Sri Lanka's Attorney General's Department has decided to indict 37 trade unionists in a garment factory under the 'Prevention of Hostage Taking Act'.

It is the first time the law against hostage taking has been used in a labour dispute in Sri Lanka.

The indictments are a result of a dispute over the payment of bonuses in a garment factory - GP Garments - in 2005.

GP Garments said its management was held hostage by the workers.

"The workers committed an act of 'gherao' for the first time in Sri Lanka. That is, the workers encircled the factory and prevented the management from leaving the premises and prevented others from coming to their rescue," said Mr Neville Joseph, the labour consultant to GP Garments. 

Meanwhile, the Free Trade Zone and General Services Employees Union has protested against the indictments against its members and asked the government to withdraw the indictments.

The union denies hostage taking and said workers conducted a sit-down strike, which is allowed by law.

"The management was inside the building to negotiate with the workers. They were not held hostage," said the joint secretary of the Union, Anton Marcus.

G P Garments Pvt Ltd is located inside the Biyagama Free Trade Zone.

By Dilshani Samaraweera.