Tuesday, July 5, 2022

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TUs submit proposals for a program to establish stability in-country to PM and IMF

Members of the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) have collectively intervened on socio-economic and political issues that impact people, thereby submitting proposals to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Appeal to IMF on behalf of the People of Sri Lanka
As IMF has officially begun negotiations with the Government of Sri Lanka in assisting the government to manage the massive economic crisis Sri Lanka is burdened with, we wish to place our prioritized proposals for consideration in incorporating them into the IMF program of assistance.

We are a legally constituted, reputed trade union in Sri Lanka representing private-sector employees for over 40 years and is mostly active in the export manufacturing sector including apparel. We are nationally recognized as a member of the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) and ILO initiated tri-partite organization chaired by the Hon. Minister of Labour. We were instrumental with a few other member trade unions in the NLAC in creating a bi-partite process to manage and mitigate conflicts and friction between factory management and workers during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic that on principle agreed there should be no retrenchment of workers due to Covid-19 related workplace issues, a position the government too adopted. We are also an affiliate of the IndustriALL Global Union that which represents more than fifty million workers over 140 countries, both permanent and precarious, in mining, energy, and manufacturing sectors across the world,

And we are part of the Global campaign carried out by the International Civil Society Organizations including CCC, “Pay Your Workers – Respect Labour Rights”.
We do not think IMF needs details of the economic crisis at hand, but we firmly feel the IMF should pay more attention to the rapid increase in anomalies of income and wealth distribution in society that adversely affect wage earners and the deteriorating “rights situation” in Sri Lanka, especially in the workforce and in society in general.

You may not know, that fundamental rights as entrenched in the Constitution of SL often stand breached, and democracy is only procedural restricted to elections held as often as possible, at three levels of governance. Within such cosmetic democratic life, most workers in designated Free Trade Zones and Industrial Parks cannot use their vote at elections as they are domestic migrants from distant hinterlands. The unspoken discrimination, therefore, is that their basic rights for decent housing and the right to education for their children often go neglected. This denial remains the same for other migrant employees too despite the fact they are direct contributors to foreign exchange earnings through remittances.

The State meanwhile remains politicized over decades and during the pandemic proved they are also more inefficient than they were spoken about. This was evident with the military brought in for the Covid-19 vaccination program in a country that was praised by the WHO for its community health service that effectively carried out vaccination and immunization campaigns during the ‘50s to late ‘60s. Any institutional strengthening should therefore now mean they are effectively democratized to be politically independent State agencies.

In such context, we wish to propose to IMF they include the following in their program for structural adjustments that should invariably be focused on advantages and benefits the People should enjoy when implemented, not per se economic growth in terms of GDP and per capita alone.

  1. Measures to be introduced to gradually but firmly reduce the widening gap between the rich and the poor in society.
    As shown in the “Household Income and Expenditure Survey – 2019” carried out by the Census and Statistics Department, the poorest 20 percent of the population (first quintile) earns only LKR 17,572 while the richest 20 percent of the population (fifth quintile) enjoys LKR 196,289, which is over 11 times than that of the poorest population. Even the poorest 40 percent of the population (first and second quintiles) earn only LKR 26,931 which only amounts to 13 percent of the income of the richest 20 percent of the population.
    It is obvious such a massive disparity in society denies decent living, food security, and basic rights to close to half the population in the country.
  2. Introduction where necessary and institutional strengthening of State agencies and legal provisions to ensure Fundamental Rights guaranteed in the Constitution under Article 14(1) are implemented in full and violations are dealt with without impunity in both public and private sectors.
    In debt restructuring, it should be stressed that GOSL should be held responsible to respect and adhere to all international commitments including the Bonn Challenge on deforestation, Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and ILO Conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining are carried out steadfastly and respected by the State.
  3. Ensure every child’s right to education with equal facilities and equal opportunities as guaranteed in the “UN Convention on the Rights of the Child”.
    It is accepted without debate that during the past 02 years, formal education in Sri Lanka was almost totally disrupted during the pandemic and thereafter with the breakdown of the economy.
    Despite eroding facilities and poor quality of education that prevailed for decades, classroom teaching and quality of teaching continuously broke down during the last 02 years due to the pandemic that kept schools dysfunctional for long periods. With the introduction of “online teaching” for pupils locked down at home, it was pathetic to note yawning disparities in schools, teaching facilities and quality, technological disparities between urban and rural societies and geographical locations, and economic poverty that denied access to internet facilities and equipment for a majority of pupils. It was subsequently assessed only 15 percent of the 04 million pupils in over 10,000 public schools benefited from “online teaching”.
    Yet another major disparity is in facilities in schools for extracurricular activities that matter very much in personality development, often not accounted for even in SDGs.
    While in democratic societies there needs to be social participation in designing development programs and in decision making, we do not believe all such proposals can be incorporated into IMF proposals that focus on arresting this major economic disaster.
    Therefore, we have only presented the most important needs that should be addressed within IMF assistance to Sri Lanka, that should benefit Citizens in picking up their lives from the present crisis.

