16th April 2021
To all electronic, print and web media.
Director of News/News Editor
Request to the Supreme Court for a referendum on the “Colombo Port City Commission Bill”
We the member trade unions of the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) the tripartite body appointed under the chairmanship of the Minister of Labour, the Sri Lanka Nidahas Sevaka Sangamaya (SLNSS), Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees’ Union (FTZ&GSEU), the Ceylon Mercantile Industrial General Workers’ Union (CMU), the United Federation of Labour (UFL) and the National Union of Seafarers Sri Lanka (NUSS) have filed a petition in the Supreme Court on April 15 through Senior Attorney of law Shah Mohamed challenging the proposed Colombo Port City (CPC) Economic Commission Bill gazette on 19th March 2021 by the President and subsequently placed on the order paper of the parliament on 8th April 2021 by Prime Minister. We firmly believe this draft bill contravenes the Constitution.
In addition, President of the Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees’ Union, Ms. Sudharma Shyamali also filed a petition in the Supreme Court under her name on the same CPC issue . She, an apparel sector worker is perhaps the first woman trade union leader in recent history to have intervened in such manner on an issue of national importance.
As petitioners we highlight the fact the CPC Commission, when established under the said Bill will be empowered to exercise powers overlooking the Constitution of Sri Lanka. This commission will thus be an unusual agency with powers to change, amend or even nullify laws and could heavily curb inland revenue due to the General Treasury, have powers to sell, rent, lease any land in the zone, pay wages in foreign currency, and be left outside the Urban Development Authority and all local government and provincial councils while being unaccountable to the parliament of Sri Lanka.
In such grave context, the proposed bill is not provided with any provision for the Minster of Labour to decide policy in relation to employees in the SEZ, and for the Labour Department to conduct inspections on working conditions, employee rights, investigate complaints and take legal action where necessary. As trade union leaders, we would stress in our submissions to the Supreme Court the CPC Commission will have provisions to violate the Constitution. In a special zone that is geared to promote night life with gambling and the hospitality trade, it would provide for night work with women employed in bigger numbers. If in such environment the labour department is left out, there is no gain say, arrogant exploitation of women will have no margins.
The detailed statement issued on 15th March by Bar Association of Sri Lanka called for an adjournment of the bill stressing the fact that the process of presenting the bill was not transparent and therefore the bill should not be proceeded with, giving time for an open social dialogue. Yet in how the government tabled the bill in Parliament on the eve of the Sinhala and Tamil new year with a long weekend limiting possibilities for citizens to petition the Supreme Court pleading for recommendations, interpretations and/or decisions, it is evident the government is no mood for such postponement.
We trade unions therefore have petitioned the Supreme Court pleading for a people’s referendum with a two thirds majority in parliament to adopt the said bill, if the bill is not amended in accordance with the Constitution.
On behalf of the above unions
Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union
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