Fair Treatment and Decent Work in Sri Lanka

Fair Treatment at Work: Every employee is legally entitled to fair treatment at work. Find out which laws govern fair treatment at work and ILO conventions on Fair Treatment and Decent Work

What is the concept of Decent Work?

Decent Work refers to opportunities for women and men to obtain work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. The Decent Work concept has been created around a strategy to achieve people-centred sustainable development.

How does the ILO define Decent Work?

Decent work sums up the aspirations of people in their working lives. It involves:

  • Opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income;
  • Security in the workplace and social protection for families;
  • Better prospects for personal development and social integration;
  • Freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and;
  • Equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.

What is the Constitutional provision for equality of persons in Sri Lanka?

Article 12 addresses the Right to Equality

12. (1) All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law.

(2) No citizen shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any such grounds.

What does the ILO say about Decent Work?

According to the ILO productive employment and decent work are key elements to achieving a fair globalization and the reduction of poverty. The Decent Work Agenda has for four strategic pillars:

  • Job Creation - The best way of promoting employment is by creating an economic environment and policies where workers can develop the skills they need, and enterprises are viable and sustainable, so that growth generates greater employment opportunities for all.
  • Social Protection - Key areas for social security include healthy and safe working conditions and policies on wages/earnings, hours and other conditions of work, to ensure a just share of the fruits of progress and a living wage for all workers. With no safety net, workers are highly vulnerable throughout their working lives, and will face an impoverished old age, without pension benefits. Social protection measure for workers in informal and precarious employment reduces their vulnerability. 
  • Social Dialogue - Dialogue between employers, workers and the state is necessary to ensure that economic development results in social progress and vice versa. Social dialogue builds consensus around policies which provide for employment and decent work. It also contributes towards effective implementation of labour laws, promoting good industrial relations and building effective labour inspection systems. 
  • Rights at Work – Decent work cannot be achieved in the absence of the fundamental rights at work. The most important rights are the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. These rights enable social dialogue between stakeholders which are critical to the creation and protection of sustainable employment. 

Gender equality is a crosscutting objective

How would I recognise an employer who is committed to fair treatment and decent work?

Enterprises which implement fair treatment and a Decent Work policy will ensure that:

  • The workers are safe and healthy, and occupational safety and health practices are in place
  • Paid for work done and not exploited,
  • Labour laws are obeyed,
  • Freedom of Association of employees is respected,
  • Social dialogue is encouraged
  • Women are not sexually harassed or discriminated against,
  • Recruitment policy and practices are not biased against any gender, caste, creed or race
  • Workers are not discriminated against because of gender, caste, creed or race
  • A grievance procedure is in place to address harassment or abuse,
  • Children under 16 years are not employed in compliance with the law,
  • Social security provisions are honoured
  • And most importantly jobs are secure.

What is the position of the State with regard to employment of differently-abled persons?

As per the Public Administration Circular 1988, 3% of vacancies in public services and public companies should be filled by people with disabilities "possessing requisite qualifications and whose disabilities would not be a hindrance to the performance of duties".

The 1996 Right of Persons with Disabilities Act No. 28 established the National Council and the National Secretariat for Persons with Disabilities and the 1996 Social Security Board Act 17 provides for a pension and insurance for people with disabilities in the case of accidents or old age. The 1996 National Health Policy provides for the improvement of the quality of life: reducing preventable diseases, running health programs on disability and health measures to prevent disability.

The 1999 Ranaviru Seva Act provides for the care and rehabilitation of members of the armed forces and police force who have become disabled in the line of duty.

The 2003 National Disability Policy provides a holistic framework for equality and opportunity for people with disabilities.

Can Sri Lanka’s migrant workers be ensured decent work under Sri Lanka’s labour law?

No. Even though Sri Lanka has adopted ILO Convention C189, and has labour attaches in the labour receiving countries to address the grievances of Sri Lankan migrant workers, it is not possible to ensure fair treatment and decent work in any other country.

What is the position of Free Trade Zone workers with regard to fair treatment and decent work?

The FTZs were established from 1978 onwards. Initially the government considered free trade zones as “trade-union-free” zones, in which the labour laws of the country would not apply and the freedom of association principles were suspended; investors were promised a docile and hard-working labour force. However due to continuous agitation by trade unions outside the zones and also the workers within it, employers and the state had no option but to allow workers to organize themselves for better working conditions and fair wages.

What factors affect the occupational safety and health of workers?

  • The nature of the work, conditions of work and awareness of the job
  • Implementation of occupational safety and health systems operating in the work place
  • Effectiveness of the OHS monitoring mechanisms by the Department of Labour
  • Working hours, compensation system (e.g. excessive working hours that are driven by low wages and piece rate systems)
  • Skills of, and training provided to, workers
  • Management policies and practices

How does decent work contribute to poverty reduction?

Not every job is a good job! While a vast percentage of Sri Lanka’s workers are earning less than 500 rupees a day, many are either unemployed or underemployed. Many of those who are employed in the informal economy are employed under precarious conditions, without job security, safety, rights or social protection.

While employment is key to poverty reduction, in the absence of decent work which provides freedom, equity, security and human dignity, workers will never be able to fulfill their right to a decent life. Decent Work is now recognised as a route out of poverty for millions of people. 

Many workers accept any working conditions without demanding for decent work and job security when countries face economic slumps.

What is meant by a “Living Wage”?

A wage that is high enough to maintain a normal standard of living and sufficient to provide the necessities and comforts essential to an acceptable standard of living. With an ideal living wage, an individual working 40 hours per week (2,080 hours per year) would be able to afford food, child care, medical, housing, transportation and other expenses for his family if he is the sole provider.

What is the difference between a “Minimum Wage” and a “Living Wage”?

The minimum wage is fixed and determined by the Wages Boards operating under the mandate of the Wages Board Ordinance.

A living wage can vary as the amount required to enjoy a decent standard of living may be higher in some areas, such as metropolitan areas, while a lower wage would allow that same level or standard of living in a different area like a rural location.

What are Sri Lanka’s country priorities with regard to its Decent Work Agenda?

Poverty reduction is the overall theme and in order to achieve this Sri Lanka has identified the following outcomes:

Outcome 1: Enhanced access to more and better jobs in economically disadvantaged and crisis affected areas.

Outcome 2: Enhanced labour administration and promotion of equitable employment practices.

Outcome 3: Improved tripartite cooperation on initiatives linking job security, productivity and competitiveness.

The cross cutting themes are: informal economy, gender equality, promotion and application of International Labour Standards, adaptation of Code of Practices on HIV/AIDS in the Work Place.

What is said in collective agreements about fair treatment?

There are thousands of collective agreements signed between trade unions and employers and the state per annum, but all of them have a commonality in that they strive for decent working conditions for workers and equal pay for equal work. Sri Lankan trade unions have played a significant role in the fight for decent working conditions for its workers through informed social dialogue and active participation by its members for the rights enshrining freedom of association and collective bargaining.

The labour laws in Sri Lanka aim to provide protection for workers irrespective of age or gender, but special laws address the labour rights of women and young persons – which include hours of work, right to equal remuneration, adequate protection during night work, etc.

Tips and good examples on how to deal with discrimination

  • If you feel that you are being discriminated against in the work place, you should contact your trade union representative, or if you do not belong to a trade union, then you should inform the Labour Department about the type and duration, etc., of the discrimination you face. You should also find out what labour laws exist for your protection, and your fundamental rights to engage in decent work. You and your colleagues should also go through the decent work check list available on this website and identify whether your job qualifies as decent work.


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