10 Years Sans Justice
10 years since the assassination of Roshen Shanaka
Ten years have passed since the Free Trade Zone workers launched the struggle for securing their Employees’ Provident Fund. On the 30th of May at a protest, workers were fired upon by the police in the area, 400 workers were hospitalized and approximately 3,000 others faced physical and mental stress related issues. Worker Roshen Shanaka succumbed to his injuries on 1st of June whilst the other 7 sustained injuries which resulted in life-long disabilities. The Mahanama Tillekeratne Commission was appointed at the time to investigate the incident and several recommendations were forwarded to the authorities. Ten years on, the workers are yet to receive justice from all relevant parties, including the Government of Sri Lanka.
The challenge that all will face is the possibility that the Pensions Bill that was defeated in 2011 may be re-introduced in another form. This is because, the present government has hinted on it on several occasions. Due to the unfailing commitment of the workers within the Free Trade Zone, the struggle around the Employees Provident Fund came to fruition. However, ten years on many currently employed in the FTZs have taken for granted their access to the provident fund, and pay scant regard to the struggle that culminated in this right being fulfilled.
Since then, the importance of establishing and maintaining trade unions has been recognized as it was evident that support was required to fight and push for necessary change for all workers. The International Labour Organisation too has maintained this standpoint. However, Workers are penalized and face harsh conditions by employers to dissuade them from participating in unionization. There is little or no regard for the Freedom of Association by both employers and governments within the country with no support being provided to safeguard this right being provided by either faction.
There are a multitude of issues faced within the Free Trade Zones. The most severe during the current COVID-19 pandemic has been the loss of jobs and a lack of robust health infrastructure to protect workers in the zone. After much thought the following was arrived upon which requires attention to help curb the current dire situation;
· Within the COVID-19 vaccination programme, priority should be given to workers engaged in service within Free Trade Zones and it is important that PCR tests be conducted continuously and urgently.
· Hygienic methods within factories should be improved and those identified as infected should be directed to quarantine under factory provisions for getting them back in service immediately after recovery.
· In the event that a factory has to be closed down due to exposure to COVID-19 virus, its workers should be paid their monthly salary and under a situation in which the factory is not closed down the management should take action to give paid leave to the workers who have been sent on quarantine.
· Relief / ration package of Rs.5,000 should be provided to manpower, including casual workers.
· We are making these demands on a reasonable basis, especially at a time when the clothing and apparel export revenues are significantly higher than last year, according to Central Bank data.
It is against this backdrop, where we engage in continuous and relentless advocacy on behalf of our basic rights, that we feel it is necessary to memorialise our brother Roshen Shanaka and all those who were injured in that struggle. We shall not quit our struggle. We invite our working brothers and sisters to join hands with us in this endeavour.
Free Trade Zone Solidarity
For further information;
Britto Fernando 0772072540
Chamila Thushari 0771513362Sugath Priyantha 0778533050