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Colombo Port City Bill frontal attack on working people T.M.R. Rasseedin

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General Secretay, Ceylon Federation of Labour (CFL)

The Colombo Port City Bill establishes an all-powerful Colombo Port City Economic Commission (CPCEC) in the newly extended territory of Sri Lanka known as the Port City. The economic policy it seeks to pursue is directed first and foremost to the attraction to Sri Lanka in a major way of big foreign capital. The CPCEC would administer the territory and through exemptions and the power to modify laws would render them nugatory in the Port City. It will in effect be a separate government with its own legal, economic, administrative and political system functioning independently from the rest of the country.

What is worse is that there is provision for the Commission during the first five years, probably extendable if we look at past history, to permit companies operating outside the Port City area to become part of it and enjoy the benefits of the Bill. Laws which are or can be made inapplicable by the Bill or the Commission are those which private Capital, especially foreign, regards as being fetters on their super profit seeking activities. They include laws covering labour, citizenship, banking, exchange control, Inland Revenue Act, the Customs ordinance and the Monetary Law Act all of which can be made inapplicable, modified or provided with exemption by the Commission.

The right of unhindered exploitation of local labour and local resources; the right to take away their proceeds and when there is no more to be got to take away their capital. All this and more to mobilise foreign capital for economic development of Sri Lanka !

The Bill provides for a reduction in environmental safeguards, freedom from taxes, provisions for freehold sale of land to foreigners/foreign companies through a Land Grant by government of the area to the CPCEC, openings for money laundering through lax regulation for offshore companies and banking and for casinos and gaming. It allows loosely defined “businesses of strategic importance” to be identified by CPCEC and given tax and other benefits for 40 years on approval by Cabinet, not Parliament. It also requires all government institutions including courts to give priority to Port City work, hampering day-to-day requirements of our citizens, whose future access to resources will also be impacted by provision of water, electricity and garbage disposal facilities to meet Port City needs.

 

Policy of Hire and Fire

The Ceylon Federation of Labour (CFL) is particularly perturbed by the attempt being made to exempt such companies from the provisions of the Termination of Employment of Workmen (Special Provisions) Act No.45 of 1971 (TEWA). As the organization that successfully thwarted the attempt of the JR Government of 1978 to deprive workers of the Free Trade Zones of labour law protection through the Greater Colombo Economic Commission Bill, the CFL is alarmed by the attempt of the present government to follow the footsteps of JRJ and deny employees security of employment by singling out the TEWA for exemption. It is worth remembering that of the many protective labour laws operative in Sri Lanka, the TEWA is the singular piece of legislation for whose repeal, employers, the trade chambers and international lending institutions have been persistently agitating.

The TEWA was enacted at the behest of the JCTUO in which the CFL played no mean role by the SLFP-LSSP-CP United Front Government to counter the intentional termination of workmen on the grounds of lack of raw materials and business losses. Under its provisions, no employer was allowed to terminate any workman without (a) the prior consent in writing of the workman or (b) the prior written approval of the Commissioner-General of Labour, except on disciplinary grounds.

The provisions of TEWA taken in its entirety ensured security of service of employee by curtailing the employer’s right to terminate at his/her will and pleasure. The protection it affords against non-disciplinary termination is laudable. The critics of this protective net for workman have tried to make out that this is unique to Sri Lanka. It is not so. In fact the International Labour Organization (ILO) as far back as 1963 adopted Recommendation 119 laying down the basic criteria related to the requirement of a valid reason for terminating the employment of an employee. It suggested periods of notice, income assurance through severance allowance, etc and provided for the right of appeal against termination to bodies empowered to award appropriate relief when termination was not justified and for a certificate of service.

This position was greatly strengthened in 1982 with ILO Convention 158 and Recommendation 166. Today, most countries offer legislative protection against unjustified dismissals, lay-offs and retrenchment in one form or other. In most countries the authorities must be notified in advance of workplace reductions. Several countries require prior approval for dismissals, for whatever reason, by an authority external to the undertaking.

TEWA is essential from the standpoint of workers as it provides some relief in the present environment where employment is vulnerable to market forces and increased external trade through liberalisation of trade and investment. The present employment climate is such that the unilateral discretion of employers to dismiss employees must indeed be subject to neutral review.

This vital piece of labour protective legislation has come under threat in the territory coming under the CPCEC and to companies outside approved by it. Should this Bill be enacted, we will be going back to an era when “hire and fire” ruled employer-employee relationships. Investors appear to enjoy such an environment and the very fact that TEWA is the sole Labour law listed as being amenable to exemptions in Schedule II of the Bill suggests that the move has been made to placate their interests. Thus will begin a pincer movement against the labour laws of the country.

