is no “development” for over 90 per cent of the people. Janavasiya was brought in for poverty alleviation and was expanded as “Samurdhi” that’s still running and this government is promising “development” with “Grama Shakthi”, “Gamperaliya” and with many different policy statements by both the President and the PM, each on his own.
Politics of this government that live on the mystic belief that “development and FDIs” are inseparable twins, allowed employers to resort to extremely uncivilised labour practises in busting trade unions. This was highlighted in a letter addressed by the FTZ & GSE Union to PM Wickremesinghe on 10 August 2018.The letter reveals how this “yahapalana” government keeps mum over such issues. Reminding past complaints it says, “With almost 2 months without any measures taken to mitigate issues mentioned in our letter addressed to you, one of the issues raised therein, has taken a very serious turn of events with the top management of one of the companies deciding to hunt down employees they arbitrarily sacked from one of their factories. And it goes on to say, the company has resorted to “lifetime revenge” from employees sacked for organising a trade union. The FTZ & GSE Union letter says, “Addressing letters to other employers, the company has requested them, not to employ workers sacked from the factory for organizing a trade union.” This they say, is how a garment factory then owned by leading politician arbitrarily sacked workers for collectively raising their grievances,with an e-mail sent to all employers in the EPZ by an unknown sender “Protect Apparel Industry” with photos and names of all sacked employees carrying one of the most disgusting captions “Beware of this kind of Dogs”.
It is for such ruthless exploitation of labour this government accepts social chaos in developing a social psyche that allows de-unionising and suppressing of “democratic and labour rights.”A social psyche that allows destroying of universally accepted principles of human and labour rights. A government economic policy that demands “investor friendly” rule in violation of decent civilised life in a democracy.
"It’s about regaining political power for all members of the Rajapaksa family at the cost of democracy and for the businessmen with the UNP leadership"
We are no more in a world that accept “slave employment”. Today employment comes with accepted rights and decent working conditions, Sri Lanka is bound by ILO Conventions 87 and 93 and by its own Constitution that guarantees human rights including right to association.Thus “Decent Work” is not about wages alone. It is about human dignity in employment.
In polar opposite to union busting and de unionising the labour force this “Yahapalana” government promotes as necessary for economic growth,“In Europe, unions weren’t destroyed — they thrived. Deals between unions and companies are brokered formally or informally by governments. But that’s just the beginning. In Germany, for example, worker’s representatives sit on company boards.
In France, collective bargaining is a right, negotiated by sectors, for example, among all waiters and restauranteurs — not individual companies and employers. In Scandinavia, companies have to account for their social costs and benefits.” [Umair Haque on “How Capitalist Utopia became Everyone Else’s Dystopia” -https://eand.co/ July 2018] “The point is…” Haque says,“Europe developed better mechanisms for economic interaction —fuller ones, if you like, which ensured more stable, opportune, and empowered societies. Average people had genuine power to demand a fairer more of an economy’s gains — as they should, not just for moral reasons, but also socio-political ones….”
Drowned in a sordid socio-political culture, present day Sri Lanka is not geared for a better future that ensures a more stable, opportune, and an empowered society. Politics in Sri Lanka is on reverse gear. Political campaigns are sadly mobilising people to destroy their own democracy and social stability.In allowing industrial arrogance for looting and not industrial peace for growth. In short, we are heading towards socio economic anarchy, with no alternate political discourse. The two major political players wanting power at the expense of the people and their future. The people too joining in to help create despots on the way.
Add commentComments will be edited (grammar, spelling and slang) and authorized at the discretion of Daily Mirror online. The website also has the right not to publish selected comments.