Trade unions in Sri Lanka have been calling for the withdrawal of unified employment law being proposed by government

Trade unions in Sri Lanka have been calling for the withdrawal of unified employment law being proposed by government

Trade unions in Sri Lanka have been calling for the withdrawal of unified employment law that is being proposed by the government, which they believe will undermine worker rights and eventually lead to poorer working conditions.

The Single Labour Law would combine and integrate existing laws such as the Wages Board Ordinance, the Factories Ordinance, Shop and Office Employees Act, Maternity Benefit Ordinance, and Factories Ordinance and others.

Unions believe the proposed changes largely affecting private-sector workers, and could lead to longer working hours, lower wages, higher job insecurity and a reduction in many existing social benefits and protections.

"In the process of changing the labour laws, the Sri Lanka government should take into account the views of trade unions," says Apoorva Kaiwar, South Asia regional secretary of IndustriAll global union. "Enhancing protection of workers' rights and labour standards towards sustainable development should be the primary purpose of labour laws."

Anton Marcus of IndustriAll Sri Lankan affiliate Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union, adds: "Proposed changes will affect basic working conditions of around eight million private-sector workers and will make the eight-hour limit working day a thing of the past. It is unacceptable that the new proposal provides the employer with the right to decide on working conditions through employment contracts, making workers defenceless and vulnerable to the whims and fancies of the employers."

According to the re:source by just-style strategic sourcing tool, apparel is the top export from Sri Lanka, accounting for nearly 40% of the total.

The industry has also been moving to end-to-end fully-integrated apparel production and services, as well as shifting from a local to transnational strategy, with Sri Lankan factories setting up offshore branches. In addition, the country is exploring new markets, such as China. Among some of its market strengths are skilled labour and management and inexpensive labour cost, as well as it being a pioneer in green factory initiatives and expertise in higher value fashion goods like lingerie and high-performance sportswear. But the sector does struggle with infrastructure insufficiencies, including rising energy costs, and its freight on board (FOB) prices are among the highest in Asia.