Editorial-What’s happening to Rajapaksa’s National Workers’ Charter?

2014-04-30 18:30:00

As thousands of workers and party supporters gather in Colombo and elsewhere for May Day processions and rallies today, we need to go beyond the big crowds and platform rhetoric to reflect on the deep inner significance of this important day for millions of workers and their families in Sri Lanka.

Otherwise, if May Day is confined to May Day today, it will be just a hollow holiday with most people attending processions or rallies not as part of the battle for workers’ rights but more so for the liquor, food and other hampers they are given by party politicians who care little and do less for the struggling workers.

May 1 was first celebrated as Labour Day after the second Socialist International meeting in Paris in 1889 decided on this to mark the struggle launched by the United States workers for an eight-hour workday. It is paradoxical that this workers’ day on which the Socialist International urged workers to stop work and celebrate whether it was a holiday or not-- began in a country which has today become the superpower centre of the globalised capitalist market economic system. At that time the workday was between 14 and 18 hours. That was why the eight-hour workday was important; but in today’s modern world with Nano technology and 3-D printing, there are other major issues for workers. The campaign for Labour Day or May Day did not come without a struggle and even battles with the US security forces that were controlled by capitalist groups. In Chicago for instance, hundreds of workers were killed or injured when clashes erupted between them and the security forces. Thus it is sad that political party leaders in Sri Lanka and elsewhere have turned this day -- for which the labourers toiled hard -- into a big political show or circus for personal gain or party glory.

For instance at last year’s May Day rally, we heard thundering cheers from thousands of political fans when President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced he had ordered the Ceylon Electricity Board to reduce the massive Fuel Adjustment Charge which is dealing a blackout blow to millions of workers and their families. May Day 2013 has today become May Day 2014 and the CEB said last week it would not even slightly reduce the Fuel Adjustment Charge in the coming months or years for various reasons or excuses.

We also need to remember today that in 1995 a National Workers’ Charter was promulgated by the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga on the recommendation of the then Labour and Vocational Training Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa who is now the Executive President with virtually absolute powers.  The preamble to the National Workers’ Charter says, “Sri Lanka is committed to the ideals enshrined in the declaration of Philadelphia in 1944 and to conventions and recommendations adopted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). It provides in categorical terms provisions relating to basic human rights, freedom of association and the right to organise and bargain collectively.”

The Industrial Disputes (Amendment) Act No.56 of 1999 was specially intended to give effect to these provisions in the National Workers’ Charter. In its working it has now been realised that Act No. 56 of 1999 falls short of the original expectations of the framers to meet the requirements contained in ILO Conventions No.87 and No.98 and the National Workers’ Charter. According to an article written by T.M.R.  Rasseedin, President of the Ceylon Federation of Labour (CFL), it is his considered opinion that no amount of tinkering with the present legislation will produce the desired result. What is really needed is the complete repeal of Act No. 56 of 1999 and its replacement with a new law that will be consistent with the National Workers’ Charter and ILO Conventions C 87 and C 98.

It is also necessary that the Government should issue a statement to clarify that the full exercise of the rights recognised by ILO Conventions ratified by Sri Lanka is in accordance with the country’s constitution and that there is nothing that can be construed impeding the full exercise of such rights, the trade union leader says. Millions of workers will agree with him to make May Day—not as a distress signal for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777—but a day on which the dignity of labour is recognised and restored.

  Comments - 2

  • Ranil Wijeyesekera Thursday, 1 May 2014 03:22

    Goodbye Esther migrant worker on your thanksgiving day.

    The Middle Eastern Co Migrant Workers are ready for the Harvest
    mmunity is one of the least reached Groups for Christ in the World. Expatriates workers in this land have a part to play in changing the lives of these people. Their facing great suffering.
    The so called Arab spring tries to restore democratic values. But this is biased and ignores the needs of people in pro American Kingdoms.
    What they need is a personal relationship with Jesus.
    \Buddhist Groups and others feel in Sri Lanka that the inhumane slaughter of animals, Differential treatment of women, Laws on dress, and compulsion in Worship should be eliminated. We Christians believe a caring, sharing and loving attitude will work as God wills.
    Blessings and curses of God intermingle in the Middle East. What we need is a caring attitude to the pluses and minuses in this area. A sharing of the message should be the aim.

    Reply : 0       0

    Cobra Thursday, 1 May 2014 13:26

    Oh that? It's languishing in the dust bin of history and not even mentioned on May Day!

    Reply : 0       0

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