A detailed account has been published in AWWN (January 1998 issue). Protest letters have been sent by some CAW network groups. But the struggle is far from over.
Since then, many other violations of Sri Lankan Labour Law and worker's rights have occurred at Sky Sports Lanka, including lock-out of workers, assault of a male worker, and a time limit of 30-minute a week for going to the toilet. Finally on February 12, 1998, a conciliation conference was arranged between the Joint Association of Workers and Workers Councils of the Free Trade Zone (JAWWCFTZ), an independent organisation with a mandate to represent workers, the management of Sky Sports Lanka, and the Commissioner of Labour.
At the conference, the Commissioner, after listening to the evidence of both sides, recommended that Sky Sport Lanka management take back the dismissed workers and the workers still locked out. The managing director argued that he could not do this as he had restarted production with new staff on January 15, 1998. This was two days before he asked workers to report to work on January 17, and when they reported, he asked them to leave again. It was clear the he never meant to reinstate these workers. Since the Commissioner did not have the power to order management to take back the workers, nothing came out of the conciliation.
However, Mr Kurrle continually attempted to discredit the JAWWCFTZ. Much worse was his racist statement: "This kind of human beings here even lie, if one catches
them red-handed". It showed Mr Kurrle had no respect whatsoever for his Sri Lankan workers. This statement had been made both in the conciliation conference and in a letter to an organisation supporting the workers.
On February 12, 250 workers staged a peaceful protest outside one of the gates of the Free Trade Zone at Katunayake under the following banners:
WE CONDEMN THE THUGGERY OF FOREIGN INVESTORS
PUNISH THE OWNER OF SKY SPORTS WHO ASSAULTED WORKERS
SETTLE THE SKY SPORTS DISPUTE IMMEDIATELY
On that day, most of the members of the JAWWCFTZ went to work to register their protest against the behaviour and attitude of Sky Sport Lanka management. This was the first time such solidarity action had occurred in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone.
Initiated by CAW, a solidarity protest action was also staged in Hong Kong outside the German Consulate and Sri Lankan Consulate). A protest statement signed by 27 organisations and one individual was presented to both governments. On the same day, Women's Centre in Sri Lanka staged their protest in the free trade zone.
Now, there seems to be something positive: they have secured a meeting with the Ministry of Labour, which may result in the matter being referred to compulsory arbitration. In
the meantime, our fellow workers in Sri Lanka have no signs of giving in. However, some of the 50 dismissed workers are facing severe financial hardship. Here is their appeal:
We are continuing to raise the matter within Sri Lanka, with the public, government and the relevant authorities, including the Inspector General of Police who has failed to investigate the workers complaints of assault, despite there being many witnesses. The German Embassy has not responded to our request for a meeting and a call for their assistance to help resolve the matter, so we may plan a picket outside the Embassy in the near future.
Meanwhile some of the 50 dismissed workers are facing severe financial hardship, it is also the lead-up to the main Sri Lankan festival of the year - Sinhala/Tamil New Year. We would like to appeal to you, if possible, for financial donations to the workers. We guarantee that all monies received will be given directly to the workers and will send a receipt for monies received signed by the individual workers. We are also holding some fundraising events in Sri Lanka to try to raise money.
Thank you once again for your support.
Tel/Fax: 94-74-617 711
Vol. 17 No. 2 April 1998