A bill was recently passed in parliament on March 11 that ensures private sector workers earning less than Rs. 40,000 will receive a mandated Rs. 2,500 increase. In addition, the bill fulfils a pledge from the Rajapaksa era to institute a national minimum wage of Rs. 10,000. While some details may be modified in the process of turning the bill into an act, it is worth addressing its content. The current government should be commended for making good on its promises from last year to increase private sector wages.
The annual Asia Floor Wage Alliance meeting held on December 17-20th at the Sri Lanka Foundation was a critical opportunity to bring activists together from across the region to discuss the pressing needs of garment workers. Participants arrived from over nine countries to highlight issues in an industry that provides clothing for much of the world, including for famous brands such as Gap, H&M, Marks and Spencer, Next, Inditex, and Adidas.
Recent mainstream economic policy making in Sri Lanka has been promoting the idea of labour “flexibility”. The assumption is that labour laws are too restrictive with respect to matters such as firing employees or determining work hours. These laws are seen as imposing labour market “rigidity”. Both terms appeal to common sense. Flexibility in particular is viewed as creating more options for workers and employers.
A year ago, on July 4, the late Bala Tampoe led a walkout of the trade union leaders in the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC).
In a statement signed a month later by Tampoe and four other trade union leaders, they explained the reasons for their walkout to the Minister of Labour saying it was as a result of the failure to implement a series of agreements spanning many years.
What is the significance of May 1st in Sri Lanka? Although it is a seemingly broad question, the connection between May Day and the larger workers’ struggle provides a useful opportunity to reflect on the successes and losses of the country’s labour movement. Toward this end, the authors of this article sat down and discussed with veteran unionists and organizers regarding both the history of May Day and contemporary challenges. The goal was to use May Day as a platform to discuss larger issues affecting labour organizing in Sri Lanka.
What does the current “100 days” reform campaign mean for the working classes? In addition to the current raft of constitutional reforms proposed during the campaign, workers have taken up the opening in the political space to advocate for wage increases in the private sector.Currently unions are demanding a Rs. 2,500 increase across the board, to be passed as a legally-binding parliamentary act similar to the budgetary relief allowance of 2005. As it stands, the minimum wage paid to workers is around Rs. 10,000, though this also varies across sectors.
The policies of the Sri Lankan state since the late 1970s have seen a widening gap between its neo-liberal foundations and its attempts to claim popular legitimacy, and this structure of politics seems set to persist. This paper argues that the tension between neo-liberalism and populism is articulated in the disparity between the island's urban and rural areas, and vice versa. This defines contradictory aspects of the Sri Lankan state as we understand its appeal to different constituencies, both the new urban middle classes and increasingly impoverished small farmers.
Over the last couple of months, Sri Lankans have been presented with two budgets for the year 2015. The one in October 2014 was introduced by the previous regime in order to ‘curry favour’ with the public ahead of the presidential election of January 2015. The other came from the newly appointed government following the election. Both governments made promises to increase workers’ salaries, but there is a discrepancy between the budgetary allocations and promises made to public and private sectors workers.
Of the many pieties that have been promoted in the Western media in the aftermath of Maithripala Sirisena’s victory over incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa in the recent Sri Lankan presidential election, none has been more cherished than the notion that Sri Lanka is now on board with “democracy.” This claim is counter-posed to Sri Lanka’s recent cozy relationship with China and other authoritarian countries. A new Cold War is supposedly being fought, with Sri Lanka’s election reduced to its strategic relevance to policy makers.
"There is a tendency to measure successes and failures purely in electoral terms, overlooking the influential role played by pro-left elements in the social, economic and cultural life of the people, and in shaping the thinking of the intelligentsia." – Santasilan Kadirgamar, "The Left Tradition in Lankan Tamil Politics"