Hotel Industry blind over new labour reforms

By Imesh Ranasinghe

The Sri Lankan hotel industry is not aware of the newly proposed Act to cover workplaces with factory equipment, through which employees in hotels, bakeries, and supermarkets will be covered, The Sunday Morning Business learns.

The said new Act is expected to cover areas that are not covered by the existing Factories Ordinance No. 45 of 1942, which only provides for the regulation of workplaces that are registered as factories, the employment of workers therein, and for the administration of health and safety-related provisions within these workplaces.

Speaking to us, Secretary to the Ministry of Labour M.P.D.U.K. Mapa Pathirana said the draft bill was presented for cabinet approval, but the Cabinet decided to appoint a committee to study the bill further.

He said the committee comprises officials from the Department of Labour, the Attorney General’s Department, and the Legal Draftsman’s Department.

According to him, the Cabinet has appointed the committee to see whether there are any further discrepancies and whether it causes any problem with the existing Factory Ordinance, as industries cannot be penalised from two sides.

He said the new Act will cover areas that are not covered by the Factory Ordinance, which includes factory equipment such as chillers and boilers in hotels.

The Ministry looks to ensure the laws apply for both sides, Pathirana said, adding that industries like hotels have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their employees with regard to accidents involving factory equipment.

Pathirana also noted that this Act will encourage industries such as hotels to ensure the safety of their employees and not create any negative impact.

Further, he said the National Labour Advisory Council – through which all workers’ unions, trade unions, and industry associations are represented – has unanimously approved the bill after the Ministry of Labour and the Department of Labour had several rounds of discussions with the relevant industries.

However, when contacted, The Hotel Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) President Sanath Ukwatte said that they were not consulted on such a new reform.

“As far as the hotels are concerned, we follow very strict health and safety guidelines which are compatible with European standards,” he said.

He said that there has not been any reported increase of accidents or anything related to areas where factory equipment is used.

Ukwatte said that industry employees are covered with workmen compensation while their health and safety is audited on a monthly and quarterly basis by most of the hotels. “We never put any of our employees in danger,” he added.

However, he noted that this is something the Association needs to discuss with the Ministry of Labour and come to a firm understanding about.

“If it is something to protect the employees’ safety further, we definitely will welcome these moves. Whatever it is, they need to discuss it with us before any reforms are brought in,” he added.

Meanwhile, Inter Company Employees’ Union (ICEU) General Secretary Janaka Adikari also said that they weren’t invited to any discussion as such.

He said that although they have heard about such a reform, they were not officially invited to talk about it. He also said that nothing of the sort was spoken at the National Labour Advisory Council meetings.

Moreover, when contacted, Commissioner General of Labour Prabath Chandrakeerthi too denied any knowledge about such a reform.

However, speaking to The Morning in March 2021, he said the new Act would cover places like hotels, bakeries, and supermarkets that use equipment such as boilers and would consider workplace employees’ welfare-related aspects.