A ruling by the Commissioner-General of Labour has ordered that workers employed at a terminal in Colombo should be paid substantial back wages.
The ruling follows a dispute between 230 drivers, backed by the ITF-affiliated National Union of Seafarers (NUSS), and their contractor employer Sea Consortium Lanka Pvt. Limited.
The company is based at South Asia Gateway Terminal (SAGT) in Colombo, in which global operator APM Terminals also has a share. Sea Consortium Lanka Pvt. Limited refused to pay the workers the wage stipulated by the dockers’ wage board and dismissed them, replacing them with former army drivers. It was also reported that the company persuaded the SAGT to put the workers on a blacklist to prevent them from working on other projects in the port.
However, the union’s persistent lobbying led to a landmark ruling by the Commissioner-General of Labour in Sri Lanka, who instructed the company to pay the workers back wages running into millions of Sri Lankan rupees. During the union’s campaign, the NUSS also managed to recruit 700 contractor workers at the SAGT.
The ITF’s Asia Pacific regional office provided assistance in a number of ways including meeting the Labour Minister to help resolve the dispute.
Palitha Atukorale, NUSS president said: “This is a significant victory, though we know the battle has not yet been won. The employer may file a writ against the Commissioner-General’s order. But we are ready to face the next round of struggle collectively with the help of ITF”.
Frank Leys, ITF dockers’ section secretary, congratulated the union, commenting: “When workers unite, join a union, work and fight for dignity and justice under the same trade union banner, led by their democratically elected leaders, there is justice for those who persist.”
The arbitration process over the dismissals is still in progress. Meanwhile, the ruling will be discussed at a meeting with workers on 16 February, during which other contractor workers in Colombo port will be invited to join the union.