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The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

The Consultation with responsible government officials we convened last week, to expedite implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan, would I thought be easy, since the subjects to be discussed were not at all contentious. In one sense this turned out true, because there was no disagreement at all about what needed to be done. However we also realized the enormous slowness with which government departments have been acting and I don’t suppose it will be easy to ensure swift responses.

The first area we looked at was that of Labour Rights, where our record is relatively good. One area we must do better is ensuring protection of children from hazardous occupations, for which obviously there needs to be better coordination between the Police, the Labour Ministry and the Child Development Ministry and its relevant agencies. Similarly, we must ensure conformity with regard to legislation concerning compulsory schooling, employment, and the right to join trade unions. At present there are some discrepancies, which could lead to children who are employed, albeit legally, being exploited.

All that is needed for the above is commitment and action by the responsible agencies. More complicated will be the issue of delays in settlement of Industrial Disputes. Despite alternatives being available, we have wasted much time and effort in confrontational approaches (unsurprisingly, given that that is the culture in the country generally) whereas better recourse should be had to mediation and arbitration. Ensuring a level playing field between employers and trade unions is also essential, and the Plan recognizes that sometimes unfair practices are associated more with trade unions than employers.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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