The Sunday Leader

Workers Should Come Out And Agitate Against Govt – Dr Jayalath Jayawardena

  • What is needed is a well-organized, well-planned agitation

Head of the UNP’s Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya (JSS) and parliamentarian Dr Jayalath Jayawardena says the rising cost of living is the result of the sins of the UPFA government that include bribery, corruption and inefficient management of finances. He observed that workers should come out and agitate against the present dictatorial, undemocratic government. “There are so many common areas that all trade unions could come together if genuinely interested in the working people,” Dr Jayawardena said.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q: What is the current strength of the trade union wing of the main opposition UNP?
A: President J. R. Jayewardene started the JSS, which is the largest trade union affiliated to the UNP, when he was the Opposition Leader. Later the estate sector trade union was established. I’m the head of the JSS that has representations in the public and private sectors. A majority of the members have been subject to political victimization and harassment. They have been transferred, not granted extensions and promotions. Therefore, we are struggling to protect the membership and their rights. One of our key challenges is to keep members of the JSS and to protest them. I want to hold a membership drive for the JSS. The UNP has been in opposition since 1994 so most people don’t know what has been done by the JSS. We want to do a leaflet of what the JSS has achieved for the workers. The JSS has been responsible for getting some of the key rights of the working people that are enjoyed even today.

Q: How do you view the current position of the working masses in the country?
A: There’s nearly 8.3 million working population in the country. Out of this amount, 1.3 million are employed in the estate sector. There are about 5.5 million in the private sector and the remaining people are mostly self-employed.

Q: What action has the JSS taken to win the rights of the working masses? What are they?
A: All the acts that have been enacted by parliament in relations to workers’ rights have been pushed by the JSS. There are about 10-15 acts that have been passed. Some of the issues that have been pushed by the JSS are the ETF for the private sector employees, gratuity payment, maternity leave, etc.

Q: Workers from all sectors are suffering from the rising cost of living. What action has the JSS initiated?
A: We are not just a trade union we are trying to make sure that all Sri Lankan citizens get a reasonable and affordable income to face the cost of living. We are also aware of the plight of the workers’ children, human rights, fundamental rights and trade unions rights of the people. We also pay attention to the workers’ right to information. As for the cost of living, we feel that it is the result of the sins of the UPFA government that include bribery, corruption and inefficient management of finances. Unfortunately, everything is rallied around one person and one family. According to the Opposition Leader’s vision, we have invited all opposition trade unions to join hands for a struggle to win the rights of the working people and a reasonable salary.

There has been a positive response from a majority of the trade unions. We were able to go to the Supreme Court with 10 recognized trade unions to protect the EPF. Unfortunately, the case was thrown away. But there was no surprise, given the present situation of the judiciary. I don’t believe there’s independence in the judiciary, police, elections and public services commissions. There’s political interference in all sectors. The UPFA government has not taken any action to gazette the cost of living index. If the value of the cost of living unit is gazetted, then some of the workers will be entitled to an increase in their pay. The Finance Ministry and the Labour Ministry are not taking the responsibility for it. The government has not taken the initiative to give the benefits promised even to the public sector.

Q: Do you think that workers could win their rights through agitations?
A: Workers should come out and agitate against the present dictatorial, undemocratic government. We are ready to give the leadership. It should be a united effort of all opposition trade unions. We don’t want any credit. What we want is a well-organized, well-planned agitation led by all opposition, democratic trade unions without any ulterior motives.

Q: Why is the country’s trade union movement so divided?
A: As you know major trade unions are affiliated to political parties. Those parties are not united. Therefore, the trade unions are not united. It is a pathetic situation. Political parties should leave trade unions to take their own decisions. Of course the trade union’s actions should be in line with the vision of the political party, but trade unions should be able to fight together.

Q: What are the common areas that all trade unions could work together?
A: There are so many common areas that all trade unions could come together if genuinely interested in the working people. Everyone can work together to protect democracy, human rights, workers’ rights, good governance, independence of the judiciary, police, public service and the elections commission, depoliticization of the human rights commission and the bribery commission. All trade unions could fight for the right to information for the public of Sri Lanka. They could fight against corruption, wastage, inefficient administration, suppression of rights of trade union leaders and the dictatorial rule in the country. These are common matters that all trade unions could work for.

Q: Do you believe that the trade unions could help win relief for the working people?
A: Definitely. Trade unions have a big role to play and a social responsibility towards civil society. The aims of trade unions are not only to fight for the rights of the workers, but the entire population of the country. For example, the ILO at its 100th session in June 2011 unanimously adopted Charter 109 to protect the rights of migrant workers. Sri Lanka earns over US$ 5 billion annually from migrant workers, mainly from the Middle East. Out of the migrant workers, a majority are females. The present government has given a very attractive name to the migrant workers, “Rata Viruwo.” I ask the government, whether it is really interested in the welfare and protection of migrant workers. Other than Rizana Nafeek, there are many other cases of rape, assault and sexual harassment to our female workers in the Middle East. However, Sri Lanka has not ratified and signed Charter 109. The other Asian country that sends migrant workers to the Middle East, the Philippines, has ratified the Charter. Countries like Mauritius, Uruguay and Italy have also ratified the Charter. This shows the interest the government has on the migrant workers. If Sri Lanka ratifies the convention, our workers will be entitled to protection over physical and mental trauma, have specific working hours, holidays, freedom to keep their passports and travel documents with them and receive salaries according to contracts.

Q: What action has been taken in relation the electricity tariff hike?
A: We have already gone before the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and made oral and written submissions. Almost 100% of the representations made to the PUC opposed the tariff hike. Professionals and intellectuals who made submissions gave sensible, reasonable, justifiable reasons why the commission should not grant permission to the tariff hike. But the commission ignored them and permitted the tariff hike. The CEB move to increase tariffs is unethical, immoral and unjustifiable. We are aware that there’s no judicial independence, but still there’s no other option other than go before the Supreme Court. The real increase for the tariffs is the corruption and wastage by the government and CEB. The CEB has not given audited accounts to parliament for 2011 and 2012. There’s no accountability. The public should have the right to information. This is why we need media freedom. Media institutions and journalists are targeted. Even private media and institutions are being threatened and forced to fall in line with the government. No media is allowed to criticize Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family.

3 Comments for “Workers Should Come Out And Agitate Against Govt – Dr Jayalath Jayawardena”

  1. tilak

    Why ?? Try from Giniva

  2. Don the Dr

    This Guy is a trator and Tiger sympothyser …. supported and funded by anti Sri Lanka eliments in EU, NGO’s and tigher sympothysers. He is a good for nothing politician not good for it’s people and the country or to his party.

  3. dagggy

    Have you no other business other than looking for scape goats and instigating people.
    Go to Lousiville Kentucky… there is a Carmalite nun a 70 year old ordained a as Cathilic woman priestess… Go make your confession and get some good advice and some easy to do penance.

    This bugger is like a headless chicken going bersek to grab power.
    One of RW’s jokers…. So much for UNP with buggers like this in their ranks.


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