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Sri Lanka: Reimagining ‘the worker’ and resistance in the neo-liberal era | Vidura Prabath Munasinghe

3 June

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LST Review, May 2018

by Vidura Prabath Munasinghe

"The general outcome is lower wages, increasing job insecurity, and in many instances loss of benefits and of job protections....Given the violent assault on all forms of labour organization and labour rights and heavy reliance upon massive but largely disorganized labour reserves in countries such as China, Indonesia, India, Mexico, and Bangladesh, it would seem that labour control and maintenance of a high rate of labour exploitation have been central to neoliberalization all along."

On the 5th of September 2017, President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe launched the government’s policy framework titled, ‘V2025: A Country Enriched’, which revealed the economic goals that the National Unity Government plans to achieve over the coming years. Although it is not uncommon to witness the showcasing of various charters, agendas and policy documents at public events, more often than not they end up unimplemented. V2025 seems to be more or less a pronouncement of the Government’s economic vision, which is in line with the Government’s overall economic policy.

In addition, it falls within the guidelines V2025 identifies a low percentage of female participation in the workforce (35.9 %) as a key issue. According to the Department of Census and Statistics, labour force participation rates of men and women at the end of the first quarter of 2017 were 75.1% and 37.6% respectively. 60% of the labour force belongs to the informal sector.

According to V2025, the labour market in the country is not flexible due to archaic labour laws, which purportedly constrain the growth of productivity. The Government has expressed its willingness to facilitate part-time and flexible working arrangements for women as a step towards increasing the percentage of women participating in the labour force. The Government stated that 40% of Sri Lanka’s employed population is in vulnerable employment and went on to highlight the need for establishing a contributory retirement benefit system for informal sector employees.

Moreover, V2025 puts trust not in the trade unions, but in the Employment Relations Counsels in order to strengthen the employer-employee relations. This line of thinking clearly demonstrates the willingness to diversify the working arrangements of the workers in order to increase the labour force participation whilst facilitating the employers to make use of diverse and less formalised working arrangements, which in turn paves the way to control the workforce in an unprecedented manner. [ . . . ]

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’Reimagining the Worker’ and Resistance in the Neoliberal Era" — Vidura Munasinghe
LST Review, May 2018 [Law & Society Trust (LST) Sri Lanka]