by P. Krishnaswamy
Commissioner General of Labour, Upali Wijeweera, yesterday told trade-unionists and human rights activists at a workshop in Colombo that his department was aware of the concerns raised by them on the rights and grievances of domestic workers in Sri Lanka and would explore possibilities of providing legal protection and also fixing minimum wages in respect of them. He pointed out that a system of registering the domestic workers with the department and having them regularly scruitinished were important a pre-requisites.
The well-attended workshop, held under the auspices of the Ceylon Plantation Red Flag Union (CPRFU) and the Red Flag Women's Movement (RFWM), in coordination with the Labour Department, was presided over by veteran TU leader O.A. Ramiah, who is General Secretary of the CPRFU and Secretary General of the Joint Plantation Trade Union Centre (JPTUC).
The workshop was also addressed by Pearl Weerasinghe, Additional Commissioner General of Labour, P. Navaratne, member of the Arbitration Board and D.W. Subasinghe, General Secretary of the Ceylon Federation of Trade Unions while Manaha Kandasamy, President of both the CPRFU and RFWM exhibited a graphic video presentation on her sample survey of domestic workers, their poor wages, working conditions and other information.
O.A. Ramiah, speaking at the workshop, said that a large majority of the domestic workers came from the plantation and rural areas from economically marginalised families. He pointed out the various problems and hardships encountered by them, including lack of recognition, a proper wage system and poor working conditions. His union had submitted a memorandum to the Commissioner General of Labour insisting on the need for legal framework to protect the domestic workers, including expatriate domestic workers, and subsequent discussions were held on the matter, he stated.
It was pointed by the speakers that the working conditions, wages and security of employment of the domestic workers in Sri Lanka were much poorer compared to other countries in the region and in spite of deliberations dating back several years nothing concrete had been done.