Monday, 13 January 2014 00:04
On 15 January 2014 the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) celebrates its 85th anniversary. The current Director General Ravi Peiris reflects on the organisation’s prestigious history and how it has supported Sri Lanka’s employers for over half a century.
15 January 1929 marked the beginning of The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon. On this day, the resolution to set up the EFC was unanimously accepted by the Committee of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, and the first meeting of the council of the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon was held at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.
The first Chairman was S. P. Hayley who, at the inaugural meeting made the following profound statement which is relevant even today: “Labour nowadays cannot be fought. We will perhaps have a certain number of diehards who think that they can dictate to labour and also refuse to listen to arguments to the contrary; but even they are gradually fading away.”
The proposal to establish the EFC was made in August 1927 to the Committee of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce by S.P. Hayley. Initially, eight groups of employers were represented in the EFC Council.
Over the years, the EFC has been an organisation which has not only promoted the interests of the employers but the overall socio economic interests and wellbeing of the country. It has always maintained a balanced approach consistent with the concept of justice and equity, which runs through the fabric of employment law in Sri Lanka.
Initially, the EFC was set up to function as a ‘trouble-shooter’ at a time when the Sri Lankan working class was resisting its British employers and rulers. The necessity for an organisation which consisted of experts on employment law and relations was regarded as being imperative and the EFC was set up in 1929, for this purpose.
On 5 June 1929, the first Collective Agreement was entered into between the EFC and the All Ceylon Trade Union Congress. The Federation signed on behalf of its eight constituent associations and also bound any association which would join the Federation thereafter. The Union, led by A.E. Gunasinghe, undertook in terms of the Agreement that it would not call a strike without an attempt being made to arrive at a settlement with the employers concerned, or failing such settlement without giving the EFC not less than seven days’ notice in writing, addressed to the Secretary.
It is interesting to note the statement made by the Secretary of the EFC, C.H. Whitaker, at the council meeting of 9 May 1930. He said, “Speaking generally I am glad to be able to state that since the formation of the Federation there has been an improvement in the relationship of capital and labour in such matters as disputes and strikes. The fact that the Federation offers facilities for the examination of complaints and arbitration on such matters has, I am sure, had the effect of modifying and regularising the grievances of labour and at the same time given them a feeling of confidence that any such representation will receive fair consideration by a larger body than their own individual employers.”
The hallmark of the EFC has been that over the years, it has been able to adapt and change to the requirements of its members notwithstanding the fact that the legal framework within which it had to operate has almost remained the same or been even more rigid during the 85 years.
EFC made significant changes in its structure and approach after Sri Lanka liberalised the economy. Since 1981, the EFC embarked on a proactive role and expanded its services to members, giving emphasis to training and development and human resource management.
There was a significant growth in its membership thereafter, and in 1992, after the plantation industry was privatised all the Regional Plantation Companies sought membership in the EFC which further strengthened its representative character.
Another unique feature of the EFC has been that it has been able to maintain its credibility with all stakeholders in employment, especially the trade unions, notwithstanding its different political affiliations.
The EFC has always maintained a balanced approach in collective bargaining over the years. Almost 90% of the Collective Agreements in Sri Lanka have been facilitated by the EFC. It has been forthright in its positions taken up on behalf of employers with successive governments, having different political ideologies.
Today, the EFC has a membership of 563 direct members and through the Affiliated Association Group it indirectly represents more than 1000 employers. A vast majority of EFC members do not have Trade Unions in their workplaces. In fact during the last five years, seven Diplomatic Missions obtained membership in the EFC. Organisations that wish to be compliant with the employment laws and want to be proactive in maintaining good employer-employee relations have been eager to join the EFC.
Very high standards in employee relations
Looking back on the 85 years, we could confidently say that the EFC has been an organisation which has positively contributed to the development of the socio economic fabric of our country.
This has been so, mainly on account of the quality of its members, who always attempt to reach very high standards in employee relations. On the contrary, over the years, the EFC has not been hesitant to politely dissuade companies from being members on account of them being averse to accept the principles which EFC followed.
At a time when Sri Lanka is poised to become a middle income nation by 2016, EFC has already made representation to the government with regard to the policy reforms necessary to cater to the demands of the new world of work.
It has proposed the need for a New Employment Compact that could have both the employer and employee seeking to add value to each other.
The EFC’s role in the future is that of a catalyst. It would pursue the creation of an enabling environment for business, which will assist in achieving the development goals of the country. It is hoped that all stakeholders in employment will extend their support for it.