- A Warning By A Foreign Envoy
vernment members are still trying to counter the negative impact the proposed scheme has had on the administration.
The Rajapaksa administration that claimed it would implement the Bill regardless of the opposition has been forced to eat humble pie before the working community in the country.
The protests against the scheme that resulted in the death of a young employee at the Katunayake free trade zone (FTZ) were a result of the muddling of the matter by the government.
The protest against the pension scheme commenced on May 1 with the JVP backed trade unions vowing to prevent the Bill from being im
plemented even if it is passed in parliament.
JVP trade union wing head, K.D. Lalkantha claimed that the country’s workforce would prevent the Bill from being implemented and set the private sector trade union wing affiliated to the party, the Inter Company Employees’ Union (ICEU) to commence the protests against the scheme.
Several trade unions along with the ICEU commenced protests and the FTZ workers also joined the protest claiming they were to be mostly affected by the adverse clauses in the Bill.
The FTZ workers first held a protest on May 24 when the Bill was to be taken up in parliament. The protesting FTZ workers clashed with the police that day and several workers were also arrested by the police.
The government then withdrew the Bill claiming amendments would be introduced to it as proposed by the workers and trade unions.
Managers of FTZ factories were summoned by the police to the Goodwood Plaza Hotel in Katunayake on Wednesday (May 25) and were asked to take stern action to prevent workers from participating in protests in the future. The police had asked the managers to lock the gates in their respective factories.
The Managers had said they could not force workers to act against their wishes.
Meanwhile, Labour Minister Gamini Lokuge met with the FTZ workers on Friday (May 28). He was accompanied by Labour Ministr
y Secretary, government legislators Sudharshani Fernandopulle and Sarath Gunaratne, Western Provincial Councilor Nimal Lansa and several other government officials.
At the meeting, Lokuge had assured the workers that the pension scheme would not be applied to the FTZ employees.
However, trade unions affiliated to the government had carried out a poster campaign supporting the Bill on Sunday (May 29) in the FTZ and on the following day (May 30) they had carried out a leaflet distribution campaign in the zone calling for the implementation of the pension scheme.
The FTZ workers were confused with the turn of events and were flabbergasted when government members Gunaratne, Fernandopulle and Lansa had arrived to brief the workers on the scheme. The arrival of governing party members following the Minister’s assurance irked the FTZ workers.
The workers had hooted at the government members, who had then turned and gone back.
The FTZ workers continued to protest and walk out of their work places when the police had fired tear gas at them. The clash between the workers and the police had commenced afterwards resulting in a large number of FTZ employees sustaining injuries and the death of one youth.
At the time of the attack, Lokuge was out of Colombo and upon hearing about the incident had immediately stated that the pension scheme would not be applied to FTZ workers.
LFP Central Committee met that evening to discuss the forthcoming local government elections. A majority of the members had opposed the pension scheme saying it had affected the government’s popularity.
It was decided to temporarily suspend the bill.
However, following the death of the FTZ worker and growing protests, the government was forced to withdraw the Bill. Meanwhile, an envoy of a European nation that has many factories in the FTZ had called on the government not to use excessive force when dealing with demonstrators.The envoy while stating that the police had overstepped its limits, has warned that it could have a negative impact on existing and future German investments in Sri Lanka. The envoy it is learnt had communicated with a senior official from the country’s defence establishment.
MR Considers Removing GL
Given the number of disasters taking place in the External Affairs Ministry, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is considering replacing External Affairs Minster Prof. G.L. Peiris.
The President it is learnt is furious over Peiris’ ‘Delhi Disaster,’ a name used by many government members to describe the Minister’s recent visit to India.
The joint statement issued by the governments of India and Sri Lanka following Peiris’ visit to New Delhi soon became diplomatic faux pas with a massive fall out for the government in the country’s political scene. Opposition political parties began to comment about the statement while Rajapaksa had to face opposition from within the government ranks as well.
The extremist elements in the government commenced to attack Peiris, even going to the extent of calling him a traitor and conspirator.
Realising that he could no longer look at a way out for Peiris, Rajapaksa is now considering removing Peiris from his portfolio.
According to government sources, the President is considering appointing Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe to the External Affairs portfolio.
Tamil MPs Walk Out
The government last week launched a programme through the Health Ministry called ‘Nutrition for All’ with the aim of uplifting the nutrition levels of Sri Lankan families.
The first event under the progarmme was held in Nuwara Eliya last Friday (3).The programme was held under the patronage of Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena with government and opposition legislators representing the Nuwara Eliya District participating in the event.
The only Tamil speaking parliamentarians at the event were UPF MP Radhakrishnan and UNP MP Jaya Sri Ranga. Even the Tamil members in the government, Minister Arumugam Thondaman, Muttu Sivalingam, P. Digambaram and others representing the hill country were not present at the event.
However, when entering the venue, the parliamentarians had realised that the event had not been properly organised by the Nuwara Eliya District Secretary. The first issue faced by them were the seating arrangements.
The whole programme from then on been flawed, compelling Radhakrishnan and Sri Ranga to walk out.
Nevertheless, before walking out, the duo had walked up to Sirisena and informed him that they were walking out in protest against the badly organised event.
Sirisena had then responded saying that he had also noticed the issues raised by them and had agreed the event was not properly organised.