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Advocata Institute identifies laws that discourage entry and retention of Lankan women in labour force

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Advocata Institute says that Sri Lanka’s labour laws that discourage the entry and retention of women in the labour force are a factor preventing female participation in the workforce.

A report, titled ‘Gender Discriminatory Labour Laws in Sri Lanka and Female Labour Force Participation,’ recently launched by the Institute, says that the gender discriminatory labour laws, such as banning work at night, impacts female labour force participation.

The report identifies the lack of reference to part-time and flexible employment in the existing labour law, time restrictions on employing women at night, dearth of legal provisions for sexual harassment in employment and restrictions on overtime work for women, as legal obstacles that discourage women joining and actively participating in the workforce.

The report focused on four main areas of discrimination in the labour market: sexual harassment in the workplace, overtime work, work at night, and part-time work. The report highlighted that if these issues were addressed it is likely that female participation in the workforce would greatly improve which would benefit the economy and attract investment (particularly in the context of Sri Lanka’s tight labour market and the cost of labour).

In order to unblock the potential of the female labour force, the Advocata report proposes a series of reforms to existing legislation. These include amendments to the Shop and Office Employees (Regulation of Employment and Remuneration) Act No. 19 of 1945, Wages Board Ordinance No. 27 of 1941, Gratuity Act No. 12 of 1983, Industrial Disputes Act No. 43 of 1950, Factories Ordinance No. 45 of 1942, Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Act No. 47 of 1956.

The launch event of the report was followed by a panel discussion. The panellists for the discussion included Attorney-at-Law Ayomi Fernando, International Centre for Ethnic Studies Independent Consultant and Research Associate Dr. Ramani Gunatilaka, MAS Women’s Empowerment, Advocacy and Code of Conduct General Manager Thanuja Jayawardene, and Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus Representative MP Thalatha Atukorale. The discussion was moderated by Advocata Institute Research Executive (Policy) Sathya Karunarathne.

MP Thalatha Atukorale stressed the importance of this by highlighting that most of the existing legislation need amendments, while stressing, “We need to adopt new laws. With new sectors taking part in our economy, we have a need to amend the laws. The [Women’s] caucus has been working on political, social, environmental issues and doing our best effort to bring into the notice of the ministers.”

During the discussion, it was pointed out that firms in the private sector who wished to hire women often have to negotiate their way through complicated and archaic laws. Some firms may even forego this altogether and enter informal agreements which, however, do not provide sufficient protections for women.

Sri Lanka’s failure to recognise part-time employment under the Shop and Office Employees (Regulation of Employment and Remuneration) Act remains such a barrier. According to Thanuja Jayawardene, “Making part-time work available for female employees is an important step in increasing labour force participation. From the business point of view, it is more beneficial to accommodate part-time work rather than lose employees, irrespective of their gender.”

Dr. Ramani Gunatilaka further stressed the importance of the reform, “If part-time work is allowed, young people and students can get experience, develop networks and even start their own businesses. Women can and want to do this. So, reforms are essential.” She stressed on the urgency of implementing these reforms and the impact it can have on the economy, “The working-age population is declining, and unless female labour force participation is boosted, the economy will not be able to grow at the expected rate.”

Ayomi Fernando shared similar insights while bringing into context the importance of recognising the elimination of restrictions on employing women at night. She said “Provisions preventing women working overtime are affecting the female labour. Women do need protection; however, these laws should be balanced to ensure women have equal opportunities.”



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BASL urges President to de-escalate tensions in different parts of country

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The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has called upon President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to instruct the Defence Secretary, the Commanders of the Tri Forces and the Inspector General of Police to ensure that there is an immediate de-escalation of tensions in different parts of the country – especially at fuel stations – understanding the difficulties faced by the public.”

 “Whilst keeping in mind that the police and armed forces are acting under very trying circumstances, nevertheless it is necessary to give strict instructions to the police and the forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint”, the BASL has said in a media statement.

