Sri Lanka: Workers protest against pension bill

Rajapakse regime shoots peaceful workers

On May 30, 2011 Police attacked a peaceful protest movement launched by Katunayake Free Trade Zone (FTZ) Unions, against so-called pension scheme for the private sector workers in Sri Lanka. The protest was organized by the workers’ unions demanding withdrawal of the proposed so-called pension scheme.

On 30th of May, more than 20,000 workers from Katunayake FTZ gathered at the Katunayake Junction, close to Colombo International Airport. The Airport Road was closed for more than four hours due to the protest, dominantly attended by female garment industry workers.

Rajapakse Regime deployed thousands of police personnel to suppress trade union action and to disperse the protesters. Barricades and road blocks were in place to prevent workers from assembling at Katnayake Junction. Workers confronted the Police trying to break the barricades.

Initially, the Police used tear gas to disperse workers, followed by rubber bullets and finally live bullets against workers.

A garment factory worker, twenty one year old Roshana Chanaka was killed and more than 500 workers were wounded from this brutal Police firing.

Inspector General of Police (IGP) has tendered his resignation after this incident. Workers commented that there was no point in laying the blame on the IGP and that it was only to cover up the parties responsible for giving orders to shoot workers. learnt that the IGP’s retirement was due in June 2011.

As agreed with the IMF and World Bank, the Rajapakse Regime is trying to impose the so-called pension bill even by force on the 5.5 million strong private sector workforce. The bill was aimed at stealing money contributed by workers over years through the Employees Provident Fund (EPF). According to the proposed pension scheme, for a worker to be entitled to the pension, the service period should be more than 10 years to. They will have to work for 20 years for the full pension and even then they will receive 10% of their salary. With the announcement of this proposed bill, thousands of workers, all over the country started protesting against the bill as well as the Rajapakse Regime.

If the bill was passed, especially female workers in the FTZ would have the worst effect. Generally female workers do not work more than 5 to 6 years due to various reasons and they would lose most part of the money they have contributed to their EPF. That is one of the major reasons for FTZ workers are in forefront of this struggle.

After this tragic incident, the workers demand that the government ensures job security; personal security and the security of Katunayake residents. The unions claim that the police informers and thugs of Rajapakse Regime have been employed to hunt workers’ activists.

Immediately after May 30th incident, Rajapakse Regime announced that they postponed the bill in the Parliament. Later at a Cabinet meeting, government spokesman announced that the so-called pension bill for private sector workers was withdrawn.

The USP General Secretary Siritunga Jayasuriya informed that the USP will not accept the declaration that the private sector pension scheme has been suspended. The USP strongly demands of the Rajapakse Regime that this bill has to be withdrawn. If the bill is not completely withdrawn, trade unions movement is planning to organise a general strike in the month of June.

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June 2011