Top trade union disappointed with Lankan budget, urges Rs. 5000 wage hike for private sector
The Sunday Times
08 Feb 2015

A top trade union grouping has slammed the new Government’s interim budget saying six million private sector workers should be given a Rs. 5,000 wage hike without linking the increase to productivity.

“The 6 million plus private sector workers should be given the Rs.5,000 wage increase without in any way linking it to productivity and as earlier demanded through a Parliament Act for which there are precedents, not merely because they are voters in the coming election, but because they too have a right to a decent human life in this country,” said Anton Marcus, Joint Secretary of the FTZ and GSEU in a statement to the media.
While welcoming sections of the budget in terms of the relief provided to consumers, the union said that in spite of these benefits “we regret to note this budget is one wholly insensitive to the drudgery of 6 million plus private sector employees who directly contribute to production in this country”.

The union said it is the private sector employee who directly contributes to external trade and foreign earnings in this country with the year 2013 showing foreign earnings at US$12 billion.

Last year former President Rajapaksa in his budget speech increased the public sector minimum wage to Rs.25,000 per month but completely ignored the private sector employee. “Our proposal for a Rs.5,000 per month wage increase to the private sector employee is to give them the chance to at least tie up(loose)ends in living. And then to reduce the gap between the wages of public and private sectors to Rs.10,000. Yet, look how this Maithri Rule treats the private sector employee who also has to buy his/her goods from the same boutique round the kerb where public sector employees make purchases. The public sector wages were once again increased through this interim budget by Rs.10,000 which is equivalent to the private sector employee monthly wage. This further increased the anomaly creating a new difference of Rs.25,000 between private and public sector minimum wage. We wonder how such increased injustice fits with Maithri rule,” the statement said.

It deplored the proposal that allows the employer the right to decide the value of labour paid as wages linked to that of increased productivity. In defining such blatant injustice the budget speech explained, “….we urge the private sector to consider an increase of Rs. 2,500 per employee per month, linking to productivity. Furthermore, the employer may utilise any value arising out of non cash benefits such as provision of food cost as a part of the proposed increase.”

The union said that “a free main meal especially for the export oriented production sector was decided in 1990 by President Premadasa with growing agitation by workers, who could not find time for an adequate meal with ever increased targets and compulsion for overtime work. The BOI-SL was thus held responsible in effectively implementing the free main meal. Yet we witnessed over the past years the declining quality of these free meals with numerous reports on food poisoning in factories. Inefficiency and neglect on the part of the BOI-SL allowed most employers to provide meals not free, but as subsidised. It is this meal that the Interim budget now says can be calculated as part of the requested wage increase”.

It said that the Finance Minister’s proposal to link wages to productivity is far very dangerous. Productivity levels will be decided by the employer alone. “The Finance Minister sure has heard of employers who coerce and intimidate workers in busting trade unions and deny workers the right to form trade unions of their choice. Such employers by now have maximised productivity using every nut and bolt in their factories thus leaving 63 per cent of the female workers anaemic in the Katunayake EPZ, according to an official survey conducted by the Labour Department. The Finance Minister’s request that says, increase in productivity can be linked to increase in wages, would thus leave all 6 million plus workers in the private sector sick and anaemic in time to come,” the statement added.