Sri Lanka


Systematic violations of rights

Same as last year

Workers' rights violations

Right to free speech and assembly

In Sri Lanka, President Gotabhaya Rajapakse imposed a state of emergency on 6 May 2022 in response to a second one-day general strike on 5 May calling for him to resign. The military were deployed in the free trade zones (FTZ) against hundreds of thousands of FTZ workers who took part in the 28 April and 5 May general strikes along with millions of other workers around the country.

The Board of Investment (BOI) – the state authority under which FTZs operate – claimed that it had been “communicating with the Sri Lanka Police and the Army to ensure the safety of all the workers in order to facilitate transporting them to all respective factories without a hitch”. A spokesperson for the BOI added that the action was taken because “groups of protestors entered the facilities and called out the workers to participate in the industrial actions”. FTZ workers willingly joined the strike to take action against their intolerable living conditions.

In the Katunayake Free Trade Zone, at least one Electricity Board worker was arrested in the days following the general strike. It was reported that three more were arrested but later released following legal intervention.

Right to civil liberties

In Sri Lanka, on 3 August 2022, police arrested Joseph Stalin, General Secretary of the Ceylon Teachers’ Union (CTU), at the union’s head office. The police claimed the arrest was due to the violation of a court order banning a protest march near the police headquarters on 28 May. The union leader was remanded until 12 August.

The police also arrested the secretary of the Bank of Ceylon branch of the Ceylon Bank Employees Union (CBEU), Dhananjaya Siriwardana, and its former branch president, Palitha Atampala. They were accused of forcibly entering the Presidential residence on 13 July. Both union leaders were released on bail.

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

On 8 June 2022, Sri Lankan President Gotabhaya Rajapakse declared electricity and health essential public services, thereby outlawing strikes in these sectors.

The immediate aim of the decree, which was issued under the country’s draconian Essential Public Services Act (EPSA), was to stop a planned strike by Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) workers. The key sector has a more than 26,000-strong workforce. The Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) and the Ceylon Electricity Board United Trade Union Alliance (CEBUTA) called the strike.

According to the EPSA decree, any employee of the designated institutions who does not attend work faced “conviction, after summary trial before a magistrate”, would be “liable to rigorous imprisonment” of two to five years, and would face an additional fine of between 2,000 and 5,000 rupees (US$5–13).

Further, the decree stated that the “movable and immoveable property” of those convicted could be seized by the state, and his or her name “removed from any register maintained for profession or vocation”. It was also deemed an offence for any person to “incite, induce or encourage any other person” to not attend work through a “physical act or by any speech or writing”. As a result of the decree, unions were forced to cancel the strike.

Workers’ rights in law

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