- Says current labour laws largely irrelevant as they were created at a time SL operated as a closed economy
- Points out existing framework not broad enough to accommodate new labour market requirements
- Highlights very little discretion vested with Labour Commissioner to address labour issues arising out of COVID-19 crisis
By Shabiya Ali Ahlam
Sri Lanka’s archaic labour laws need urgent revisiting and amendment where possible, a panel of high-profile lawyers said, as bulk of the laws that are in effect are hardly useful at this point of time where the ongoing health crisis is observed to be taking a toll on both employers and employees across diverse sectors.
Acknowledging that the current labour laws were created at a time when Sri Lanka operated as a closed economy, they said it is best if the present set of laws could be made more relevant to suit the current operational environment.
“The present labour laws lack certain amount of flexibility. Then again the question rises if the laws do apply in a situation as we are in now,” President’s Counsel Geoffery Alagaratnam said.
He made his observations during a webinar organised by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) that explored the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the sphere of labour laws and industrial relations in the country.
The lawyer stressed that it is imperative to re-look at the laws in place as they are not broad enough to cover modern forms of employment.
“Employment contracts will take a different turn post COVID-19. It will be work from home, flexi hours and so on; therefore these areas need to be explored.
Under these new form of employment, there is a need to look at areas such as how the hours would be clocked in and how the wages would be paid, amongst other,” he said.
Reflecting similar sentiments was President’s Counsel Uditha Egalahewa who advocated for “drastic amendments.”
He pointed out that with Sri Lanka continuing to go by the old English law and authorities following old case laws to make it difficult to accommodate even independent contracts and intermediaries.
Egalahewa noted that the existing legal framework makes it rather challenging for employers to manage their workplaces.
“In the event a business would need to downsize and re-organise itself for survival, there is no possibility under the existing laws.
On this COVID-19 situation itself, there are a number of laws that need to be suspended or at least come under some immediate drastic changes. Very little discretion is vested with the Commissioner General of Labour,” Egalahewa said.
In the current context where there is little room for any changes in laws due to Parliament not being in session, the lawyers stressed the need for some rationality from the employer and employee and urged to move forward with some consensus.
Even before the crisis brought by the pandemic, the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) has been repeatedly advocating for labour market reforms.
EFC believes that the current law inhibits employment creation and the establishment of new forms of employment.