As such, we believe the IMF would provide the necessary attention to the above 03 proposals and have them included in crisis mitigation.

TU proposals for a program to establish stability in-country to PM Wickremesinghe
We the undersigned trade unions are members of the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) that collectively intervene on socio-economic and political issues that impact people.

We have previously submitted similar proposals to HE the President and former PM Mahinda Rajapaksa as well.

Thousands of citizens who queue up daily for long hours know quite well they are caught in a serious crisis as you explained to the nation on 16 May, since assuming the post of prime minister. We also know you do not have to be briefed about the hardships people go through due to price hikes almost daily, apart from severe shortages in fuel and gas. While it is an economic crisis there is in the country, what people are burdened with is instability due to the political crisis.

Instead of long explanations on these issues, we intend to submit immediate solutions for the economic crisis as briefly as possible and propose constitutional and legal provisions necessary for the People to elect a stable government with functional democracy.

We would accordingly submit our proposals under 03 categories as follows.
For the duration of this government, we wish to make it clear, as this is not a government elected by the people and cannot demand legitimacy in any manner,

  1. this government is considered a temporary government and should conclude its tasks and responsibilities listed below, before the end of this year (2022)
    Following demands are meant for immediate relief and salvaging of the economy on a short-term program the government is expected to make public.
  2. Provide fuel, kerosene, LP gas, and most essential consumer goods for the economically deprived families at subsidized prices within 02 weeks and continue the subsidy for 01 years.
  3. Present a short-term budget in parliament within 02 weeks for the period till the end of December 2022, suspending major infrastructure projects and allowances of MPs and reducing the defense budget to be in line with the defense budget of 2009 when the war was concluded.
  4. Leave details of negotiations and agreements with IMF in the public domain, before they are officially agreed upon and signed

Following Constitutional and legal provisions are proposed to be adopted to democratize governance and elections that should be held to establish an elected government when the present temporary government concludes its term on 31 December 2022

  1. Executive presidency to be abolished with the introduction of 21st Amendment A within 06 weeks that in essence would be an improved version of the 19th Amendment.
  2. Amend election laws to provide for the election of Members to Parliament in a mixed process of first past the post (FPP) and proportional representation (PR) and would be responsible to the people.
  3. Amend laws immediately to prevent MPs from crossing over to other political parties disregarding the choice of the people in electing a representative to parliament and holding them and the parliament responsible to the people.
  4. Constitution Amendment 21 includes provisions to have the Police Department under the Home Ministry and no other and to create an environment for the Police department to function as an independent civil department
  5. Take immediate action to abolish the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA)
  6. Provisions should be included in 21st Amendment to hold all employers responsible for the implementation of Fundamental Rights ensured in Article 14(1)(d) of Chapter III of the Constitution.
    The following should be completed within 03 months from the date the new cabinet of ministers is sworn in.
  7. Amend Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law No.01 of 1975 to make it mandatory for all candidates contesting an election to submit their and their family declarations of assets and liabilities when handing over nominations and for elected representatives to handover same annually and for the Election Commission to publish them within 02 weeks
  8. Amend all election and other relevant laws to make it mandatory for all recognized political parties to furnish annually, all details of their party funds with due sources and also their election funds with details one week before the election day and for the Election Commission to publish them immediately.
  9. Amend necessary laws to make it mandatory for Secretaries of all ministries in both central government and provincial councils, chief accountants, professionals employed in the public sector, and principals of all national schools to annually submit their and their family declarations of assets and liabilities and relevant authority to publish them within 02 weeks

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