ucanews.com reporter, KatunayakePublished: May 08, 2017 05:07 AM GMT
Labor activists are skeptical benefits from a preferential trade deal with the European Union will be passed on to workers such as those working in the apparel industry. (Photo by Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP)
Sri Lanka looks set to regain preferential trade tariffs with the European Union (EU) but most labor activists are doubtful that benefits will be passed on to workers.
The trade concessions were pulled by the EU in 2010 due to Sri Lanka's poor human rights record. Since then the government has campaigned to regain the benefits for a number of products entering the EU market in particular the apparel industry.
The process of regaining Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Plus saw a majority vote in the EU Parliament in favor of Sri Lanka on April 27. The motion is expected to pass the next step, via the European Council, and concessions should come into effect in June.
Sister Noel Christine Fernando, a Catholic nun who co-ordinates a worker's solidarity movement, said she doubts workers will see much benefit. "I do not think GSP Plus will give anything to the workers," she said.
The GSP Plus facility should at least provide workers with improved facilities. They should be granted a living wage and space for trade union activity on the factory floor, the nun said.
Rather than being granting preferential treatment, the nun said that the Sri Lankan government should be held more accountable. Authorities have been accused of using violence against Tamil minorities, abducting activists and killing journalists.
A file image of a Sri Lankan garment worker with clothing items for export. (Photo by Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP)
Anton Marcus, a trade unionist, said he was clinging to the hope that workers will be given at least 50 percent of the benefits of the GSP Plus facility.
He added that, during the EU delegation's last visit to Colombo, unions submitted a set of proposals and promises to ensure that 50 percent of the benefits of GSP Plus would go to the workers. A road map was issued to ensure factories complied with this provision.
Their proposals included an increase in salaries and other benefits such as meals, transport, health care and child care centers to improve the living standards of factory staff.
Sri Lanka Apparel Exporters Association President Felix Fernando said regaining GSP Plus would mean more jobs and factories in remote areas and more foreign exchange. If there is a benefit that the factories could accrue then someone should define it so that it can be passed down to them, he said.
"We will have to look at the balance sheets and profitability to see how will this will be passed down to the company and given to the workers," Fernando told ucanews.com.