In view of the growing labor unrest during the early years of the Second World War, along with the expansion of the regimented workforce, as a result of the State and he private sector turning out to be employment generators, it became necessary for the government to introduce an institutionalized industrial relations framework. This situation led to the introduction of the Industrial Disputes Act in 1950, which is considered to be the vital backbone that governs the industrial relations system of Sir Lankan.
Since its inception it has gone through a long process of change and reform to make it what it is today. At present, it addresses issues arising out of industrial disputes, termination of services of employees, collective bargaining, labor arbitration, Labor Tribunals and the functioning of Industrial Courts. However the public sector employees are not covered under the Industrial Disputes Act. Industrial relations issues of public sector workers are governed through a code of rules adopted 3 by the Cabinet of Ministers named the Establishment Code.
It is presumed that the exclusion of the public sector workers from the purview of the Industrial Disputes Act is based on the assumption that the State is expected to perform the role of a model employer and it will rightly discharge all its duties towards its employees. The injunction of the public sector today creates serious questions about this notion and the Establishment Code being highly inconsistent with international conventions and declarations dealing with the rights of workers.
The total exclusion of public sector workers through the process of collectively bargaining and restrictions in forming and federating unions among public sector workers are some prominent issues that need to be addressed. The following is a structural outline of the scope of local labor laws: Terms and conditions of employment The Shop and Office Employees (Regulation of employment & remuneration) Act Wages Board Ordinance 2. Social security Employees provident Fund Employees Trust Fund Payment of Gratuity Act 3.
Industrial satiety 4. Factories Ordinance Workmen’s Compensation Ordinance Industrial relations Industrial Disputes Act Termination of Employment (Special provisions) Act Trade Union Ordinance 5. Employment of women and children Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Act Maternity Benefits Ordinance Present trends At present the entire system of labor law is being subjected to a process of reform amidst protest from various quarters of the society.
The government has already liberalized restrictions on 4 overtime hours permitted on female workers and the need to obtain the consent of workers to perform “over time” has been removed providing more freedom to the employers. In addition, a free hire and fire policy is also being formulated and the payment of compensation is to be done with a fixed formula of calculation based on the years of service of each employee.
These provisions are to be effected through amendments to the existing Termination (Special Provisions) Act and if implemented can cause serious threats to union organizing in the private and export sector industries, as union activists can easily be fired through visitation, which may discourage workers taking up the initiative of organizing. The government of Sir Lankan has also sought for the special incentive scheme of the EX. SSP in order to have free access to the EX. market. This application is still under consideration.
Similarly the government has also made an application for the US SSP facility for the export of apparels to the US market. Both these trade regimes put special emphasis on the observance of core labor standards and Conventions No. 87 & 98 in particular. In August 2002, the government signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFF) with the United States in order to gain free access to the U. S market. This trade agreement also warrants the observance of good standards of labor practices on the part of the beneficiary country.
Some key amendments to the Industrial Disputes Act have also been tabled before the Parliament with the aim of introducing a new system named the “4:2:1 Formula” which intends to conclude all Unitarian termination to service applications bettor Labor Tribunals within four months, Arbitration processes within two months and involuntary termination of service applications within one month. In principle expecting the resolving of industrial disputes is a positive move and is welcome.
However its implications carry serious practical impossibilities and inconsistencies and can affect the chances of Justice being meted out equally at all levels, apart from disregarding some principles of the rules of natural Justice, which in fact is the live wire of the labor adjudication system in Sir Lankan. The 4:2:1 formula was almost imposed and had little or no constructive dialogue among the tripartite of the process, which left the point of view of organizations of errors completely unincorporated in the exercise. In short, at present the trend is more towards flexible and liberal labor administration with less government involvement. The government is also more interested in promoting a separate set of labor guide lines for special investment and export processing zones to deal with industrial relations issues in them. Finally, the notable feature of the present labor administration system is the fast declining standards in the labor standards enforcement aspect. Its now gradually marking the beginning of a new labor unrest among employed workers.
