Meaningful May Day
MAY Day is for the workers. Therefore it is the best time to take into account the hardships as well as duties that are the birth right, so to speak, of every worker.
Sri Lanka is well-known for its pro-employee labour laws, which have been kept largely unchanged, during the last few decades. However, the environment those laws were to operate in have changed drastically over the same amount of time, making legal frameworks unproductive.
Even though times have changed, the power of collective bargaining have not. Trade unions remain one of the strongest bodies in Sri Lanka and possibly the only one to regularly thwart the Government and get their way. Whether it is in removing a corrupt Postmaster General or defeating an ill thought out private sector pension plan, trade unions have proved that they are a formidable force.
However, there is also duty to counterbalance these positives. Doctors, nurses, electricity workers, busses along with a multitude of private and public workers regularly go on strike leaving the masses destitute. While it is acknowledged that they have worthwhile grievances these cannot be rectified at the cost of other people. It’s a tough call to say the least, so what are the points that policy makers can focus on to make this May Day more meaningful?
When considering this point, it is wise to have a look at the statement released by the Employers Federation of Ceylon (EFC), which raises some important issues.
The statement says that the youth employment crisis is to be given top priority at this year’s International Labour Conference scheduled to be held in Geneva next month. Sri Lanka records an unemployment rate of 19% in respect of youth. A recent survey conducted by the EFC amongst employers revealed that 91% of them believe that the labour law framework in our country obstructs employment generation.
EFC insists that the requirement is not a ‘hire and fire’ regime. Neither should it be a ‘hire forever’ regime. It is time that a balance is struck between rights and obligations. Sri Lanka’s employment framework is skewed far too much towards “rights” without any emphasis on obligations. ‘Security of employment’ is perceived on the basis of a tight regulatory framework.
True security of employment can only be found by employees acquiring relevant skills that are needed by employers at any given time.
Workers need to change to suit the needs of today. The EFC stresses that it is time that Sri Lanka shifts focus towards a more proactive employment relationship that would help in creating a necessary environment for economic development in the country.
More than raising banners and shouting at rallies the more meaningful celebration of May Day would be to see how these ends can be achieved. How can politicisation, especially of trade unions in the plantation sectors be reduced? How can workers gain more skills? In short, how can they be broken out of this sense of entitlement and be made to understand that they must earn their security?
Workers’ rights must be balanced with competence and duty. In a world where every country is fighting for resources and knowledge Sri Lanka cannot afford to be left behind. Without significant reforms and change of attitude May Day will remain nothing more than another national holiday.