The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) has made a proposal to Gamini Lokuge, Minister of Labour and Labour Relations, to introduce a new piece of legislation entitled “Workplace Relations Act” in order to replace the current Industrial Disputes (Amendment) Act No.56 of 1999.
The EFC has pointed out in a letter addressed to the Minister that Act No.56 of 1999 is discriminatory of employers and is also not consistent with ILO Conventions, 87, 98 and 135. In the circumstances, it has submitted that this Act should be repealed, as even the trade unions are now requesting further amendments to this legislation conceding that it has not served the purpose of strengthening workplace relations in enterprises.
The EFC has consistently pointed out to all stakeholders in employment that recognition of trade unions, the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining cannot be guaranteed by legislation which is lopsided and favours only one party. It has pointed out that there needs to be a proper framework to regulate workplace relations. Such a framework should also encompass rights of employees to freely associate, collectively bargain and also safeguard the right of employers to ensure smooth operations in enterprises with speedy resolution of disputes at workplaces.
The EFC has endorsed the labour policy set out in the Ten Year Horizon Development Framework of the government (Mahinda Chintana) which has clearly recognised strengthening employer-employee relations as one of the key policy directives. It has also made reference to the fact that this policy has also identified flexible labour laws as another important policy directive. In the circumstances, the EFC has pointed out that the Industrial Disputes (Amendment) Act No.56 of 1999, which is a piece of legislation highly discriminatory of employers, should be repealed forthwith and be replaced by the proposed Workplace Relations Act which is intended to address workplace situations and diffuse tensions that arise at workplaces without delay.
The Council of the EFC, at its 458th meeting held recently unanimously endorsed the proposal, and the Director General has now made the proposal to the Minister. The objective of the new piece of legislation is to provide for the maintenance of industrial harmony through recognition of worker and employer rights and obligations at the workplace in a manner that would create an environment conducive to the generation of employment and sustain enterprises in Sri Lanka.
The proposed legislation incorporates grievance and dispute settlement procedures which is currently lacking in any of the labour legislation in Sri Lanka. The EFC pointed out that this is something that would be useful, even to be replicated in the public sector as well considering the type of disputes that have arisen in the recent past. The legislation also very clearly recognises the right to freedom of association, recognition of trade unions/worker organisations and unfair labour practices on the part of both employers and workers/trade unions. It is a very broad framework within which employers and workers/trade unions could together, formulate their own strategies to deal with each other in relation to workplace issues.
The EFC believes that the introduction of this piece of legislation will firmly position Sri Lanka to accelerate on its journey towards achieving socio economic development and prosperity and bring about a new social order in the fabric of employment relations in Sri Lanka.