Minister of Labour and Foreign Employment Manusha Nanayakkara has slammed Finance Ministry officials,
stating that they are acting without any understanding regarding how to protect the fishermen and the fisheries industry.
The minister stressed that, as a result, these officials have not been able to prepare a viable programme to protect fishermen and develop the fisheries sector of Sri Lanka.
Minister Nanayakkara pointed out that the Ministry of Finance officials’ actions indicate they do not have a proper understanding of the valuable contribution made by the fisheries sector to the development of the economy of this country.
The minister stated this during a meeting held at the Ministry of Labour and Foreign Employment yesterday (17) with those employed in the fisheries sector.
The meeting was part of a series of such events organized under the “Garu Saru” programme, initiated by the Ministry of Labour and Foreign Employment to uphold the dignity, security and professional status of all those employed in the informal sector of work in Sri Lanka.
As a person who hails from the Galle district, the minister pointed out that he has a good understanding of the fisheries industry and the challenges faced by the professionals who are engaged in the sector.
“In other countries of the world, whether a person is a fisherman, a plumber, a doctor or an engineer, they are entitled to the same privileges. All of them have the same level of respect. In our country, people are divided on party lines, ethnicity and also according to their professions. This is to take various advantages. By doing so, they try to keep the fishermen and the plantation workers at a low social status level and deny them privileges and respect enjoyed by some other professionals.
“But as our main programme, our Ministry started an initiative to ensure that the workforce in the informal sector of this country gets the dignity, security and professional status enjoyed by those engaged in the so-called formal sector of work.
“There are only 2.5 million employees in the country on record. But there are another 6 million who contribute to this economy. You are among those people. But there was no programme to protect this group. That is why we have started this programme to give dignity, security and respect to these 6 million workers. Also, we aim to introduce a proper social security mechanism for these workers to protect them when they are unable to work and when they are old.
We are introducing a new bill to bring an employment act. Thereby, a new chapter will be created and a committee will be created for those in these fields. Then we will take steps to make it a statutory body in this country,” he said.
Minister Nanayakkara further said that the most important thing here is that this is not a workers’ union and that this will be a professional council.
“Here, as fishermen, you will decide what your industry wants and what is best for your industry. As the minister, I have the power to gazette the regulations that you will decide and agree to.
“The real story is that nowadays anyone can become a fisherman. That means anyone can get a boat and go fishing. But this should go beyond that and it should be done professionally. Therefore, you should propose how to develop this industry at a professional level and I will spearhead efforts to implement them. Our aim is also to prepare a system to take care of those engaged in this sector when they are old or unable to work or when they lose their jobs.
“We gave an undertaking to the Cabinet of Ministers that we will submit a report within three months with proposals to usher in a social security system covering the entire workforce of the country. Through that, we are trying to integrate the various insurance schemes such as agricultural insurance, farmer insurance and various social security funds such as EPF and ETF and have one common system for all the working people. The related proposals are now being prepared by an expert committee. After that, you too can get EPF after 55 years of age. It is also possible to get employee benefit funds like ETF. If you want, you can get it as a pension. This is a national programme,” he said.
The Labour Minister went on to note that the GPS system that was brought to prevent boats from illegally going to Australia was also installed in boats.
“To install GPS you have to incur a cost of around Rs.800,000. Also, only one group has been permitted to make them. Fishermen need a GPS. But what has happened here is that they have made it compulsory to install the GPS system given by Australia and not others. And without this, you will not get the license to go to sea. The GPS must be repaired to get this license. Also, the people going to the sea should be insured, and this insurance is done by different companies. But the insurance pays only if the boat breaks and all the lives are lost. There is a lot of confusion here. Often when a life is lost, especially when a person falls into the sea and goes missing, a death certificate cannot be obtained. There are also questions about how to compensate them at such times. When a boat has to be towed, there is a problem in which the insurance company intervenes,” he said.
The minister also said that these are not matters related to his ministry, these are matters related to the Ministry of Fisheries.
“But we do what is necessary for your safety and dignity. Here, we are working to create your safety as well as professional dignity. Although we have the sea around the country, we bring fish from abroad. Imported fish is taxed only 100 or 200 rupees for a kilogramme and this is also after excluding the water weight. But if we build a factory in the country, the Government imposes an 18% VAT. We are the ones who raised our hands for this. But this has been prepared and sent by the officials of the Ministry of Finance. They do not know how to take care of the fishermen.
“There is a problem that when we do fishing, whether we use the safety tools used by other fishermen in the world? If so, our accidents can be greatly reduced. We present these as laws. Sometimes you may feel we are trying to further burden you. However, as the Ministry of Labour, we are trying to do things that need to be done for the safety of the workers. They are discussed with other institutions and we try to implement them without any conflict,” the minister added.