Lives and trade union activities
at risk in Sri Lanka:
Intimidation and threats of abduction
On 06.02.2007 three men including a railway trade union activist
and two media personnel were abducted by unknown groups in Colombo.
These abductions indicate the spread of disappearances. As clearly
evidenced in recent times, such acts are used as a means of dealing
with opponents. Whereabouts of hundreds of abducted men and women
in the recent past still remains a mystery. This sparked a spontaneous
protest by an independent and progressive segment of trade unionists
immediately the next day in front of the country’s prominent
Fort Railway Station. The protestors with the backing of about 500
trade union activist agitated for the release of their union colleague.
In the wake of the sudden protest and preparations for a mass campaign
by the unions, compelled the government on 08.02.2007 to announce
that the abducted men including the union activist are in government
custody and they are being interrogated on suspicion for alleged
collaboration with LTTE insurgents. Unions have no objections to
the government’s plans of safeguarding law and order. Trade
unions are willing to extend their fullest cooperation to such just
Intimidation of free exercise of trade union rights
It is extremely regrettable and startling to note, some factions
of the government and certain extremist political forces with a
record of abductions and murders are waging a vicious campaign to
tie-up trade union activists who participated in the protest against
the abductions, as terrorist collaborators. Key activists of these
trade unions are now publicly hounded and made the subject of mass
publicity campaigns. They are projected as covert terror operatives
working for the LTTE. This is an attempt to foster suspicion and
anger among the general public against the organizers of the Fort
Railway Station Protest campaign.
These malicious campaigns are carefully aimed at placing the lives
of these trade union activists at risk and choke public support
for their trade unions. It is also aimed at creating an atmosphere
of public animosity so that trade union activities will systematically
The trade unions that are being hunted represent a group of independent
private and public sector unions that were in the fore front of
the fight for fundamental trade union liberties. Among the recent
endeavours of these unions, the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association
Complaint against the government over the suppression of right to
strike, campaigns against the declaration of Essential Services
and arbitrary labour reforms are prominent.
These unions continue to show signs of growing strength and gaining
support from battered workers. They are fast becoming able to mobilise
their strength in rapid actions capable of changing course of the
employers and the government. This has become a cause of concern
Trade union rights and lives of unionists at risk
Since 08.02.2007, posters depicting trade union leaders as traitors
and terrorist operatives have sprung up in many places of the country
and they call for the arrest of these union activists. Among the
targeted trade unionists Anton Marcus, of the Free Trade Zone and
General Services Employees’ Union (FTZGSEU), Sman Ratnapriya
and Ravi Kumudesh of the Health Sector Trade Union Alliance (HSTUA),
Sampath Rajitha and Raja Kannangara of the Joint Railway Trade Union
Alliance and Joseph Stalin of the Ceylon Teachers Union are prominent.
Some of these posters are displayed in the vicinity of export processing
zones, public transport stations, hospitals, etc.. An organized
campaign with the support of a section of the national print and
electronic media too is underway to demonise and cause discredit
to the image of trade unions. These are well orchestrated moves
aimed at isolating unions and distancing them from the general public,
to ensure public or workers support will not be forthcoming when
union activists are under attack.
These aggressive campaigns are capable of creating doubts and scepticisms
in the minds of ordinary citizens and workers. Unions in some instances
are experiencing public resistance due to this false propaganda.
Several threats have been made on the lives of these activists.
The possibility of arrest or abduction of trade union activists
under false charges of terrorist complicity seems very likely. In
view of these alarming developments on 21.02.2007 the FTZGSEU and
the HSTUA lodged complaints with the police seeking protection and
urging investigations against the malicious misinformation campaign
of putting union activity and lives of unionist at risk. The law
enforcement authorities have hitherto failed to take constructive
measures to guarantee the safety of union activists and create an
atmosphere conducive to exercise fundamental trade union freedoms.
The situation shows clear signs of drifting towards a systematic
suppression of trade union freedoms. The logical sequence of these
events clearly demonstrates the erosion of fundamental pre-requisites
of the right to freedom of association. This has opened a new dimension
of a serious threat to the right to freedom of association.
Measures designed to deprive trade union leaders and members of
their freedom entail a serious risk of interference in trade union
activities. It is very clear, such an atmosphere amounts to intimidation
and fear prejudicial to the normal development of trade union activities.
The fate of many other rights is inevitably linked to the free exercise
of the right to freedom of association.
This is an alarming situation. If not engaged with timely and constructive
intervention it can perpetuate a climate of permanent union repression.
The lives of union activists and the future of trade union freedom
will certainly depend on how effective we are in engaging this situation.
Appeal for solidarity
In view of the above unfortunate turn of events we urge you to
join hands with us at this time of challenge. Extend your support
to exert pressure on responsible authorities to:
- Guarantee the safety of all trade union activists under threat
and ensure an environment free of intimidation and fear which
is conducive for the normal development of trade union activities.
- Investigate the complaints made by the aforesaid trade union
activists to the police and take all appropriate measures necessary
to ensure their safety and the free exercise of trade union activities.
- Ensure the due process of law on all acts of alleged threats,
intimidations and union repressive manoeuvres and take appropriate
and timely measure against all offenders disregarding their political
and other influences.
- In achieving the above we fraternally urge you to write to the
President of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka seeking
to ensure the above demands.
The President, Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
His Excellency Mahinda Rajapakshe
Postal and e-mail address: email@example.com
Fax No: 94 11 2542919
If you need any more information or clarification please do not
hesitate to contact us.
Please inform us any action you will take on this matter and send
us the copy of the letter that you will send as requested by us.
Free Trade Zones & General-
141, Ananda Rajakaruna Mawatha,
Colombo 10, Sri Lanka
Phone/Fax: 94 11 4617711
President, Health Services Trade Union-
889-1/2, Maradana Road Colombo 10,
T.Phone: 94 11 2684031