The Free Trade Zone and General Services Employees’ Union of Sri Lanka says it has been nominated through EU trade union links to address a Human Rights Council meeting of the EU Parliament, on the GSP+ trade scheme, at the end of this month.
In return for supporting the GSP+ for Sri Lanka a trade union grouping is now asking the government to implement a ‘Road Map’ to strengthen labour standards – particularly in relation to trade union formation.
“We have been nominated by EU parliamentarians, in consultation with EU trade unions, to participate in an EU Parliament’s Human Rights Council meeting, on September 30, about the GSP+ in Sri Lanka,” said the joint Secretary of the Free Trade Zone and General Services Employees’ Union, Anton Marcus.
To support the GSP+ for Sri Lanka at the EU meeting, the trade unions are asking the government to implement a Road Map developed by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). The Road Map was developed some years back and given to the government but was not implemented.
“We are asking for a commitment to implement the Road Map and a monitoring mechanism for it, and we have requested that the government take corrective action on already reported cases of violations of freedom of association,” said Mr Marcus. “We held discussions with Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe last week and we also met Mr Basil Rajapaksa. We are also hoping to meet the Ministerial Committee appointed by the President on the GSP+ and Mr Basil Rajapaksa again,” said Mr Marcus. The unions were due to meet the ministers on Friday evening.
In return for a government commitment on the Road Map, the trade unions are offering their support and also EU trade union support for Sri Lanka on the GSP+. “At this point there is no one in Europe, outside of the (Sri Lankan) government, that is talking on behalf of Sri Lanka. But national trade union representatives in those countries are very influential. Some national trade union representatives from EU countries are Members of Parliament in their own countries. Some are members of the EU Parliament. So they have influence,” said the President of the Progress Union, Palitha Athukorala. The Progress Union is part of the trade union grouping.
Trade unions say labour rights are relevant to the EU’s GSP+ investigation through the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The ICCPR is one of the 3 international conventions that the EC is investigating for effective implementation. “The ICCPR has a clause on freedom of association.
So freedom of association is seen as part of human rights. This is where improving labour standards can help with retaining the GSP+,” said Mr Athukorala.
The European Commission conducted an investigation on Sri Lanka’s implementation of 3 international conventions, to decide whether Sri Lanka can continue to use the EU’s GSP+ trade scheme. The preliminary report on the investigation findings is seen as unfavourable to Sri Lanka. However, the EU is yet to come to a final decision. The GSP+ allows duty free exports of around 6,000 items into the EU, from Sri Lanka.