An open letter to Ministry of Labour and Foreign Employment
Lawyers for Democracy notes that the Ministry of Labour and Foreign Employment has called for inputs to labour reforms in Sri Lanka.
The history of Sri Lanka’s labour law regime is linked to the goals of social protection, the concept of dignified labour and the prevention of extreme exploitative practices. Sri Lanka’s hard-fought and strong labour laws have been challenged since Sri Lanka liberalised its economy and traded in foreign investment capital, our strong labour laws and during the last four decades, there have been many attempts to loosen the grip of these legal protections. We note that proposals representing the interest of employers, even during the public consultations aired by the Ministry, represent not new recommendations but a repetition of previous recommendations that have time and again in the past been proposed to weaken labour protections and remove state oversight over labour relations.
Whilst there has been a need for labour reforms in Sri Lanka, we are concerned that this is not the context in which to consider legal reforms hastily. An unprecedented economic crisis ought not to be the context within which lasting legal reforms are undertaken. Extraordinary times cannot responsibly determine laws for ordinary times. In the event such reforms are contemplated, there is an immensely high burden to ensure that the crisis conditions do not skew and are not used or exploited to benefit the employer. The crisis has impacted both employers and employees. It has rendered workers vulnerable to loss of livelihood, and income insecurity, almost halving their purchasing capacity and leading to food insecurity and various health concerns for their families. Consultations at this time are likely to focus on the more powerful voices of employers who would be, as expected, seeking to secure margins of profit and proposals from this quarter will have a strong likelihood of disadvantaging the employee, perhaps even creating conditions for exploitation. This must be recognised, and legal reforms must not pave the way for the regression of hard-fought rights of workers and unions.
We are extremely wary that the power dynamic that shifts further in favour of the employer, in a context where the employer’s interest often is simplistically framed in the language of national interest, if it influences the law-making process, will be unconstitutional. Article 27(7) of the Constitution requires the Sri Lankan State to ‘eliminate economic and social privilege and disparity and the exploitation of man by man or by the State’.
It is vital at this juncture to recall that the labour law regime and jurisprudence in Sri Lanka have been hard-fought achievements to secure the dignity and value of workers in the Sri Lankan economy and social development of the country. Labour laws reflect the standard of social and economic rights secured on behalf of the people of Sri Lanka. Any national discourse about the subject must, in conformity with Sri Lanka’s obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, be non-regressive and progressively enhance the social rights achieved.
Labour law reform is an issue of national importance and must reflect the views of all stakeholders, particularly those directly affected, the workers. The bedrock of labour law gives due recognition to the asymmetry of power in the relationship between employee and employer and the role of the state in ensuring that the worker is protected from exploitation. Dignified productive labour ought to be a hallmark of the country’s economic policy. Given the economic crisis in Sri Lanka and the national pressures on all industries and the agricultural sector, labour reform discussions are susceptible to undermining basic safeguards for which workers and unions have struggled.
Refrain from the hasty formulation of labour law reforms given the context and also the extremely vulnerable condition of the worker in the given context. Do not make ordinary law in extraordinary conditions.
Ensure that consultations with workers and trade unions are transparently and genuinely conducted, including at the level of the National Advisory on Labour Council. This would be time to ensure full and wider consultations feeding into the Council, given the extraordinary nature of the labour context in this crisis.
Recognise the historical discrimination, vulnerability and exploitation caused to sections of workers such as free trade zone workers, plantation workers and informal sector workers and the ongoing attempts of informatization and trade union busting in the various sectors and ensure that measures taken do not aggravate these ill practices.
(On behalf of the Convenors of Lawyers for Democracy: Lal Wijenayake, K.S. Ratnavale, (Dr) Jayampathy Wickramaratne PC, Ermiza Tegal, Attorneys-at-Law)
Speculations about origin of placename, ‘Negombo’ (Meegamuwa)
By Chandre Dharmawardana,
A writer using the pseudonym GADS, replying to a previous article regarding Negombo, states (The Island 17 Sept. 2023), “It is also historically recorded that the name Negombo is the Portuguese corruption of its Tamil name Neerakolombu and the Sinhala name Meegamuwa which means and comes from old Tamil Naval terminology Meegamam Pattnam. Meegamam denotes a naval captain”.
