European Commission met Trade union Leaders 2021

On 30th September 2021, The EU delegation met the Trade Union leaders to discuss on the GSP+ Concession specially the the current situation in the country, the rule of law, human rights, freedom and equality, reconciliation, the environment, media freedom, civil liberties and many other issues.

The European Commission Consisted of,

Mr. Nikolaos Zaimis Senior Adviser, Trade and Sustainable Development, GSP and EPAs, Directorate General for Trade, European Commission.
Mr. Ionnis Giogkarakis Argyropoulos Head of Division South Asia, European External Action Service (EEAS)
Mr. Guido Dolara Coordinator GSP Trade Preferences, Trade and Sustainable Development, Generalized System of Preferences, European Commission
Mr Lluis Prats Head of Unit Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion - Labour Mobility - International Issues, European Commission
Ms. Monika Bylaite Desk Officer for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, EEAS

Trade union leaders who participated in the discussion,

Mr. Anton Marcus Joint Secretary - Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union
Mr. Leslie Devendra General Secretary - Sri Lanka Nidhas Sewaka Sangamaya
Mr. Palitha Atukorale President - National Union of Seafarers
Mr. Maxwell Sylvester Jayakody General Secretary - Ceylon Mercantile Industrial & General Workers Union
Ms. Swasthika Arulingam Deputy General Secretary - Commercial & Industrial Workers Union
Mr. Joseph Stalin President - Ceylon Teachers Union
Mr. Channa Dissanayake President - Ceylon Bank Employees union
Mr. Robert Francis General Secretary - The Ceylon Estate Staff’s Union
Ms. Mathavakala Sridharan National Project Coordinator - Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union

30th September 2021 – Trade Unions Submission

Your Excellency,

Trade union statement following the meeting with the EU GSP+ monitoring mission

On Thursday 30th of September, a group of trade unions and their representatives1 were invited to the EU Delegation in Colombo to meet with the EU GSP+ monitoring mission.

We appreciated the opportunity to meet with the EU GSP+ monitoring mission. In this summary, we share our main concerns and our recommendations for government action in the garment sector. These findings should inform the EU GSP+ monitoring report and include actions the government should take up to continue benefiting from the EU trade preferences

These key points echo or come in addition to what we raised during the meeting with you; as well as to what Clean Clothes Campaign submitted to EEAS in the context of the CSO consultation on the EU-Sri Lanka Human Rights Dialogue (16th of September 2021).

A more detailed overview will also be submitted to the EU GSP+ monitoring mission by mid-October to provide additional information and recommendations to be used for your GSP+ assessment.

Summary of our key concerns and recommendations

On freedom of association

The ILO has found the Sri Lanka Board of Investment (BOI) at high risk of violating international legal standards on freedom of association. The workers' situation is the most arduous in the EPZs where freedom of association remains an illusion and employer-Labour relations are usually managed by Employee Councils. These often undermine freedom of association and collective bargaining. Workers in Sri Lanka do not have access to remedy in case of anti-union retaliation as only the Department of Labour can bring cases concerning anti-union discrimination before the courts.

We recommend the following measures to be passed or respected by the Government of Sri Lanka:

Adapt the BOI Labour Standards and Employment Relations Manual to bring into an agreement with the international legal standards on freedom of association

The 40% union membership threshold should not be compulsory for recognition as a bargaining agent. This provision has no justifiable basis as stated by the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR).

Change the Labour Law to bring into an agreement with ILO Convention 98, in particular regarding the limitation that only the Department of Labour can bring cases concerning antiunion discrimination to the courts.

The CEARC also found that entry into EPZs for trade union representatives is restricted. This is not justifiable and the right to access should be granted.

Adapt policies on EPZs in particular discontinue the promotion of Employee Councils, and allow trade unions to take their place.

On COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the dire situation of workers. Factories closed, laying off workers without severance. Response to the health situation was grossly inadequate, e.g., leading to a major outbreak in October 2020 at one of the Brandix factories. Workers cannot advocate for their safety and feel compelled to continue working. It is of the utmost importance that social distancing in factories is respected, i.e., there should be a limit on the number of workers reporting to work. and that not reporting should be called back on a rotational basis and should be paid full wages and other benefits for the period they do not work

We recommend the following measures to be passed or respected by the Government of Sri Lanka:

Support and pass the following measures

. include the apparel sector in national lockdowns and apply the rules of them lockdowns equitably to protect garment workers during the pandemic;

install bipartite Health Committees in all factories, as per the Labour Ministry’s Task Force decision;

halt the suppression of workers' union activities;

publish the studies of the Attorney General and the Labour Ministry about the outbreak in the Brandix Minuwangoda factory of October 2020.

Introduce social distancing with employees and work on a rotational basis while ensuring payments of full wages and benefits, whether workers are reporting to work or not (as per work rotation)

Health authorities should prepare health guidelines and monitor them in consultation with the trade unions and worker representatives. There should also be a monitoring system with the participation of representatives of employers, trade unions, COVID19 health committees and Public Health Inspectors, Community Health officials headed by area Medical Officers of Health.

Anton Marcus,
Joint Secretary,
Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union.
Global Steering Board Member,
Clean Clothes Campaign.

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