May Day challenges

Tuesday, 3 May 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

THE May Day celebrations had double goals this year as the President had called on the working class to protest the controversial UN report by turning out in masses. Despite masks, effigies and placards protesting the UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-moon’s panel being carried around the streets of Colombo, it is doubtful that this measure would have a significant impact on boosting the confidence of Government action regarding the report.

The Government has protested the report till it is blue in the face and sought to convert the May Day rally into a show of protest against the controversial document. Not only are the ethics of converting a day that was meant for the celebration of worker’s rights into a propaganda mission in doubt, but the overall impact that it can have to present a better human rights reputation to the world is also farfetched. Many experts are of the opinion that the Government must use diplomatic means to respond to the UN report and take action to reassure the Tamil stakeholders of their genuine desire for reconciliation.

Another point is that during the President’s May Day speech, the proposed pension scheme for the private sector was mentioned with gusto. What was overlooked was the fact that the Pension Bill in its original form was highly detrimental to workers and that it was only postponed from being tabled in Parliament after trade unions and business chambers including the Employer’s Federation of Ceylon sent letters to the President and demanded that more discussions should be held. Is this the way that the Government protects worker’s rights? By foregoing the approved procedure and trying to quick-fire a new bill through Parliament?

At present the Finance Ministry is preparing a new draft of the bill and deliberations have returned to the National Labour Advisory Council. It is important at this point to note that around 40 points in the original bill were considered to be unfair to workers and if passed would have caused much injustice. Under these circumstances May Day celebrations need to take up more than a nationalistic tone if the emphasis is genuinely on workers.

Cost of living, which has reached almost unbearable levels, getting better wages and having a better environment of security are all challenges that the working class have to deal with. From midnight milk food prices have increased and this is following fuel, gas and vegetable price increases that have gathered momentum over the past few months to push inflation levels to almost double digits. These are all aspects that the Government must pay attention to if it is really dedicated to creating a better life for the masses.

Since high food and fuel prices are clearly here to stay, the Government has to come up with a policy to deal with inflation so that it does not undermine growth. Under this situation the living standard of an average person is not going to improve and continued inflation will result in workers demanding higher salaries, leading eventually to higher core inflation. Improving the economy in a sense is nothing more than improving the lives of the average person and that is the greatest challenge that the Government has to face.