A labour of gratitude

Chandani Kirinde discovers the emergence of the working class at the recently opened Labour Museum

“Workers of the world unite,” was the rallying call to the working masses all over the world to stand up and fight for their rights. It was a call heeded by hundreds of Sri Lankan workers led by the stalwarts in the country’s labour movement, who shed blood and tears, to place the country’s workers in the position of strength they enjoy today.

And lest we forget the long and hard road that they trod to win the rights of the workers, the Department of Labour under the Ministry of Labour Relations and Manpower recently opened the Labour Museum to preserve for posterity the emergence and struggles of the working class in the country over the years.

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike signing the historic document to establish EPF (above) and (below) workers in the graphite trade

A walk through the museum situated at the Labour Secretariat building in Narahenpita gives one a chance to take in historic photographs, documentation and memorabilia associated with the labour class.

Secretary to the Ministry of Labour Relations and Manpower Mahinda Madihahewa who has worked in the Labour Department and Ministry since 1967 is the brains behind the opening of the Museum. “Today many people are unaware of the labour movement of the country but it is important for everyone especially those in the field of human resource management as well as students to study these historical aspects,” he said.

The beginnings of the labour class in Sri Lanka can be traced back to 1828 with the induction of Indian labourers to work in the plantations sector. Thus began the passing of labour laws starting with legislation for the regulation of recruitment of workers. The “Contract for Hire and Service” law was the first ever labour ordinance enacted in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) way back in 1865 and the original copy of this as well as many valuable documents are on display at the Museum.

Today there are 43 labour laws placed in the statute books of Sri Lanka, landmark pieces of legislature among which are the Trade Union Ordinance of 1935 which recognised the rights of workers to organise themselves and negotiate with the employers for better wages and working conditions, the Wages Boards Ordinance of 1941 which introduced minimum wages, working hours, weekly/annual leave and public holidays, the Maternity Benefits Ordinance of 1939 and the Employees Provident and Trust Fund Acts of 1958 and 1980.

It was the then Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who in 1958 signed the historic document to establish the EPF which was a brainchild of the Labour Minister at the time T.B.Illangaratne. A photograph of this signing takes pride of place at the Museum along with those depicting the lives of Indian labourers in the coffee and tea estates, workers in the graphite trade as well as harbour workers in the 1880s.

It also contains the portraits of the prominent trade union leaders of the country as well as the Ministers and Secretaries of Labour the country has had since 1931 and the former Controllers of Indian Immigrant Labour whose role was later modified into that of Controllers of Labour and which continues today as the Commissioner-General of Labour.

Sri Lanka has also been a member of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and ratified 40 international conventions which are on display at the museum.

“When we ratify the ILO conventions, we have an international obligation to grant certain rights to workers. The Conventions dealing with collective bargaining as well as the freedom of association are the most important among those we have ratified and subsequently placed in our statute books,” Mr. Madihahewa explained.

While the present Museum is housed within a room at the Labour Secretariat premises, there are plans to expand it once a new 32-storey building which is being put up in the same premises is completed. “We plan to devote one entire floor to the Museum giving better access to the public,” he said.

The Museum was declared open by President Mahinda Rajapaksa who served as the Minister of Labour between 1994-97. It is open to the public on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Entrance is free.

Top to the page  |  E-mail  |  views[1]
SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend
Other Plus Articles
The “Duchess of Colombo” had done it all and seen it all
A labour of gratitude
Justice and fair play should prevail in all the far corners of the island -- Letter to the editor
Monks should leave politics to the politicians -- Letter to the editor
Democracy should safeguard the rights and interests of the majority of society -- Letter to the editor
Jaffna as cradle of modern medical education in this country -- Letter to the editor
Mohideen Baig songs in ‘Ashokamala’ -- Letter to the editor
Good and generous friend who enjoyed a lively debate -- Appreciation
A fearless voice and gentle leader of the plantation community -- Appreciation
Writer, artist, friend and mentor – and gracious hostess -- Appreciation
Seeing is believing
Cruising down the canal
All’s fair for boys and girls at the annual fair
The grand dame of dance - Vajira at 78
Two artistes, two friends through life
Leafing through the story of a unique personality
A book to mark, learn, inwardly digest and act on
A thoughtful contribution to the nation-wide effort to learn English
No privacy, and never a dull moment
A play that’s set to challenge players as well as audience
Paths less travelled by – Chamber Music Society of Colombo
In step with our traditional dance
Lessons on water through art
British delegation to get a taste of Lankan culture
Launch of 'Ganaduraka Sihiwatana' (Memories of a Dark Era)
Mouth-watering Jaffna offerings
Kanchana also selected to show at Russia Fashion Week


Reproduction of articles permitted when used without any alterations to contents and a link to the source page.
© Copyright 2010 | Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka. All Rights Reserved.| Site best viewed in IE ver 6.0 @ 1024 x 768 resolution