Unfortunately, the author does not give the reference to this “historical record” or elaborate on the details available from any early sources, Portuguese and Dutch maps etc. Furthermore, he asserts that “Meegamam” denotes a naval captain. Here again, this is certainly not so in any of the Dravidian languages, or Indic languages. No such usage exists even in Arabic and other languages of the Hebrew family, as far as we can ascertain.
A “naval captain” in Arabic would be Kabtin Bahriun, while the Tamil usage would be Katarpatai Kaptain in modern usage. In old Tamil words like Nakutawere used . However, “gama, gamuwa, gammam, kamam, etc., are all refer “village”.
I have collected what is known about the place name Negombo in the website listed at the end of this note . I quote from it below:
The name Meegamuva is believed to refer to a village (gamuwa) which was reputed for its honey (mee). Thus, the Mahavamsa-based tradition has it that honey was procured from this region for Queen Vihara Maha Devi, (2 century BCE), initially from a honeycomb found in a boat turned upside down. It could also refer to a forest of Mee trees, Madhuca Longifolia (Koenig). It is well known that placenames have been based on vegetation and prominent land marks; in our view, this is the most likely source of the name.
Another interesting legend is that the name is related to “Nihumbala, the nephew of the Yakka king Raavana. The Tamil form, Neerkozimpu may mean water, and ‘kozimpu’ is sometimes claimed to mean ‘village’, but such a meaning is not recognised in standard Tamil Lexicons. Also, the Tamil name originally applied only to the lagoon-like area and not to the whole of Meegamuwa. Given the ancient histoofthe village, kozimpu may have comefrom the sinhala kalapuva adorned with the Tamil “nir”.
Maya Oya flows north of Negombo and falls into the ocean near Kochchikade. This was an early center of the cinnamon trade, set up by the Moors in medieval times. The Portuguese ousted them in the 16th century and built a fort, and established a strong Catholic religious centre here. The Dutch ousted the Portuguese in the 1644 CE. The ruins of the fort, with its fine archway marked ‘1672’ can still be seen. In 1796 the British took over Negombo, by which time the cinnamon trade had declined. The town has remained strongly Roman catholic to this day.
Frivolous folk-lore etymology attriutes the name ‘Negambo’ to nikam biruva. That is, a dog ‘just barked’ is said to be the response given by a non-comprehending bystander to a colonial who asked ‘what is the name of this town? While GADS recognizes such frivolities for what they are, the claim that Meegamuwa or Neer-kozimpu comes from the Tamil words for “sea captain” can be very intriguing if anyone takes it seriously; one cannot find a source for substantiating such a claim in any reputed Tamil lexicon or Tamil literary source.
Madras Tamil Lexicon.
 Mahawamsa, XXII, verse 48.
How to conserve electricity at home and workplace
Going through my old paper clippings, I came across the following news item which is more applicable today when the country is facing a severe energy crisis on how to conserve or restrict the use of electricity at Offices and other working places.
There are several ways of conserving electricity at home, offices and other workplaces. It is absolutely necessary to do so because electricity is harmful for our environment and the planet we live in.
Here is how
(a) Unplug all electrical appliances in the kitchen when not in use, except the refrigerator. This includes coffee pots, sandwich toasters, blenders and ovens. These appliances use small amounts of electricity when they are left in standby mode.
(b) When it comes to washing, soap them first and then open the tap halfway to wash them.
(c) Use the washing machine once a week. Try washing some of your lighter clothes by hand and save jeans and other heavy clothing for the washing machine
(d) When drying your clothes, do not use the dryer unless very necessary. Hang wet clothes on a line in the backyard which is an easy way of drying them and clothes dry so easily during the day in this intensely hot weather.
(e) Change the traditional light bulbs for energy saving bulbs. The garden lights can be replaced with solar powered lights. In the kitchen, the refrigerator is out of direct sunlight and not next to the oven. Avoid putting hot dishes in the refrigerator as it will have to work harder to cool the dish, therefore wait for a while for the dish to cool and then put it in the refrigerator.
(f) Unplug any phone or laptop chargers when they are not in use.
(g) Unplug the computer when it is not in use. This is very important because it can get very badly damaged if it is plugged in during a thunderstorm. You may not even be at home during the storm, so it is advisable to unplug the computer when it is not being used. Do not leave the computer switched on for long hours.
(h) Unplug the television set and gaming consoles too, as they can get damaged if they are on standby mode during a thunderstorm.
(i) Keep DVD players, TVs and other audio and stereo equipment plugged into a multi-port which can be turned off with one switch. This saves electricity.
