Workers Struggle in FTZ, Sri Lanka

Monday 25 July 2011 by Human Development Organization

The Sri Lankan Government Proposed Private Sector Employees’ Pension Scheme made the country face protests of gigantic proportion. Though the bill has been withdrawn at present, it should be noted that it created condition for the government to face opposition from various quarters. This makes it necessary to have a clear understanding of the bill. The bill qualifies a private sector employee who has an uninterrupted service of ten years in any private trade, for pension.

There are 4 million employees registered under the EPF scheme. This number includes three hundred thousand plantation workers. There are approximately 60 thousand private sector employees from the Free Trade Zone, who are members of the EPF.

  • Under the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) Act, a worker is a member as long as there is credit balance to his account.
  • This credit balance, converted into the new pension scheme, will also be used for financial and administrative expenses.
  • Each member will be given a special identity card.
  • At the initial stage, only those below 55 years of age will be eligible to become members. Thereafter, the scheme will be extended to those over 55 years of age.
  • Al though a worker retires at 55 years of age, he / she will be paid the pension after such worker reaches 60 years of age.
  • If the recipient dies, his wife will not be paid the pension. But his children below 18 years of age will be paid.
  • It is also stated the benefits under the new pension scheme are available, only if there is a 60 per cent credit balance in the account.
  • The levy towards this scheme will be at 2 per cent from the employee’s wage, at 10 per cent from the gratuity fund and at 2per cent from the EPF, and at 2per cent from the employer.
  • A majority of the Free Trade Zone workers, main opposition parties and leftist parties are up in arms against this pension scheme on the ground that it will benefit the next of kins (or the heirs) only up to a certain period, and therefore it is needless.

Anyway, many opposition parties demonstrated their opposition and the Katunayake Free Tread Zone workers launched their democratic struggle against the scheme. The government, feeling the danger of the struggle spreading to other parts of the country, tried to suppress the Katunayake FTZ workers’ struggle through police. Hundreds of workers were injured and 15 of the protesting workers with serious injuries were admitted to hospital. It is noteworthy that the police tear gassed the workers and shot at the protesters. Following the death of the worker, many trade unions, opposition parties, civil organizations (NGOs) and particularly, the Free Trade Zone workers ventured into street demonstrations. This became a serious threat to the Sri Lankan government, and talks were afloat that family rule and military activities were nearing an end.

While the Policemen and the thugs had been attacking the workers who had been inside factories without letting them escape, the workers shouted for help. The residents in the neighborhood came and rescued them by breaching the walls and cutting the barbed wire fences. While this was happening in the Phase 2 of the Free Trade Zone, about 10,000 workers who had been at work in Phase 1 staged a demonstration at the Main Gate to the Free Trade Zone. Later the personnel from the Katunayake Police Station were removed from the scene and the Army and the Riot Control Unit were deployed. Subsequently, the Free Trade Zone was closed for the two days 31st May and 1st June.

The workers from factories all over the country were enraged by the death of their follow worker and have come out of their factories and are engaged in protests. The government, panicked following his death, obtained a court order and imposed an order to be carried out by the Army to ensure that at the funeral, the only speech that could be delivered is the vote of thanks on behalf of the family and the body can only be taken to the church before its burial at the cemetery. The last rites will take place on Saturday the 3rd May and the Free Trade Zone workers will attend it. As a women’s organization, we demand the government and relevant authorities to ensure:

Finally the government windrow the proposed Bill.

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