Sri Lankan employers, unions and government confirm social dialogue essential for national wage fixation

Press release | 05 April 2017
In the world of work, wages are best set through social dialogue” Social dialogue includes all types of negotiation, consultation and exchange of information between, or among, representatives of governments, employers and workers, on issues of common interest relating to economic and social policy” This was the key message from an ILO supported workshop on minimum wage setting in Sri Lanka. The workshop hosted by the Employers Federation of Ceylon (EFC) with support from the ILO Bureau for Employers’ Activities provided an opportunity for a frank and productive discussion on how best to determine wage policy, bringing together actors in the private sector, unions, and government. A recent study commissioned by EFC informed the deliberations, concluding that social dialogue is an essential mechanism when setting appropriate wage levels in the country. The study analysed the impact of the Budgetary Relief Allowance of Workers Act (BRAWA) on firm level operations and labour market efficiency as perceived by the private sector.

Ms Simrin Singh, ILO Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives
Ms Simrin Singh, the ILO Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives noted that social dialogue is especially crucial today given the added complexities that globalization presents to workers, employers and governments. Ms Singh noted that ILO's near century old engagement around the world has time and again proven that social dialogue is key in both mitigating and resolving old and emerging labour issues.

ILO South Asia Specialist on Wages, Xavier Estupiñan, emphasized that minimum wage setting informed through social dialogue and collective bargaining are best practices and in line with the recommendations of ILO Convention 131 on Minimum Wage Fixing, ratified by Sri Lanka as far back as 1975. He added that economically contextualised statistical and qualitative data are essential in devising and implementing adequate wage policy.

Mr. A. Wimalaweera, Senior Assistant Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Trade Union Relations
Mr. A. Wimalaweera, Senior Assistant Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Trade Union Relations, appreciated the insights the EFC study provided and encouraged further data and analysis, as crucial to informing policy. Recognising the rapidly changing patterns of employment in Sri Lanka, he reaffirmed the values of the Ministry of Labour to ensure that the rights of all workers are protected and a conducive environment for productivity and employment is set.

Mr. Kanishka Weerasinghe, Director General, Employers' Federation of Ceylon
The Director General, EFC, Mr. Kanishka Weerasinghe, was of the view that the EFC was pleased to undertake this study to ascertain the impact of the BRAWA 2016 with the ILO. “Whilst we recognize that it is obligatory for the government to take policy decisions with regard to the fixing of the National minimum wage as well as the industry based minimum wages, fixing wages beyond that should be left to the market forces and processes such as performance linked wage systems and collective bargaining”.

Mr. Leslie Devendra, General Secretary of Sri Lanka Nidahas Sevaka Sangamaya
The General Secretary of Sri Lanka Nidahas Sevaka Sangamaya, Mr. Leslie Devendra, welcomed a stronger participation of social partners in determining wages. In particular, he emphasised the need to strengthen collective bargaining processes across at all sectors of employment and acknowledged ILO’s role in supporting the Government in promoting collective bargaining at enterprise levels.

In keeping with the spirit of social dialogue, the workshop provided a space for divergent yet constructive viewpoints to be shared. Rich panel perspectives on the way forward for Sri Lankan wage policy were provided by Ravi Peiris, ILO Senior Specialist on Employers Activities, Magnus Berge, ILO Senior Specialist on Workers’ Activities, and Alistair Smith, ILO Senior Specialist on Social Dialogue and Labour Administration.
ILO will provide support to the social partners to develop a road-map to set the pace for a process of social dialogue and the use of technical based evidence to establish the way forward to consolidate better wage setting mechanisms.