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FUTA asks govt. to stop undermining labour rights, exploiting retirement funds

The Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) on Saturday called on the government to ensure that any far-reaching changes in education policy should only be initiated after obtaining a clear mandate from the people of the country.

A FUTA statement signed by its General Secretary Athulasiri Samarakoon said: The Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) strongly condemns the recent actions of the Government; measures to undermine labour rights, cuts to retirement funds and privatization.

“These moves to privatise higher education are paralleled by initiatives to privatise many other public services, which are undermining the social contract between the state and the citizens that had been built over the decades since Independence.”

The Government is flagrantly insensitive to the pain and suffering of the working people as it takes forward policies that further dispossess them. We condemn the relentless attack on the hard-won democratic rights, undertaken with little consultation of the public and sustained through a systematic and ever-expanding strategy of silencing the citizenry.

The Government has passed a domestic debt restructuring plan in Parliament that directly undermines the retirement funds of working people, who are being asked to absorb the burden of debt that successive governments have wantonly accrued. Left out of such an onslaught are wealthy individuals and financial institutions, whose Treasury Bonds investment will remain untouched.

In contrast, every family who had expected some security from their Employees Provident Fund, Employees Trust Fund and other retirement funds to ensure survival when they can no longer work, have to now grapple with the reality of a bleak future.

In addition to over 40 percent loss of the value of their retirement funds last year due to a hugely depreciated rupee and high inflation, and the tremendous rise in cost of living affecting their daily lives, now they will lose close to 50 percent of the future value of their retirement funds over the next 16 years.

The proposed labour law that is being rushed by the government, in the guise of protecting women, makes women’s work even more precarious by introducing provisions that will help employers circumvent maternity benefits and permit “flexible” work that places fewer obligations on employers to ensure the protection of women workers who must work at night.

More broadly, the proposed laws repeal laws that protect workers, facilitating arbitrary terminations, allows ad hoc changes to the compensation payable to them and makes it difficult for workers to join trade unions and take trade union action. In short, the proposed law attacks trade unions, weakens the statutory obligations of employers towards workers and will lead to greater job insecurity and exploitation of workers.

The proposals announced last week by the Parliamentary Select Committee, tasked with expanding higher education opportunities, does nothing to address the crisis that have left Universities struggling to survive, due to drastic funding cuts, bloated intakes prompted by government pressure, and the rampant brain drain; the latter, in particular, caused by the very policies being implemented by this government.

Instead, it chooses to make sweeping changes to higher education that will not only weaken public education, but also increase the public cost of education by subsidising private higher education. We note that embedded in this document is an attack on university teachers, and further note that government has a history of using such attacks to silence those who may resist their “reforms”. These moves to privatise higher education are paralleled by initiatives to privatise many other public services, which are undermining the social contract between the state and the citizens that had been built over the decades since Independence.

These sweeping changes if implemented will affect us, our students, and the public for generations. Yet, little has been done to genuinely consult the people, especially those made most vulnerable because of these changes. Instead, the public is faced with heightened mobilization of security forces, threats of draconian draft laws that criminalise democratic action and deliberate misinterpretation of laws to prevent any form of protest. We are gravely concerned with the path in which the country is headed; one in which democracy, civic engagement, and basic economic and political rights are ignored as being irrelevant and inconsequential.

FUTA has always considered its role as one of working with other movements to safeguard and buttress our democratic system. FUTA demands that the Government ensure that any far-reaching changes in policy are initiated after obtaining a clear mandate from the people of the country.

THE ISLAND

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