More than 3,000 members of Sri Lanka's independent trade unions have demonstrated against severe anti-union discrimination in the country's Free Trade Zones (FTZs).

The protests last month took place in front of the main gate of the Katunayake FTZ, the biggest FTZ in Sri Lanka.

The IndustriAll global union claims that in the wake of last year's presidential elections and the election of a new government, many employers in Sri Lanka are demanding labour law reform to get rid of unions from the FTZs.

IndustriAll says employers have increased pressure on unions and their members, and are resorting to discriminatory shop floor practices, intimidation, threats of physical attack, suspensions and dismissals. According to the union there has also been an increase in workplace sexual harassment.

Further claims include that many employers at FTZs have not yet put the government's pay rise of LKR2000 (US$13) into practice.

According to IndustriAll, Sri Lanka is one of the few countries where FTZs function with trade unions – and that these, in turn, have played a key role in ensuring trade union rights remain in FTZs.

The global union is now joining calls for government intervention to prevent employers making FTZs trade union free zones. Not only would this harm workers' rights, but it would "deeply hamper" Sri Lanka's efforts to regain its European Union's GSP+ status, it says.