Trade Union Structure Historically trade unions were at the forefront of the movement for independence prior to 1947, and unions therefore fulfilled a political role at that time. This tradition of political involvement has persisted to this day, and political parties continue to seek the support of the working population through trade unions and also manipulate unions to achieve political objectives from time to time. This made it easy for political parties to penetrate unions and ultimately dictate terms to unions, thereby making unions a mere organ of the political machinery.
This led towards onions not being able to produce leaders from within their own rank and for the creation of a culture of political hierarchy appointing trade union leaders. In fact the outsiders who have prepared to assume trade union leadership have invariably been politicians, who are able to highlight in Parliament the grievances of the workers in a narrow political angle rather than addressing the genuine interests of workers in a more constructive manner within the context of the current developments in the global workers’ movement.
Despite the political involvement of trade unions in Sir Lankan, strikes for purely political purposes are not frequent and onions have never been able to influence the political process. In most unions, characteristics of union democracy are hardly visible and the leadership is naturally being held by an aging set of veterans who are not open for change or ready to accommodate young activists. The independent unions in Sir Lankan are relatively small and oaten work in isolation. It is also difficult for them to get on with traditional trade union organizations due to ideological differences.
Independent trade unions are also visible in some areas of the private sector, export industries and Peps, banking sector, teaching and in some areas of the public service. Some of these independent trade unions have also managed to establish affiliations with Guff. 6 Local labor laws divide unions as public and non public sector unions and these two categories are not permitted to federate with each other. The non public sector unions represent the private and semi government owned business and industrial enterprises.
Sir Lankan does not have a national trade union centre as seen in many countries, due to this segregation of unions by law and the inherent political identities of the unions. On the other hand it is common to find several trade unions in one trade or industry and in the same workplace. Many of the local unions have affiliated themselves to Guff. Most of these unions that have established affiliations with Jiffs are direct wings of major political parties. These unions are major affiliates of many Guff.
The growth of trade unions in the fast growing private sector or the export sector is sluggish and the traditional politically-oriented unions have failed to adopt themselves to the new challenges in these areas. The isolation of the local union movement from the contemporary developments of the global trade union movement also has contributed towards these unions not being able to cope with the emerging halogens. Cooperation with Guff Over the last couple of decades unions have worked together with many Guff. Their activities have often taken the form of seminars, training workshops and regional conferences.
The cooperation between local unions and Guff focusing on constructive issues of workers rights, workers occupational concerns related campaigns, action oriented programmers and activities is very minimal. At present Sir Lankan is in the midst of a labor reform process apart from the serious lapses in the enforcement of statutes dealing with basic workers rights and Ills. Unions have failed to bring such volatile issues to the notice of Jiffs and make Guff involved in the campaign against such arbitrary, unfair practices and policies.
Similarly GUFF-Union cooperation has not expanded to cover areas such as promotion of effective policy dialogues on labor policy or worker rights issues. Some G d the GIFT attempted to tactic Tate unions to raise issues to labor standard violations in view of Sir Land’s application to the Special Incentive Scheme of the E SSP. In 7 spite of the preliminary effort undertaken by Guff, the local unions failed to respond to these initiatives. It is mostly due to the sheer ineffectiveness of unions and its inability to effectively raise concrete issues at global forums and muster the support of GUFF.
On the other hand there was also hardly any attempt in any of the GUFF cooperation with local unions, which sought to promote a democratic, workers’ concern oriented transparent and accountable union movement, which in fact is a serious issue pertaining to most of the GUFF affiliates in Sir Lankan. In spite of all these failures to ensure the effective participation of Guff in to the local labor cause, affiliate unions have always been a regular non-absent participant f all international conferences, congresses, meetings and forums organized by Guff.
The return trickle-down effect of all these activities towards the improvement of local trade union movement is still unforeseeable. The affiliates are yet to address key issues that are of workers’ interest such as Ills, elimination of unfair labor practices, lack of interest of the government in enforcing principles of core ILL conventions, etc. Therefore it certainly needs to go beyond the traditional routine training workshops, seminars and focus on key issues that concern workers. More emphasis needs to be put on action oriented programmers, activities and campaigns which can rationalist a positive and concrete outcome.