BUSINESSES HIT NEW CHARTER ON LABOR IN SRI LANKA

BUSINESSES HIT NEW CHARTER ON LABOR IN SRI LANKA

A labor charter announced Monday by Sri Lanka drew protests from trade and industry.

Foreign business executives say the law, designed to protect workers' rights, raises more questions than it answers."The signal is that left-wing trade unionism will be encouraged," said an executive of a foreign bank. "How does this square up with the government's liberalization and privatization policies?"

A joint letter from the chambers of commerce and industry said several provisions "are not conducive to rapid economic growth and the creation of massive employment opportunities, both of which are major development strategies of the government."

The National Workers' Charter seeks to guarantee the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively. It requires that employers recognize unions, and makes anti-union discrimination an unfair labor practice.

The charter also deals with minimum wages, terms and conditions of employment, social security and employment of women. It bans employment of children.

The government of President Chandrika Kumaratunga said the charter will be implemented by enacting new legislation or amending existing labor laws.

The Ceylon Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry said employers must be allowed to deal with representative worker organizations in addition to trade unions.

Mrs. Kumaratunga told employers and trade union representatives that the government respects workers' rights, but will deal with unlawful acts of violence and intimidation by labor.

She said employers had nothing to fear from the charter.

Some analysts say the charter aims to make it difficult for employers to find loopholes in laws that previously allowed dismissals with relative ease.

Saman Kelagama, director of the Institute of Policy Studies, said the charter focuses on employees hired as probationers or temporary workers for extended periods without being given pension benefits and job security.