04/30/2008, 00.00
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Many workers will not celebrate May Day in Sri Lanka

by Melani Manel Perera
As the government and trade unions prepare to celebrate May Day, many ordinary people wonder about the pertinence of the occasion since they work for starvation wages whilst politicians look on indifferent.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – “What is the point of celebrating International Workers’ Day when most salaries have not kept up with the rising cost of living and people are starving to death?’ is a question many daily labourers ask today in Sri Lanka on the eve of May Day celebrations. Meanwhile for the first time the government is organising celebrations outside the capital Colombo, in Dehiaththakandiya, in the country’s north-eastern region. Political parties and trade unions will also hold their own events. But for many ordinary people, who make ends meet as day labourers, all this seems meaningless.

AsiaNews talked to some of them—fathers, widows, street sellers, fishermen—, all telling the same tragic tale, leading lives impacted by even the slightest change in food prices and a government concerned more about its war than about their real problems.

“We are concerned about the current situation,” said many. “Our lives are pretty miserable and we can’t afford that much. How can we go on? Who will raise our salaries to meet the high cost of living? Who will pay our overtime? No one! And the country wants to celebrate “our” May Day!”

Dissanyake, 45, repairs shoes in a street in Borella, a Colombo neighbourhood. “I have been doing this job for quite some time but shoes are not worn out every day so I don’t make money every day. My wife brings home some money by preparing meals for a food store, but with two kids going to school life is really hard.”

Bandara, a 30-year-old married father of one, said that he makes just over US$ 12 a day picking coconuts. But his job is not steady. “Even though I am careful about how I spend every penny and I don’t drink, smoke or enjoy leisure activities I can’t feed my family and often we go without food.”

For Marta Mary, a 55-year-old Catholic who sells fruit and vegetables in Negombo, “even if every year the government celebrates 1 May, it makes no difference to us.” She wonders: “How can we relate to this celebration when for us workers it brings no real gain? How can politicians celebrate workers if the latter are hungry and miserable?” Instead, she said, the “government should pay more attention to these problems.”

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