Business Times

Trade union leader defends US GSP for Sri Lanka

By Bandula Sirimanna

In the face of a possible risk of losing US GSP trade concessions, a Sri Lankan trade union leader has strongly countered and spoken against a petition submitted to the US State Department by another workers union and an American labour organization which highlighted weaknesses in the country’s labour relations and labour laws.

The petition was jointly submitted by the Free Trade Zone Workers Union (FTZWU) and the America Free Labour Council of Industrial Organization to the US State Department in which a public hearing was held at the White House in Washington on September 28. The petitioners had stated that Sri Lanka has not implemented international labour charters while raising several areas of concern like the minimum age of child labour, minimum wage, minimum number of working hours per day, security at the work place and health.

Secretary General of the Sri Lanka Nidahas Sevaka Sangamaya, Leslie Devendra told the Business Times that he made submissions on behalf of his trade union noting that the condition of workers is far better than most of the Asian and European countries and measures are under way to further improve labour relations. He also brought to the notice of the US State Department panel that Sri Lanka should not be deprived of US GSP trade concessions, just because of ill treatment of workers by a few employers in the island. He told the inquiry panel that even in the United States such unfair labour practices were taking place.

Convenor of the FTZWU, Anton Marcus, one of the petitioners said that their intention was to improve labour relations and labour laws for the benefit of workers but not to deprive the country of GSP concessions. He noted that the US State Department is considering both the oral and written submissions made by all parties and they awaiting the decision of the panel. He said that Sri Lanka should strengthen weaker areas of the labour law making it easier for the US and Europe to assist Sri Lanka. He revealed that a 7-member government delegation also made submissions at the public hearing.

Sri Lanka currently exports goods amounting to US$150 million annually under the US GSP scheme. However, apparels are not included in the US GSP system. Sri Lanka currently holds the 14th position in the US GSP beneficiaries list and the withdrawal of such a facility would make it difficult for local exports to compete in the US market.

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