Press Release: Reforms are on the way! And they are not worker friendly!

At the May Day rally of the UNP, Minister of Labour and Foreign Employment Manusha Nanayakkara presented a 11-point agenda reforming the existing regime of labour laws which propose to tilt the balance of power further in favour of employers. Nanayakara’s proposals, the most elaborate so far, are at best sketchy and, at worst, spell out a deliberate and calculated move to weaken the collective strength of the working population in the formal sector. The message is loud and clear when Nanayakkara prefaces the presentation with, “We still have archaic labour laws, a labour law which turns away investors.”  

The 11-point programme underlines the way this government like the previous one continues to undermine worker rights, particularly through fragmentation of the labour force, outsourcing and casualising of formal contractual labour, and other disempowering measures. These practices do operate now, but not formally. We have seen how workers were severely affected during the COVID crisis. They lost their jobs, were stranded and were forced to work in unprotected surroundings. Casualisation of labour has long been in practice. This scenario will be formalised through the proposed reforms. What is meant by archaic labour laws in favour of investors can mean only one thing. The worker’s right to protection in the workplace and, importantly, her right to a modicum of job security will be frittered away. Also, the reforms will mean greater exploitation of the labour of vulnerable people in the informal sector who have few protections and less job security even now. Their collective strength will be greatly eroded into. In fact, it may not even exist. Even new laws and measures, as suggested by Nanayakkara, will hardly be able to address this. 

By undermining labour laws, the government hopes to attract investment and boost the economy. It is a road show put on for the sake of potential investors. But the regime is sadly out of touch with economic realities. There is a global economic recession. Our economy shrunk by an eighth in the years 2022 and 2023 put together. As they stand, labour laws are not the cause of the economic crisis and reforming them is not the solution. Rather, the economy is in a state of continued collapse, because of austerity, lack of job creation policies, and inadequate social protection and relief to the working people. In the end, we will be left with an irrevocable undermining of the worker’s rights. 

The threat to workers’ rights is imminent! As a country we will protest these moves by the government. No Reforms of Labour Laws Today!

Meeting Information

17th June 2023 at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute

Speakers: Prof. Shamala Kumar (University of Peradeniya) 

Swasthika Arulingam (President, Commercial and Workers’ Union, and Attorney-at-Law) 

B. Skanthakumar (Social Scientists’ Association) 

Organisers: Kuppi Collective, Law and Society Trust, Social Scientists’ Association, Young Researchers Network