(j) Turn off the lights, fans and air-conditioner when you leave the room. Remember that you do not need the lights switched on during the day.
(k) Do not use electric appliances such as vacuum cleaners and use the broom instead.
Some lesser known historical facts
The Greek women in ancient Greece realised to their utter dismay that their husbands were always fighting wars overseas. One brave Greek woman, Lysistrata, organised a women’s front with the sole purpose of denying their husbands the marital pleasures unless they remained at home to fulfill their marital duties
Socrates, known for his wisdom, was invited by the King of Sparta, which had waged war against Greece, to be an honorary citizen of Sparta. He gracefully turned down the offer as he valued the democratic way of life in Athens. As he was always arguing with fellow Athenians neglecting household work his wife used abusive language on him in the presence of his companions. Socrates continued with his arguments when his wife in utter exasperation treated him with a plate full of dish water. Socrates merely said to his companions that after thunder comes the rain.
In the Olympic games held during the peaceful times the athletes ran the races naked. Women were not permitted to attend them. The penalty was death if a woman was discovered breaking the law. On one occasion a middle-aged woman was caught breaking the law. As she happened to be the mother of a celebrated athlete she was forgiven.
Julius Caesar was caught dressed as a woman in a women only club in Rome. He was not punished since he had gone there only to meet his lover who saved him. On another occasion he had to offer a bribe to the ship’s captain, a pirate, who threatened to throw him overboard into the Mediterranean Sea.
Isaac Newton was accused by Robert Hooke for plagiarizing when the former introduced the gravitational constant in his book Principia Mathematica. Hooke was the Secretary of the Royal Society of which Newton was the President. Hooke was the person who encouraged Robert Knox to write the book “Historical Relations…” Newton was accused by the German philosopher Leibniz of plagiarism as the latter had published the calculations of infinitesimal calculus before Newton. There was a rule in the Universities that dons should take holy orders. The king exempted Newton from this obligation. Newton’s denial of the divinity of Jesus and the trinity did not earn any punishment from the ecclesiastical authorities. The complementary part of calculus, integral calculus, had been discovered by Archimedes in the second century BC. After the conquest of Greece by Rome the intellectual supremacy and the culture of Greece saw a gradual decline. It was known that the burial place of Archimedes was a much-venerated place visited by Greeks. The Romans did not show such veneration and the burial place got neglected. However, when Cicero, a Roman intellectual, lawyer and writer became the governor of Athens in the second half of the first century BC, he visited the burial site and had the monument restored to its former state. He noticed the epitaph wherein the symbol of a sphere within a cylinder had been inscribed.
A century later Rome conquered England, killing the English queen Boudica. There stands the figure of this queen on a horse (close to the underground tube station Westminster) with words emblazoned on the flanks in poetic language indicating that while England was colonised by Rome, England had conquered half of the world.
Guy Fawkes was the man who made an attempt to set fire to the Parliament building. This incident is known as the “Gunpowder plot”. He failed in his attempt and was executed. This incident may be compared to the attempt by a JVP member who threw a hand grenade when a Cabinet meeting was taking place in the Parliament building with the President JRJ presiding. The culprit got away.
When a German prince from Hanover became George the First of England, he found life in England very dull as he could not speak English. So, he invited his old German friend Handel, the musician, to be his companion. It was during this time that Handel composed his famous “Water music” and many operas.
Dr. Leo Fernando
India set to approve historic women’s quota bill
Kerala cannabis with a street value of over Rs.132 million held by Navy in Negombo
Google accused of directing motorist to drive off collapsed bridge
‘Dates have the highest sugar content to fight Coronavirus’
Sunday Island 27 December – Headlines
#Sundayisland Sunday Island- 31 January- Headlines
News6 days ago
C4 whistle-blower’s father among those killed with EPRLF’s Padmanabha in Chennai
News5 days ago
National Security House Committee head asks why Diaspora doesn’t want India and TNA investigated
Editorial6 days ago
Gota as scapegoat
Latest News6 days ago
President Ranil Wickremesinghe addresses G77 & China Summit in Cuba
News3 days ago
G-77 summit: President RW calls for earmarking 1% of GDP for R&D over a decade
Latest News4 days ago
More questions to answer for India, Sri Lanka in Asia Cup final
Latest News4 days ago
Siraj’s spell for the ages gives India eighth Asia Cup title
Features4 days ago
Channel 4 resurrects Easter Sunday, rips open can of squirming worms