Sri Lankans celebrate May Day amid unemployment and exploitation
by Melani Manel Perera
Meetings, rallies, conferences and religious services are held on International Workers’ Day. Fr Reid Shelton Fernando, coordinator of Young Christian Workers, discusses the situation workers have to face, with their rights denied, at the mercy of politicians. He also looks at what the Church can do to solve the problem.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lankans are preparing to celebrate May Day with a series of meetings, rallies and religious services. Today, Mgr Malcom Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, blessed fishing boats and their crews, who are the country’s traditional symbol. The Anglican Church has organised a special Mass for all Sri Lankan workers at Saint Michael’s Church in Polwatte (Colombo).

The day comes only a few weeks after President Rajapaksa’s United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) won parliamentary elections. In a statement to the nation, the president referred to the problems that affect workers like unemployment, low salaries and exploitation.

AsiaNews talked to Fr Reid Shelton Fernando about the situation Sri Lankan workers must face and what the Church intends to do to help them. He is a priest as well as the coordinator of the Young Christian Workers (YCW) and the Christian Workers Movement (CWM).

Why is work so important?

Work is important because it is part of human life; it reminds us of the creation of the world. Men cannot look at work as something shameful or as divine punishment. They must view it as something positive that gives people dignity and is not against humanity.

What is your impression in relation to the conditions workers face in Sri Lanka? As Christians, can we be satisfied with their situation?

In the last few years, workers have seen their situation get worse. In the past, they enjoyed some prestige and trade unions exercised a certain power. Now everything revolves around power politics and political divisions. Workers have seen their status decline as globalisation further marginalises them. If before they were seen as active agents, now they are mere objects, stripped even of their dignity. Labour laws are violated in this country, whilst workers just play a supporting role for political and economic power blocs.

Christians cannot be satisfied with such a situation. Sadly, I am afraid that many Christians may not even be aware of this dangerous situation. Without an appropriate reading of the situation, no one can take a position.

What can the Church do?

The Church can do many things and must be the first one to set a good example. It must take care of its employees, acting as a role model for other institutions. Similarly, it must also support and promote workers’ movements like the YCW and the CWM.