The United Unions Say NO to Twenty!

The Trade Union leaders held a press briefing on Wednesday and pointed out that the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution would curtail the rights of the working people. They declared that the trade unions rally against the bill with their full strength and defeat the anti-democratic amendments. The press conference was convened by the trade union leaders who have filed petitions against the 20th Amendment in the Supreme Court. 

Comrade Kesara Kottegoda of the Ceylon Bank Employees’ Union drew attention to the urgent bills proposed through the 20th Amendment which will make room for draconian bills to be passed overnight. As a result, trade unions representing the Government, semi-Government and the private sector have formed a joint trade union movement against the 20th Amendment as a measure to safeguard the rights of the working people.

Comrade Sylvester Jayakody of the CMU highlighted how the pressure exerted by trade unions have succeeded in preventing anti-labour laws that the governments have pushed over the years to abolish the privileges enjoyed by the workers of the country. Through the 20th Amendment, the Government attempts to create legal blocks to withhold pressure from the workers.  

Comrade Ravi Kumudesh, President of the Association of Health Professionals, emphasised that workers over the years were able to remove restrictive provisions of the 1978 Constitution one by one which emboldened the Executive President. The 19th Amendment was a climax of this trajectory, hence a big achievement in limiting executive powers. 19th Amendment is an outcome of a mass movement and it is wrong to interpret it as a victory of the “yahapalana” government. Labelling the 19th Amendment with “yahapalana” tag would only reverse peoples’ victories and reduce it to a power struggle between two political parties focused on their petty interests. He underscored that peoples’ consent should be sort if the government is trying to take away powers vested on the people and concentrate them on one person. 

Addressing the media, comrade Joseph Stalin of the Ceylon Teachers’ Union said that the proposed amendments would extend the authority of the President’s decisions not only extend over the legislature but also the judiciary. This will prevent the general public from inquiring about the governance in the country. He said the removal of state institutions, especially the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office, from state audits would not allow any transparency to those institutions. He added that although the government had stated that state-owned companies would be audited by private auditing firms, such audit reports would not be examined by the parliament through the COPE and would allow large-scale corruptions and scams.

Comrade Linus Jayatilake of the United Federation of Labour stated that JR Jayawardane brought the 1978 Constitution to dispossess the rights of the people. He created the Free Trade Zone by depriving workers protection of labour laws and handed the corporations owned by the government over to private businessmen. “We opposed JR’s attempt then as well, and today Gotabaya is trying to usurp the rights of workers’ protection by bringing new labour laws, and measures to transfer farmers lands to multinational corporations through the MCC agreement. We have to oppose this attempt” he added.

The trade union leaders said that a public awareness campaign will be launched, and a leaflet will be distributed on 2nd of October near the Fort railway station against the proposed Amendment. A broad Trade union discussion will be convened to decide on further action.

Wijepala Weerakoon

October 1, 2020