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Unions in Sri Lanka march for sustainable industrial policy

A two-day workshop, ‘Towards Sustainable Industrial Policy’, witnessed frank discussions among union representatives on sustainability challenges posed by the industrial transformation taking place against the backdrop of climate change adaptation and industry 4.0.

Since 1970, Sri Lanka has embraced a market-oriented development model with numerous pro-corporate and capital friendly policies. These have consistently reduced the role of state in the economy, having a deep impact on workers’ rights.

Union representatives highlighted that nearly forty years of a market-led development model has exacerbated workers’ vulnerability.

A majority of Sri Lanka’s workforce face long working hours, low wages, poor working conditions, non-implementation of existing labour laws, ever increasing precarious work, lack of job security and social security, denial of health and safety rights, increasing sexual harassment in the work place, as well as an enormous challenge to exercise the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

Apoorva Kaiwar, IndustriALL South Asia regional secretary, said:

It is a paradox that economic growth in South Asia has bypassed millions of working people in the region. Sustainable Industrial policy is an important tool and it is paramount for unions to take a solid initiatives towards desired patterns of industrial development advancing the interests of society as a whole.

Economic policies pursued by successive Sri Lankan governments to attract foreign direct investment have resulted in environmental degradation, land grabbing and loss of livelihoods. Privatizations of essential public services including education and health have increased out of pocket expenditure for workers.

Unionists underlined the urgency to evaluate forty years of market led growth strategy against gains made in social, economic and environmental areas. The policy regime needs to move from its investor friendly approach to address existing weaknesses in the system.

The transformation towards sustainability should ensure living wages, job security, health and safety at work, gender equality, union rights, and implementation of existing laws and fair distribution of benefits.

Sri Lanka needs to enhance its manufacturing capacity, avoid being locked in producing low value products, reduce import dependency, build local brands and enhance the skill level of existing workforce and establish educational and training institutes to produce skilled and creative workforce for the future.

Brian Kohler, IndustriALL director for health, safety and sustainability, said that:

Sustainable industrial policy is the closest we can get to the alternative model of development. We are witnessing rapid industrial transformation and revolutionary changes in the world work. It is essential that the role of state should be strengthened and policymaking process should be collaborative. In order to address emerging challenges to sustainability and ensure Just Transition, unions should be involved in the decision making process.

Sri Lankan affiliates decided to educate union leadership and members on sustainability challenges, conduct research, build capacity, evolve consensus among unions and develop strategies to engage with the government towards achieving sustainable industrial policy in Sri Lanka.


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