The two Members of the European Parliament (MEP) who visited Sri Lanka between April 10 and 12 to look into the possibility of Sri Lanka regaining GSP+, had recommended the European Commissioner on Trade Cecilia Malmström to grant the concession only under the strict condition of Sri Lanka implementing pledges made with regard to labour rights.
In a letter addressed to Ministers Kabir Hashim, John Seneviratne and Board of Investment (BOI) Chairman Upul Jayasuriya, the two members said they believe that serious reforms are urgently needed to improve labour rights.
The two MEPs; Anne-Marie Mineur and Lola Sanchez Caldentey, commended the government for ratifying all the UN, International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions on core human and labour rights.
However, they said they are worried about the enforcement of workers’ right to join or form a union of their choosing, the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike.
“Also the fact that labour inspectors and union leaders cannot visit all working sites, in particular the Free Trade Zones, without advance notification, undermines the essence of inspections. Unions cannot currently access the courts for complaints of unfair labour practices and/or anti-union discrimination,” the MEPs said in their letter.
They said their findings during the visit confirm reports by the UN Human Rights Commissioner as well as the ILO Committee of Experts.
“Both institutions have also reported shortcomings on the enforcement of labour rights issues as well as other human rights issues, in particular the use of torture, the rights of minorities and the rights of LGBTI people. While not all of these issues were the focus of our mission, we fully support their purport,” the MEPs said.
Because of these facts, the duo said they have tabled a resolution to the plenary assembly of the European Parliament to be voted on by April 27, in which they object to the renewed entry into force of the GSP+ system.
In response to their findings, the MEPs said they equally detected a cooperative attitude and a willingness to address these concerns from the Sri Lankan government.
“Minister Kabir Hashim agreed to include trade unions in the monitoring mechanism of the GSP+ in case it would be granted. Minister John Seneviratne stated that 50% of the benefits of the GSP+ system should be shared by the workers,” they said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Jayasuriya has agreed to allow labour inspectors and labour leaders to freely enter any work place under the purview of the BOI, including the FTZs
“We are impressed by the decisiveness and the sense of entrepreneurship that we have encountered both in the labour unions and in the government. However, we see too little guarantees to ensure the successful implementation reforms. Therefore, we recommend to Commissioner Cecilia Malmström that once these commitments have been implemented, and only under this strict condition, she does grant Sri Lanka GSP+,” the duo concluded in their letter.