Ceylon Federation of Labour fumes over tripartite deal on pro-rate wages during COVID-19

Tuesday, 19 May 2020 00:22 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Insists any stimulus package Govt. may offer to employers be tied to retention of jobs with no reduction in emoluments and terms of employment

The Ceylon Federation of Labour (CFL) has expressed concern over the tripartite agreement reached recently to pro-rate wages based on varied levels of deployment of staff.

CFL said in a statement that it was perturbed to learn of a purported agreement between the Employers Federation of Ceylon (EFC) and a rump of four unions claiming to constitute the labour task force to deprive workers in the private sector of their due wages and impose a drastic wage-cut on them. 

“The proposed wage cut amounts to a deep 50% reduction in contrast to the 30-40% demanded from executives employed by EFC companies. These reductions are not only iniquitous but have no support in law – they are blatantly unlawful,” said statement issued by CFL General Secretary T.M.R. Rsseedin.

“The EFC bases its move on the flimsy ground of a so-called precedent – one which was never established and is being continuously challenged in the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) by principled unions as a travesty of the eight-hour work-day which the international working class won with much sacrifice,” CFL pointed out. It said in 2008, when the global economic crisis affected Sri Lanka, the EFC was granted the concession of work to be permitted beyond the stipulated eight-hour work day for a limited period of six months and this practice is unfortunately being continued to this day in violation of the law with the connivance of the authorities and yellow unions. 

The last sub-committee meeting of the NLAC which deliberated on the matter failed to approve its continuation. Four unions in the NLAC have given notice to the Ministry Secretary and Commissioner General of Labour that they will resort to legal action if the practice is not terminated.

“The EFC is now resorting to yet another ruse by treating those who are made to suffer a pay cut due to non-offer of work as being on the bench – an euphemism coined by the EFC to surmount legal implications,” CFL claimed. 

It is the considered view of the CFL that the workers who are to be benched in this manner are in fact being laid off for whatever reason by employers and legally entitled to receive their wages. The EFC resorts to such deceptive measures in an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of labour authorities.

The CFL reiterates that on no account should workers be deprived of their wages for no fault of their own. In a situation like the present, it is the responsibility of the state to ensure that the worker and his/her family are not deprived of their means of regular livelihood. 

CFL said the Government is duty bound to assure them of wages for the period of lockdown/curfew due to the operation of government health guidelines.

Operating in a system that puts profits before people the EFC seeks to draw fresh blood by capitalising on the present pandemic through:

1. Lay-offs/retrenchment by paying less than the stipulated amounts

2. Extending working hours with no compensation

3. Repudiation/renegotiation of contracts (including existing collective agreements)

4. Deferred payment of statutory dues such as EPF and ETF

5. Restructuring of holidays with no payment in lieu 

6. Review of work arrangements.

While acknowledging that businesses face difficulties due to the sweeping nature of the pandemic, CFL believes the concessions sought by the EFC on behalf of employers are totally disproportionate.

“It is little realised that Sri Lanka has a very low level of labour protection compared with countries of similar status that vie with Sri Lanka for Foreign Direct Investment. World Bank data disclosed in its Doing Business Report 2019 shows this to be true for working hours, minimum wages, redundancy rules, redundancy cost, severance pay, job quality, overtime pay, paid leave and sick leave. The report places Sri Lanka at the very bottom or far below average in these areas in comparison with key regional countries.

“Our employers are seeking financial support in the form of stimulus packages from the government while demanding wide-ranging sacrifices in livelihood, sources of income, social welfare and health and safety from the working population. The employers are aiming at having the best of both worlds.”

The CFL insists that any stimulus package the Government may offer to employers be tied to retention of jobs prior to the outbreak of the pandemic with no reduction in emoluments and terms of employment.

“However, it appears that our labour authorities are pandering to the interest of employers with the Department of Labour (DOL) prematurely seeking information from employers on lay-offs, retrenchments, terminations, etc. including those intended, without enquiring whether labour department regulations were followed in this process. The website notice published by the DOL gives one the irresistible impression that employers are being encouraged to shed labour taking advantage of the pandemic situation.

“The absence of a firm declaration from the Government against such a move is bound to lead to the opening of the flood gates for inspired shedding of labour. The need for such a commitment from the Government takes on a new urgency in view of the forthright statement made by the EFC to its members that it had made no pledge whatsoever that employees would not be terminated. The trade union rump that fell prey to the machinations of the EFC and sold out the interests of workers now stands fully exposed in all its nakedness.”