Labour attained its current level through a long march involving immense sacrifices, bitter fights, bloodshed and even loss of life but in actual practice, still remains relatively disadvantaged compared with employers. Meddling with the TEWA in the Port City will only intensify this inequality in employment relationship and should be defeated. The CFL succeeded against the JR regime in 1978 under conditions very different from today as the CFL petitioned the Constitutional Court created by the 1972 first Republican Constitution. Today, the objectives of the authoritarian JR regime are being facilitated by Rajapaksa’s 20th Amendment enabling a tighter grip over the affairs of the people, governance, defence, law and order and justice. In such an environment justice and fair play falls by the wayside.

The CFL calls on the workers of Sri Lanka to prepare for the worst, while struggling for the best. The last say will be with the people although the Government tries to persuade itself that the General Election result is for all time. The centre of politics has shifted from Parliament to the outside very much faster than perhaps anybody expected. This Government has shown itself to be incapable of finding a solution to our problems, but pandering to foreign capital will neither provide a solution nor contribute to enhancing its popularity.



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AG says no legal impediment to Bathiudeen attending Parliament

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Public Security Minister: Those detained under PTA shouldn’t be allowed in

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, says there is no legal impediment to Opposition MP Rishad Bathiudeen attending Parliament while being detained in terms of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The CID arrested the leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) in the early hours of April 24 for aiding and abetting the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bombers.

Multiple blasts in different locations killed 270 people and wounded about 500.

The AG set the record straight in the wake of the CID failing to arrange for MP Bathiudeen to attend Parliament on May 4 and 5.

The Island learns that Police Headquarters recently consulted the AG as regards the legality of the Vanni District SJB MP attending parliamentary sessions and the SJB, on his behalf, requested the Speaker to facilitate the arrangements.

The ACMC contested the last general election on the SJB ticket. Its parliamentary group comprises four, including Bathiudeen.

The police sought the AG’s advice after having received a missive from Serjeant at arms Narendra Fernando in that regard. The AG has advised the police that MP Bathiudeen could attend parliamentary sessions.

However, Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera has advised the police against the ACMC leader attending Parliament. The Minister has issued instructions in this regard having requested the Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to prevent those detained under the PTA from attending parliament.

MP Bathiudeen has been detained for a period of 90 days pending investigations. His brother Riyajj too has been detained under PTA for 90 days.

 Minister Weerasekera, in Parliament yesterday (5) defended his decision to prevent MP Bathiudeen from attending parliament. Dismissing concerns raised by SJB MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran about the ACMC leader being deprived of his right to attend parliament sessions, Minister Weerasekera emphasized that he was responsible for public security.

Minister Weerasekera reminded Speaker Abeywardena that he had requested him not to allow anyone detained under PTA to attend parliament pending conclusion of investigations.

Weerasekera said that the CID wouldn’t have detained the MP concerned without valid reasons.

Perhaps, Field Marshal Fonseka had no concerns for public security, the former Navy Chief of Staff said, emphasising that the government wouldn’t conduct investigations the way the former Army Commander and the TNA spokesman desired.

Bathiudeen earlier served in the Cabinets of President Mahinda Rajapaksa (2010-2014) and President Maithripala Sirisena (2015-2019). The ACMC switched its allegiance to SJB at the 2020 August parliamentary election after having backed Sajith Premadasa’s candidature at the 2019 presidential.

Bathiudeens’ lawyer Rushdhie Habeeb told The Island that the decision to prevent MP Bathiudeen from attending parliament was political. Habeeb said that the issue at hand would be raised vigorously, both here and abroad, and a media briefing would be called soon to explain the situation.

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MONLAR draws attention to ticking COVID time bomb in plantations

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A large number of estate workers had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and given the generally congested living environment and lack of health facilities on plantations, the entire estate sector was a ticking time bomb, Moderator of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) Chinthaka Rajapakshe said yesterday.

Rajapakshe told The Island  that the latest outbreak on the estates had occurred after the return of some persons from Colombo during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

“We had warned that this would happen. People kept on returning home although the preparedness of the plantation economy to face a COVID-19 outbreak was non-existent.”

 “If one person gets it, the entire line will get it, and therefore urgent steps should be taken to minimise COVID-19 spread,” Rajapakshe said, adding that such an eventuality would not only destroy lives but also cripple the plantation sector, causing an enormous loss to the state coffers.

 

 

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Clandestine dealings of fishers will precipitate spread of deadly Indian variant here – Expert

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

There was a risk of the deadly Indian COVID-19 variant spreading to Sri Lanka as well, Chief Epidemiologist of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Sudath Samaraweera told the media yesterday in Colombo.

Dr. Samaraweera said that Sri Lankan fishermen continued to interact with their Indian counterparts in mid-sea and therefore it was only a matter of time before the Indian variant entered Sri Lanka.

“We must be extremely vigilant. We have seen the devastation caused by this variant in India. These mid-sea interactions by the fishing community must be stopped.”

Dr. Samaraweera added that although the Dambulla Economic Centre

had been reopened for business yesterday morning, health officials had been compelled to close five shops as their owners violated the Covid-19 protocol.    

“This is a commercial hub where people from all parts of the country converge. So, if there are COVID-19 cases here, then it will spread across the country. Therefore, people have to act carefully and responsibly.”

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