Business Times

Trade unions want Rajapaksa to implement the Workers’ Charter

By Dilshani Samaraweera

The Ceylon Federation of Labour (CFL), a trade union grouping, is calling on President Mahinda Rajapaksa to implement the 1995 Workers’ Charter, to control growth of informal labour markets.
The CFL says informal employment is increasing in the country, putting growing numbers of working people outside the protection of Sri Lanka’s national labour laws. At this point it is estimated that about 60% of Sri Lanka’s working people are in informal employments. Informal employment means insecure, temporary or casual jobs.

“By this opportunity we would request your Excellency to bring relevant provisions in the Workers Charter into law, so as to bring much needed relief to these sections of the workers whose numbers are increasing by the day with little or no safeguard or relief as to their tenure of employment and livelihood,” said the CFL in a letter to President Rajapaksa last week.

The 1995 Workers’ Charter, was approved by President Rajapaksa, when he was the Minister of Labour in the then People’s Alliance government. The Charter specifies that the State shall “(b) ensure that employees in un-organised sectors are guaranteed minimum terms and conditions of employment to prevent exploitation. Empower the Commissioner of Labour to fix wages and minimum terms and conditions in respect of such workers. Strictly enforce the statutory provisions regarding hours of work and paid holidays.”

The government is also supposed to ensure that workers employed by contractors get full labour law protection and that the use of ‘apprentices’ or ‘trainees’ for regular employment, is prohibited.
The government shall also ensure that employers in prescribed employments issue letters of appointment, specifying terms and conditions of employment; that the recruitment of casual workers is prohibited and that workers are made permanent, subject to a period of probation.

The Charter also says the definition of a ‘casual employee’ and ‘temporary employee’ will be introduced into the law, to prevent people being hired as casual or temporary workers, and being kept on for regular employments.

Currently working conditions in the informal sector are unregulated and workers cannot access worker welfare. Citing a recent survey the CFL says that “Only 20% of casual workers are entitled to sick leave while only 13% are eligible for paid leave. Only 1.3% is entitled to retrenchment benefit while those entitled for maternity leave is as low as 11%. 44% of the companies interviewed do not have a policy on sick leave, 57% do not offer maternity leave, 76.8% do not offer retrenchment benefits. 40.3% of the companies do not offer employment accident and diseases benefits.”

In addition, the CFL says a household survey indicates that nearly 20% of the respondents in the informal sector were not satisfied with the non-wage benefits they received.

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