Sri Lanka - Employees’ councils (2010)

Employees councils have been promoted by the Board of Investment (BOI) as a substitute for trade unions in the export processing zones (EPZs). Employees’ councils are structures funded by and functioning under the aegis of the employer and can influence workers’ choices much more easily than a union (where the workers make financial contributions). According to the BOI, their role is to promote «the effective participation of employees in the affairs of the enterprise through consultation». In reality, the great majority of companies do not have employees’ councils, as these councils tend to be created primarily as a barrier against an attempt to set up a trade union.

In some cases, management refuses to recognise an emerging trade union and will “negotiate” directly with the employees’ council as if it were the workers’ legitimate representative body. In other cases, it will offer employee council members certain advantages if they don’t join a union and threaten them if they do. In the case of Work Wear Lanka, management went so far as to register the employees’ council, with the approval of the authorities.

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