Law amendments, salary increments ensured for labour force - Labour Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva | Daily News


Law amendments, salary increments ensured for labour force - Labour Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva

Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Senior Vice President and Labour Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva said the Government is poised to go on a balanced journey under the theme “Let’s protect labour rights while strengthening the National economy.” In an interview with the Daily News, Minister De Silva said he had already taken steps to amend Sri Lanka’s labour laws for the betterment of the country’s working class parallel to global changes.

Q: You have taken measures to amend several labour laws for the benefit of the working community. What are these amendments and what sort of advantages and privileges would be gained by the working class through these amendments?

The Labour Ministry and the Government will take steps to protect workers’ rights and to build friendly relations between workers and employers. There are nearly 15,000 court cases pending at Magistrate’s Courts against default employers for underpaying or not paying contributions to the EPF. This massive backlog has left the working class desperate. Accordingly, laws will be amended to refer cases of underpayment and non-payment of contributions under the Employees’ Provident Fund Act to the Labour Tribunals.

In addition, the Payment of Gratuity Act, Wages Boards Ordinance, Shop and Office Employees Act and the Budgetary Relief Allowance of Workers Act of 2016 will also be referred to the Labour Tribunals enabling it to attend to the grievances that are filled with references to workforce compensation matters. It has also made it mandatory for employers to report the recruitment of new employees to the Labour Department within one week of their appointment to relevant posts.

In addition, Rs. 550,000 is being paid in the case of death or permanent disablement of workers during the course of his or her work under the Employees’ Compensation Ordinance. Fulfilling the longstanding demand of trade unions and the working people, we will take measures to increase the compensation up to Rs. two million.

During a Labour Tribunal case, an opportunity will be given to a trade union leader as well to represent an aggrieved party which is a long-felt need of the trade unions. In addition, laws will be amended so that Labour Tribunal verdicts can be enforced through the same tribunal without referring to Magistrate’s Courts.

We hope to amend the Occupational Safety, Health and Welfare Act to provide relief to the working community and the minimum wage of private sector workers will be increased by Rs. 2,500 from the existing Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 12,500 in accordance with the Government’s private sector policy.

On the other hand, amendments will also be made limiting the maximum time period for the disciplinary inquiries of private sector employees up to six months similar to public sector employees.

Q:There are a large number of pending cases at the Labour Tribunals. Is it possible to give a definite time period for Labour Tribunal cases considering the grievances of labourers?

It is difficult to do that since the entire legal process depends on the number of cases pending in the Tribunals and the collection of evidence for them cannot be done within a set period. However, it is the responsibility of its judges to speed up the entire procedure considering the grievances of workers. Furthermore, I expect to provide comprehensive training to legal and labour officers attached to the Labour Department on handling labour cases of employees since most senior lawyers and President’s Counsels are appearing for the cases on behalf of companies. We have also decided to give priority for the officers who have studied Social Science and Law when recruiting to the Labour Department.

Q: The Opposition Leader has said nearly 400,000 Sri Lankan migrant workers have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Have you conducted any study to receive correct information with regard to this and to provide relief for them?

We hope to conduct a special survey on Sri Lankan migrant workers who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic and then to formulate a mechanism to provide relief for them. However, job opportunities of professionals will not be affected by this situation and they can migrate soon after these countries are back to normal.

Q: Have you planned any systematic programme to send our youth for job opportunities in developed countries after they are empowered with proper vocational training and language proficiency?

We have paid attention to train around 5,000 youngsters suitable for the requirements in the International labour market through training centres attached to the Foreign Employment Bureau and with the support of several private vocational training institutions. They will be provided with relevant vocational training and language proficiency guidance. We have already discussed with Japan, Korea and Israel, and they have expressed their willingness to provide employment opportunities for our youth. We have to get ready to cater to their demands soon after these countries return to normalcy after the Coronavirus pandemic is controlled.

Q: You have been appointed as a member of the ministerial sub-committee to draft Constitutional Amendments. How is the progress of this committee?

There are lots of views and opinions in this regard. One of the opinions is to completely abolish the 19th Amendment brought in 2015 and draft a new one. However, there is another opinion that there are several positive features in the existing 19th Amendment and those should not be repealed. However, we will consider all these opinions and proposals made by the experts, party members, the Opposition and the public. But, the final decision in this regard will be taken by the Cabinet of Ministers and the members of the ruling party. Initially, we will prepare the draft and send it to legal experts for their reference. Then, the draft bill will be thoroughly discussed at the Cabinet meeting and with the members of the Government. It will be brought to Parliament after making all the amendments approved by all stakeholders.

Q: You are the chairman of a committee of experts appointed by the SLFP to draft the proposed new Constitution. What are SLFP’s proposals to this endeavour?

The chaos faced at present is because of the proportional representation (PR) system. The SLFP proposes to abolish the PR system and bring an electoral system whereby MPs responsible for each electorate can be elected. Secondly, certain criteria should be introduced for the registration of political parties contesting for elections. Today, we see several political parties registered for the elections could not even obtain 1,000 votes. A sum of Rs. 50,000 is required to be deposited for a candidate nominated by a political party and a sum of Rs. 75,000 for an independent candidate. However, some independent candidates are not even capable of obtaining at least 25 votes. So, there should be certain criteria in this regard. Therefore, a deposit of Rs. 10 million must be obtained from independent groups contesting elections and any political party that is unable to obtain a certain set percentage of votes at a National election should be levied a deposit of Rs. five million at the next election.

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