05/02/2014, 00.00
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May Day in Sri Lanka: against exploitation, for more training for young workers

by Melani Manel Perera
More than 600 people took part in a special march on International Workers' Day in a Free Trade Zone (FTZ). At the beginning of the rally, Roshen Chanaka, a Catholic worker who died during clashes with police, was remembered. Trade unions call on the government to help Sri Lankan workers in lieu of foreigners.

Katunayake (AsiaNews) - More than 600 people from various associations - men, women, and members of the local Christian clergy -yesterday took part in a three-kilometre march on International Labour Day in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone (FTZ).

Carrying banners and posters in the country's three official languages ​​ (Sinhala, Tamil and English), they demanded an end to all forms of oppression and exploitation.

At the beginning of the rally, participants remembered Roshen Chanaka, a 21-year-old Catholic FTZ worker killed on 30 May 2011 in clashes with police, offering flowers by his mother.

At that time, police charged thousands of workers who were demonstrating against a new pension scheme.

In marking May Day, the FTZ Union and the General Services Employees Union (GSEU) called on the government to monitor the presence of foreign workers in Sri Lanka, whose numbers are rising, in order to protect Sri Lankan workers. Their demand comes on the heels of recent statements by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Following the release of the 2013 Central Bank report, the president referred to the presence of some 10,000 foreign workers who had entered the country on a tourist visa but eventually hired by local companies to fill certain positions for lack of local skilled labour.

However, for Anton Marcus, joint FTZ- GSEU secretary, hiring foreign workers to meet domestic labour shortages makes no sense since locals are available. In fact, data from the Foreign Employment Bureau for 2012 show that some 4.500 professionals and 68,000 skilled workers left the country to work abroad.

Indeed, "If special skills and qualifications are needed, young people could be trained at our universities or through ad hoc courses," Marcus said.

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