Labour Minister and SLPA in tug of war over H’tota Port workers

Hambantota Port

  • Minister faults SLPA for instructing workers not to report to work, SLPA claims circular was misunderstood
  • SLPA says contractual obligations will be met as per the law Govt. to hand over port operations on 9 Dec. 
  • Employees claim they are being unfairly treated, demand to be absorbed by SLPA

The Labour Minister yesterday waded into the issue of 458 workers employed by the Magampura Port Management Company (MPMC) being issued a controversial circular by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA), with him arguing that it was tantamount to a termination of service, while the SLPA countered that the document was simply “misunderstood”.

Labour Minister John Seneviratne and the SLPA were in disagreement after it emerged over the weekend that the SLPA, which controls MPMC, had released a circular instructing Hambantota Port workers not to report to work after 30 November.

The circular also prohibited workers from entering the premises of the port without prior permission. The worker controversy comes as preparations are being made for SLPA to hand over operations of the port to China Merchant Port Holdings (CM Port) on 9 December.

“It is illegal to take any action on a case that has already been referred to an arbitrator according to the labour law of the country. Any action taken should have gone through the arbitrator but this has been neglected in this case. I find the circular contrary to the law of the country,” Seneviratne told the Daily FT.

The circular also states that workers who have applied for the Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) before 27 November will be issued relevant payments on or before 7 December. However, Magampura Port Workers Union Secretary Gayan Sandaruwan alleges that both the VRS and the banning of entry by the SLPA are against labour laws, as the case is now under arbitration.

However, the SLPA maintained that the circular had been misunderstood.

“The circular has been misinterpreted. SLPA has not terminated their service. We have simply asked them not to report to work. The MPMC, which was formed under the Companies Act, is under no obligation to provide work to the employees, however we will honour all our contractual obligations,” a top official at the SLPA, who declined to be quoted, told the Daily FT.

The MPMC is to wrap up its work at the Hambanthota Port and hand it over to the SLPA. The official stressed that the MPMC will cease to exist after the port is handed over to the new management under the public-private partnership agreement signed with CM Port.

The workers, worried over losing their jobs after new management takes over, are demanding that they be absorbed by the SLPA. The matter has been referred to the Labour Minister for arbitration.

Further, a statement issued by the Ports Authority explained that “MPMC has no work to offer but has nonetheless assured employees that their salaries will continue to be paid as stated above.”

The statement also claimed that “it is inaccurate and deliberately misleading to state that SLPA and/or MPMC have acted contrary to the law.”

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