The third cycle of Sri Lanka’s Decent Work Country Programme (DWCP) for the period 2018-2022 is under preparation with the facilitation of the ILO’s Colombo office. Fifteen trade unions at the initiation of the CFL, CMU, CBEU and the CESU have developed and prioritised proposals for inclusion in the DWCP for 2018-2022 and these have [...]

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15 trade unions submit proposals for new Decent Work programme


The third cycle of Sri Lanka’s Decent Work Country Programme (DWCP) for the period 2018-2022 is under preparation with the facilitation of the ILO’s Colombo office.

Fifteen trade unions at the initiation of the CFL, CMU, CBEU and the CESU have developed and prioritised proposals for inclusion in the DWCP for 2018-2022 and these have been forwarded in a joint memorandum to the local office of the ILO.

Here are excerpts of the proposals:

Raising awareness on the concept of Decent Work
A concerted effort shall be first made to raise reasonable awareness on the topic of Decent Work in Society. Social media tools and innovative communication strategies shall be used to present the concept in a simplified manner. Public officials and most labour leaders have little or no idea about decent work.

Non-Standard Employment
The draft amendment to Sec. 59A of the Wages Boards Ordinance on sub-contract labour presented to the NLAC (National Labour Advisory Council) needs to be re-engaged and reviewed so as to serve its intended purpose of complying with requirements of ILO Recommendation No. 198 on Employment Relationship and make it practically enforceable in Sri Lanka.


  •  Increasing the labour force participation rate for females is an urgent priority and one important pre requisite to achieve gender equality in the labour force and society at large.
  •  Sri Lanka is among the few countries that record an extremely low participation rate of females in the labour force.
  •  The arbitrary increase of statutorily permissible hours of overtime work for women (from 100 hours per annum to 720 hours per annum) in the year 2003, for the industrial sector, is several folds higher than competitive high FDI attracting countries such as Vietnam.
  • Women are often employed beyond the legally permissible extents at night in premises coming under the purview of the Shop and Office Employees Act.
  •  No safe and reliable public transportation system exists for workers who sign-out during late hours in the night. This has seriously endangered their safety.
  •  The government has failed to give effect to provisions of ILO Convention 103 on Maternity Protection.


Labour market

  •  Non-formalisation of the labour market is spreading fast
  •  Gig economy symptoms are widely prevalent in the new jobs that are being created.
  •  The female labour force participation rate is alarmingly low.
  •  No scientific labour market expectation analysis has been done to determine and match the needs of the labour force, type of jobs in demand, the focus of jobs generated by the economy, socio-economic and political changes required to adjust to the requirements of the labour force.
  •  Sri Lanka is a country with the least amount of holidays and has an overworked labour force (ILO labour market statistical compilation)
  •  Sri Lanka has the most liberal labour regime on many counts in the South and East Asian region (official and verifiable statistical compilation of the World Bank)
  •  Sri Lanka has the lowest minimum wage in the region and, globally only 16 countries have minimum wages that are lesser than Sri Lanka. (official and verifiable statistical compilation of the World Bank)
  •  Places of work that employ small numbers of workers have become the engine of the economy and this trend continues to grow.


Labour rights

  •  Not a single prosecution of unfair labour practice has yet resulted in a conviction since the adoption of the relevant local law in 1999.
  •  No effective mechanism exists to address unfair labour practices.
  •  Unions in the public and non-public sector cannot form federations or form organisations of their choosing consisting of both these categories of employees.
  •  Public sector unions also have statutory restrictions in forming unions representing different categories of employees in their workplaces.
  •  There are no proactive measures or policies that aim at expanding the cover of labour laws to encompass the fast expanding informalising segments/areas of the labour force.


Labour law enforcement

  •  No meaningful and verifiable steps have been taken by the government to implement the 17 recommendations set out in the 2012 Technical Memorandum (Sri Lanka Labour Administration and Inspection needs assessment) report of the LAB/ADMIN Labour Administration and Inspection division of ILO, Geneva.
  •  The Labour Inspection System Application (LISA) has serious practical deficiencies. Digitalisation of labour inspection is essential and shall be done with constructive input from all relevant stakeholders. The practical effectiveness of LISA was not constructively validated with the participation of the labour inspectorate, the general body of unions and the general public who seek the services of the department of labour.
  •  Laws on regulating the employment of women at night are being permitted to violate with the express permission of the department of labour.
  •  A backlog of over 20,000 labour law enforcement prosecution cases exists.
  • Justice for termination of employment and adjudication
  •  The inability of Labour Tribunals to provide reasonable compensation or speedy reinstatement has discouraged workers from seeking redress from this forum as the cost of litigation is disproportionately higher than any possible relief a worker could get.
  •  Non-lawyer workers representatives are not permitted to appear in labour tribunals.

Social security

  •  Sri Lanka is moving towards a demographic transition where the growth of the dependent population is overtaking the growth of the economically active.
  •  Active accounts in the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) have remained stagnant since 2013.
  •  The stagnation in the growth of active EPF accounts indicates stagnation in the creation of jobs that provide minimum social security.
  •  No universal old age social security system exists.
  •  New recruits to the public sector workers are denied a guaranteed retirement benefit scheme. The current public sector pension scheme is discontinued on these workers.
  •  Transparent, timely and sufficient information on the overall management of the EPF and ETF is not available.
  •  An arbitrary and draconian system of taxation is applied on EPF, ETF and private provident/retirement funds
  •  Due to the crisis triggered by the bond scam and the system of arbitrary and exploitative taxation imposed on retirement funds, private provident funds are encountering serious difficulties in offering competitive returns to their members.


Social Dialogue

  •  A constructive social dialogue platform is absent.
  •  The involvement of worker stakeholders on the topic of social dialogue cannot be narrowed down to a few unions of the NALC.
  •  Over 95 per cent of the workers are not organised. The male dominant unions at the NLAC do not represent more than 2 per cent of the workforce.
  •  In terms of the interpretations of the ILO CFA, the right to freedom of association includes the right to join and not to join a union. As such, if the majority of the workforce has decided not to join a union, their concerns cannot be excluded from the national social dialogue platform.
  •  The process of selection of worker representatives to the Wages Boards does not appropriately reflect workers or their representatives of those respective sectors; the process lacks essential checks and balances that ought to be observed in such processes of selection. Serious issues of transparency exist in the current process.
  •  Often these Wages Boards function in a stage-managed manner with a flawed representation of worker representatives.

The 15 trade unions are: Ceylon Federation of Labour, Ceylon Mercantile Industrial and General Workers Union, Ceylon Estate Staffs’ Union, Ceylon Bank Employees Union, Independent Dock Workers Union, Telecommunications Engineering Diplomats’ Association, All Employees Union of Information Telecommunication, Sri Lanka Insurance Employees Union, Railway Clerical Union, Dumriya Stashan Karya Sevaka Sangamaya, National Free Trade Union, SLIC Internal Sales Staff Union, Food Beverages and Tobacco Employees Union, Sri Lanka Railway Station Masters Union and the Professional Trade Union Alliance.

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