|Thursday, 29 April 2004|
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Good news on the peace front
The news that a Norwegian government delegation would be in Sri Lanka at the weekend to explore the possibility of pushing forward the peace process is a cause for rejoicing. The development will be welcomed by the majority of the people of this country who wait longingly for the dawn of peace and reconciliation.
The visit by the Norwegian delegation comes as a response to a request made by President Kumaratunga, a few days back, to the Norwegian Government to resume its facilitatory role in the hitherto stalled peace process.
This proves the undimmed enthusiasm of the President to push the peace process along, although she was not allowed to play a major role in it over the past three years. It is in the fitness of things that she should do this because it was President Kumaratunga who laboured over the years to place the foundation for the current peace effort in response to the popular yearning for an end to war and bloodshed in this country.
So, history has turned full circle and the President is at the helm of the peace process once again. What is left to be done now is for the totality of the Lankan polity to rally round the peace process and ensure its sustainability.
That the President is figuring prominently in the peace process shouldn't come as a surprise because the UPFA election manifesto speaks emphatically of the need to press ahead with the negotiatory process.
However, peace in Sri Lanka will need to be a product of compromise and accommodation among the numerous parties to the conflict. What has come to be emphasized in public discourse on this subject is a just, honourable peace.
Implied in this concept is the view that the peace which would be won, would, besides being realised by peaceful means, meet with the legitimate aspirations of all our communities. In other words - a "win-win" situation.
The road to such a solution wouldn't be an easy one but one which could be achieved if goodwill and understanding among the parties concerned, persists. This fact needs to be recognized by all.
We therefore call for a spirit of compromise and give-and-take among the future negotiating parties. Besides, all sections of the public need to appreciate the value of the negotiatory process and give their all to it.
Our hope is that petty political considerations and parochial loyalties wouldn't stand in the way of peace. It is up to the Government to conduct a continuous dialogue with the people on these issues. The latter's awareness of the core issues in the conflict should be continuously heightened.
Safety at work
We often hear the term "occupational hazards". But very few of us know that work actually kills 5,000 people per day, worldwide. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), an estimated two million workers die each year as a result of occupational accidents and work-related diseases.
Workers suffer approximately 270 million occupational accidents each year and fall victim to some 160 million incidents of work-related diseases. In one third of these cases, the illness causes the loss of four or more working days. Such losses lead to four per cent of the world's Gross Domestic Product being cut off. In Sri Lanka, the manufacturing sector reported 1,152 serious accidents last year.
Workplaces in the developed world are now safer and healthier than ever before. This has led to a drastic reduction in occupational accidents and diseases in those countries. Developing countries must strive to reach these standards. This is the challenge they have to face as the world marked the 'Safety and Health at Work' Day on April 28.
Both employers and employees must shed the notion that injury and disease "go with the job". Injuries and illnesses can mostly be prevented if proper safety and regulatory procedures are followed. For example, wearing a helmet at a construction site is a well-known safety measure. But how many of our workers follow such simple guidelines ? In the same vein, workers in other sectors must follow appropriate safety procedures.
Many workers are apprehensive of reporting of occupational accidents and potential workplace hazards. They fear that they could be penalised if such matters are highlighted. Indeed, some employers are wary of employees who point out such shortcomings. But this should not be the case. Employers have an obligation to investigate the causes of any accidents and take remedial action where necessary.
Thus there is a clear need for raising awareness on workplace safety. The ILO has taken a step in this direction with the launch of an information booklet on "Prevention of Industrial Safety and Health Hazards" yesterday in Colombo. The book will be initially available in Sinhala and later, in Tamil. This booklet should be distributed as widely as possible, among employers, trade unions and employees.
Improving workplace safety legislation is also important. The proposed Occupational Safety and Health Act will overcome limitations of the Factories Ordinance which does not encompass transport, fisheries, mines, construction and agriculture.
Changing safety laws to meet the challenges of the modern working environment is essential. This should be complemented by a discernible shift in worker attitudes towards greater safety.
Produced by Lake House