 “We also call upon you to ensure that steps are taken under the law to deal with errant officers who have subjected civilians to such violence.”

The BASL is of the view that it is not appropriate for service personnel to be deployed in the present manner in matters which essentially should be managed by the Sri Lanka Police.

 The armed forces should also not be used to disturb or hinder peaceful protests as was seen last week in Galle.

Full text of the BASL letter to the President:

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) expresses its gravest concerns at the current situation at fuel stations throughout the country and the reports of several incidents of conflicts between civilians and members of the police force and the armed forces at fuel stations. There has been video footage of civilians being assaulted by personnel of the armed forces and the police, the latest being of a civilian being kicked by an Army officer at a fuel station. There have also been situations of the police and Army opening fire into the air to contain the crowd.

Your Excellency is no doubt aware that thousands of desperate civilians are waiting in queues at hundreds of fuel stations in the country. The queues are kilometres long. The tension at the fuel stations have arisen from this desperation for which there is no immediate solution in sight.

The BASL wishes to warn Your Excellency of the imminent dangers this situation could give rise to. The present unrest could result in a conflagration between civilians and members of the armed forces or the police. Some years ago, confrontations between members of the public and the armed forces resulted in the deaths of civilians. Such incidents between the members of the armed forces or the police and the civilians will discredit Sri Lanka’s armed forces and the police.

We call upon Your Excellency to take all necessary steps to give instructions to the Defence Secretary, the Commanders of the Tri Forces and the Inspector General of Police to ensure that there is an immediate de-escalation of the situation in different parts of the country – especially at fuel stations – understanding the difficulties faced by public. Whilst keeping in mind that the police and armed forces are acting under very trying circumstances, nevertheless it is necessary to give strict instructions to the police and the forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint. We also call upon you to ensure that steps be taken under the law to deal with errant officers who have subjected civilians to such violence.

The Sri Lanka Army and other service personnel must be deployed only in very limited circumstances as contemplated in the Criminal Procedure Code. The BASL is of the view that it is not appropriate for service personnel to be deployed in the present manner in matters which essentially should be managed by the Sri Lanka Police. The Armed Forces should also not be used to disturb or hinder peaceful protests as was seen last week in Galle.

We trust that this will receive the immediate attention of the Government as to do otherwise may otherwise result in unprecedented turmoil and harm.

The BASL believes that the ultimate solution to the situation at fuel stations is to be transparent with the public and to ensure an equitable and effective system of fuel distribution throughout the country.

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SC orders AG to submit report on fuel purchases and distribution

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By A.J.A. Abeynayake

A three-member Supreme Court bench consisting of Justices Vijith Malalgoda, Mahinda Samayawardena and Arjuna Obeysekera yesterday ordered the Attorney General to submit a report on fuel purchases, the distribution thereof and the sectors to be provided with fuel on a priority basis.

The Supreme Court made the order after considering two fundamental rights petitions presented by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.

The BASL has requested the Supreme Court to direct the Cabinet of Ministers to consult all stakeholders and independent experts to formulate and implement the necessary policies, and to provide concessions in relation to the prices of essential goods and services to the people including LP gas, fuel, electricity, milk powder, medicines and food.

The petitions were filed by the President of the BASL Saliya Pieris PC, Deputy President Anura Meddegoda PC, former Secretary Rajeev Amarasuriya, Treasurer Rajindh Perera and the Assistant Secretary Pasindu Silva.

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A/L may be delayed by one month

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Education Minister Sushil Premajayantha told Parliament yesterday that although it had been scheduled to hold the G.C.E. A/L Examination 2022 in November this year, it could be further delayed by another month.

Responding to a question by MP Shantha Bandara, the Minister said: “The examination should be held at least after three months of releasing the results of the previous A/L exam because the students who need to sit it again should have enough time to prepare,” the Minister said.

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